How to deserve

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It is at very least a prominent view among political philosophers that common sense is mistaken in its optimism about the possibility of our being deserving. One reason is ideological: many high-profile academic conceptions of distributive justice are incompatible with common-sense thinking about what we deserve. Another reason is that it is, after all, startlingly difficult to come up with a philosophical framework that grounds significant claims about what individuals deserve. We are born, we are raised, we are given opportunities, and we are made into beings who can to some extent take advantage of opportunities. At least from a mechanistic world-view, it is hard to see any room in that picture for being deserving of what we accomplish with our opportunities. This essay makes room. It distinguishes between the compensatory model of desert in which one can deserve something only on the basis of what one did before receiving it, and a promissory model in which one can deserve a chance in virtue of what one will do to deserve it. People ought to get what they deserve. And what we deserve can depend on effort, on performance, or on excelling in competition, even when excellence is partly a function of our natural gifts. Or so most people believe. Philosophers sometimes say otherwise. At least since Karl Marx complained about capitalist society extracting surplus value from workers, thereby failing to give workers what they deserve, classical liberal philosophers have worried that to treat justice as a matter of what people deserve is to license interference with liberty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-96
Number of pages13
JournalOpen Political Science Journal
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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