Just Deserts: The Significance of Desert to Distributive Justice

Dissertation, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick (2002)

Jeffrey Moriarty
Bentley University
The view that justice requires giving people what they deserve is both ancient and plausible. Yet many contemporary political philosophers, including John Rawls and Robert Nozick, have put forward distributive theories that give no place to desert. In this dissertation, I give reason to believe that the contemporary rejection of desert is mistaken, and that desert should be taken seriously by political philosophers. ;This project is incomplete in the sense that I do not say how seriously desert should be taken---how important it is compared to other distributive ideals . This is an important task, but I do not have the space for it. Hence, while my dissertation is an important first step in restoring desert to a place of significance in theories of distributive justice, it is not the last word. ;In chapter 1, I consider different views about what it means to be deserving, and about the necessary and sufficient conditions for desert. I do not try to solve these debates, but rather stipulate the conception of desert I am interested in. In chapter 2, I offer arguments for its use as a distributive criterion. ;In chapter 3, I consider the "metaphysical argument" against desert. Deriving from naturalistic worries about the robustness of human agency, this argument denies that people are capable of the kind of responsibility required for desert. I distinguish three versions of it, and argue that all fail. The "epistemological argument," examined in chapter 4, doubts that we can know what people deserve. In response, I suggest a way of making distribution according to desert practicable. ;I consider in chapter 5 the asymmetry of desert: the fact that desert plays an insignificant role in most contemporary theories of distributive justice, but a central role in most contemporary theories of retributive justice. I give good reason to believe the asymmetry cannot be justified, considering five potential justifications of it, and arguing that none is successful. I conclude the dissertation by summarizing what I have done, then mapping out directions for future research
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Against the Asymmetry of Desert.Jeffrey Moriarty - 2003 - Noûs 37 (3):518–536.

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