Desert, Free Will, and Our Moral Responsibility Practices

  • Dana Kay NelkinEmail author


In this paper, I assess a challenging argument made by McKenna (J Ethical Theory, 2019) that free will might be important in justifying our moral responsibility practices even if free will is not important insofar as it is required for desert of blame and praise. I offer an alternative picture, according to which while we can justify our practices of moral responsibility in terms that appeal to free will without using terms that explicitly appeal to desert, desert is necessarily implicated nevertheless by the very practices we seek to justify. In the process, I set out my understanding of the nature of blame and address the question of whether blame should always be understood as deserved in a sense distinct from fitting.


Desert Free will Moral responsibility Fittingness Blame Praise 



  1. Boyd, Richard. 1990. Realism, Approximate Truth, and Philosophical Method. In Scientific Theories, vol. 14, ed. Wade Savage, 355–391. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  2. Brink, David O, and Nelkin, Dana Kay. in preparation. The Nature and Significance of Blame. In Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology, ed. John Doris, Manuel Vargas. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Brink, David O., and Dana Kay Nelkin. 2013. Fairness and the Architecture of Moral Responsibility. In Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility, vol. 1, ed. D. Shoemaker, 284–313. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carlsson, Andreas Brekke. 2017. Blameworthiness as Deserved Guilt. Journal of Ethics 21: 89–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Fischer, John Martin, and Mark Ravizza. 1998. Responsibility and Control: A Theory of Moral Responsibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hieronymi, Pamela. manuscript. Minds that Matter.Google Scholar
  7. Kane, Robert. 1996. The Significance of Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Lenman, James. 2006. Compatibilism and Contractualism: The Possibility of Moral Responsibility. Ethics 117: 7–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Lewis, David. 1989. The Punishment That Leaves Something to Chance. Philosophy & Public Affairs 18: 53–67.Google Scholar
  10. McKenna, Michael. 2019. The Free Will Debate and Basic Desert. Journal of Ethical Theory. Google Scholar
  11. Nelkin, Dana Kay. 2011. T. M Scanlon, Moral Dimensions: Permissibility, Meaning, and Blame. The Philosophical Review 120: 603–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Nelkin, Dana Kay. 2013. Desert, Fairness, and Resentment. Philosophical Explorations 16: 117–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Nelkin, Dana Kay. 2016. Blame. In The Routledge Companion to Free Will, ed. Kevin Timpe, Meghan Griffith, and Neil Levy. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Nelkin, Dana Kay. forthcoming. Guilt, Grief, and the Good. In Social and Political Philosophy.Google Scholar
  15. Pereboom, Derk. 2013. Free Will Skepticism, Blame, and Obligation. In Blame: Its Nature and Norms, ed. D.J. Coates and N.A. Tognazzini, 189–206. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Pereboom, Derk. 2014. Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Scanlon, T.M. 2008. Moral Dimensions: Permissibility, Meaning, Blame. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Schwitzgebel, Eric. 2013. A Dispositional Approach to Attitudes: Thinking Outside of the Belief Box. In New Essays on Belief: Constitution, Content and Structure, ed. Nikolaj Nottleman. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  19. Vargas, Manuel. 2013. Building Better Beings: A Theory of Moral Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Wallace, R. Jay. 1994. Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Watson, Gary. 2004. Agency and Answerability. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Watson, Gary. 1996/2004. Two Faces of Responsibility, reprinted in Watson (2004).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UCSDLa JollaUSA

Personalised recommendations