The idea that people sometimes deserve good or bad things due to their moral record is widely accepted. However, it is also very controversial. One debate concerns the question of whether this idea is ever true, for example, whether people are ever responsible in a way that entails that they deserve something. Another controversy concerns the content of this idea: What might make people deserving: their character, intentions, or actions? What do people deserve: a certain level of well-being, resources, or other rewards or punishments? Does desert concern people’s lives as a whole or more specific events, such as certain actions (in terms of their moral record and with respect to what they deserve)?
A different set of questions concerns the relation between desert and other values. For example, is there a reason to maximize the well-being of a person who does not deserve to be better off (or who deserves not to be better off), or to prevent inequality if the relevant persons deserve their unequal positions? Does it make sense to limit the significance of desert? For example, to accept a comparative account but not a non-comparative one, or to care only (or more) about negative desert (deserving something bad) and not at all (or less) about positive desert, or to believe that people may deserve more or less good but never deserve to suffer. Is it arbitrary to consider actions as morally significant regardless of their moral status? That is to say, to hold some actions against their agents even if these actions are not wrong or even if the agents are not blameworthy, as some accounts do, for example, in the context of distributive justice (e.g., some versions of “luck egalitarianism”) or self-defense (e.g., some versions of “liability” accounts)? Are considerations of desert absolute, as they are sometimes assumed to be in the context of (criminal) punishment? Finally, there are related questions about the legal implications of desert. For example, should the state promote desert? If so, should the law focus only on negative desert? Should the law promote desert only through the criminal law or also by other means?
The project coordinator will be Re’em Segev.
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