Desert, Responsibility and Luck Egalitarianism
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Desert and responsibility are key concepts in political philosophy, most notably in discussions on justice. It is just that people get what they deserve, and what they deserve seems to have something to do with what they are responsible for. This tenet is as close to a fundamental constant as one can get in practical philosophy, so that even some egalitarians, luck egalitarians, make room for exceptions dictated by it: only differences people are not responsible for should be equalized, differences people are responsible for are not unjust, because they are deserved. In this paper I shall contest the second part of this tenet that what people deserve is somehow linked to what they are responsible for. To this end, I shall give a detailed account of the concept of desert in the first half of this paper. In the second half, I shall consider the implications of this for luck egalitarianism, and conclude that while luck egalitarianians can counter some criticisms that are grounded on a wrong understanding of the concept of desert, they cannot rest content in relying on the purely formal notions of responsibility and desert, but need to provide substantial arguments to support their conclusions.
KeywordsReactive Norm Outcome Responsibility Puzzle Piece Luck Egalitarianism Normative Consideration
This is a revised version of a paper I presented at the conference “Moral responsibility: Neuroscience, organization & engineering” on August 24–27, 2009 in Delft. I thank Rüdiger Bittner, Logi Gunnarsson, Martina Herrmann, Ute Kruse-Ebeling, Nicole Vincent, and the audience at the conference for their help.
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