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Desert, virtue, and justice

Eric Francis Moore, University of Massachusetts Amherst


I endorse an old view that distributive justice can best be understood as people getting what they deserve. John Rawls has several famous arguments to show that such a view is false. I criticize those arguments, but agree that more work needs to be done on the clarification and explanation of the concept of desert in order for the old view to be more than a platitude. I then criticize attempted analyses of the concept of desert by Feinberg, Kleinig, and Miller. I claim that desert must be taken as a primitive concept. However, even though desert is primitive, there still needs to be some account of what sorts of things make a person deserving (what sorts of things count as desert bases). Some proposed desert bases include need, personhood, diligence, moral worth, autonomous action, and entitlement. I criticize George Sher's work on autonomous action, diligence, and moral worth, then propose and defend a modified version of the view that all legitimate desert bases are either virtues or vices.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Moore, Eric Francis, "Desert, virtue, and justice" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9823760.