Comparative Desert Vs. Fairness
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In the recent book The Geometry of Desert, Shelly Kagan explores, with a rare degree of precision, how best to cash out two fundamental and widely shared intuitions. The first intuition says that virtuous people deserve to be doing well, and that less virtuous (or vicious) people deserve to be doing less well – and thus, that it’s good (other things equal) if virtuous people are doing well and if less virtuous (or vicious) people are doing less well (or even badly). The second intuition says that the distribution of the satisfaction of people’s desert claims across persons matters: that it’s good (other things equal) if people’s desert claims are satisfied in accordance with the demands of interpersonal fairness. The former intuition states the basis of what Kagan calls ‘absolute desert’. The latter articulates the basis of what he calls ‘comparative desert’. I advance an internal critique of Kagan’s conception of comparative desert; I argue that it contravenes the demands of interpersonal fairness in the domain of desert, and so fails on its own terms.
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