Philosophical Studies

, Volume 162, Issue 3, pp 537–545 | Cite as

Smilansky, Arneson, and the asymmetry of desert

  • Jeffrey Moriarty


Desert plays an important role in most contemporary theories of retributive justice, but an unimportant role in most contemporary theories of distributive justice. Saul Smilansky has recently put forward a defense of this asymmetry. In this study, I argue that it fails. Then, drawing on an argument of Richard Arneson’s, I suggest an alternative consequentialist rationale for the asymmetry. But while this shows that desert cannot be expected to play the same role in distributive justice that it can play in retributive justice, it does not fully vindicate the asymmetry, since desert can still play an important role in the former.


Asymmetry Desert Distributive justice Retributive justice 



For helpful comments on earlier versions of this study, I thank Richard Arneson and the participants at the Second Annual New Orleans Invitational Seminar in Ethics (NOISE), especially my commentator Simon Cabulea May.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentBentley UniversityWalthamUSA

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