What we deserve, and how we reciprocate

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10 Scopus citations


Samuel Scheffler says, "none of the most prominent contemporary versions of philosophical liberalism assigns a significant role to desert at the level of fundamental principle." To the extent that this is true, the most prominent contemporary versions of philosophical liberalism are mistaken. In particular, there is an aspect of what we do to make ourselves deserving that, although it has not been discussed in the literature, plays a central role in everyday moral life, and for good reason. As with desert, reciprocity inspires skepticism. What Allen Buchanan calls justice as reciprocity implies that duties of justice obtain only among those who can do each other favors. So characterized, justice as reciprocity is at best only a part ofjustice - a part that is silent on duties between people who have no favors to offer each other. Still, the more modest root idea of reciprocity - the idea that returning favors is at very least a good thing - remains compelling. What can we say on behalf of this root idea? This article is part of a larger work on the elements of justice. Both parts of it begin with and build on James Rachels' seminal paper "What People Deserve.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-464
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Ethics
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 2005


  • Desert
  • Justice
  • Liberalism
  • Reciprocity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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