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Wu, S. D. (2022) Desert. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00114601


Up until the late twentieth century, philosophers have thought not only that desert was not merely a matter of convention but in the nature of things but also that there is a close conceptual tie between justice and desert. In recent work, however, it has become common for philosophers to deny such a connection. This study of desert aims to reestablish that connection. Many contemporary philosophers avoid appeal to the concept of desert in theorizing about justice for three main reasons: (1) there are perplexing questions regarding both the nature and normative force of desert claims which do not appear to admit satisfactory resolution; (2) since we deserve neither our natural talents nor our initial starting place in society, it’s hard to see how the distribution of benefits and burdens based on desert can be what justice requires; and (3) any theory of justice which holds that some people deserve to suffer is morally indefensible. The author of this study replies: (1) these alleged unclarities are instead invitations to further theorizing, and further reflection shows that, rather than being part of either the deontic or the evaluative, desert is a species of fittingness which is its own category in the normative domain; (2) distributively just outcomes are sensitive to several morally relevant considerations, one of which is desert, and that income is deserved on the basis of contribution or effort as what matters is exercising effort and not the ability to exert effort; and (3) that no one can deserve to suffer is perfectly compatible with the idea that some people are more deserving than others, and, once the desertist position is properly understood, critics will see they too have reason to become desertists since their own view is plausible only because it leaves so many questions about desert unanswered.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Stratton-Lake, P.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Humanities
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Philosophy
ID Code:114601


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