There’s No Need to Rethink Desert: A Reply to Pummer
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Pummer (Philosophical Review 123(1): 43–77, 2014) ingeniously wraps together issues from the personal identity literature with issues from the literature on desert. However, I wish to take issue with the main conclusion that he draws, namely, that we need to rethink the following principle: Desert.: When people culpably do very wrong or bad acts, they deserve punishment in the following sense: at least other things being equal they ought to be made worse off, simply in virtue of the fact that they culpably did wrong—even if they have repented, are now virtuous, and punishing them would benefit no one. (Pummer Philosophical Review 123(1):43–77, 2014: 43–44) Pummer offers an argument that is intended to show that this principle, along with widely-held views about personal identity, entails an inconsistent triad of propositions. I agree. But I think Pummer's argument attacks a straw man. I believe that no-one holds Desert, at least as it is stated, and that once the principle is stated correctly it is easy to see that no inconsistent triad follows from it. So, Desert does not need rethinking. It just needs to be stated correctly.