Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 939–951 | Cite as

Priority and Desert

  • Matthew RendallEmail author


Michael Otsuka, Alex Voorhoeve and Marc Fleurbaey have challenged the priority view in favour of a theory based on competing claims. The present paper shows how their argument can be used to recast the priority view. All desert claims in distributive justice are comparative. The stronger a party’s claims to a given benefit, the greater is the value of her receiving it. Ceteris paribus, the worse-off have stronger claims on welfare, and benefits to them matter more. This can account for intuitions that at first appear egalitarian, as the analysis of an example of Larry Temkin’s shows. The priority view, properly understood, is desert-adjusted utilitarianism under the assumption that no other claims pertain.


Priority view Egalitarianism Desert-adjusted utilitarianism Risk 



I thank Gerald Lang, Dominic Roser and audience members at the 2012 annual conference of the British Society for Ethical Theory for comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Politics and International RelationsUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK

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