The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 20, Issue 1–3, pp 139–148 | Cite as

Parfit on Free Will, Desert, and the Fairness of Punishment

  • Saul Smilansky


In his recent monumental book On What Matters, Derek Parfit argues for a hard determinist view that rejects free will-based moral responsibility and desert. This rejection of desert is necessary for his main aim in the book, the overall reconciliation of normative ethics. In Appendix E of his book, however, Parfit claims that it is possible to mete out fair punishment. Parfit’s position on punishment here seems to be inconsistent with his hard determinism. I argue that Parfit is mistaken here, in a way that leads him to unjustified optimism about the possibility of fair penalization. Insofar as we take the free will problem seriously, we cannot reconcile a belief in the absence of desert with a belief in the fairness of penalization.


Desert Fairness Free will Moral responsibility Parfit, Derek Punishment 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.HaifaIsrael

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