On Moral Desert

Project: Research

Research areas and keywords

UKÄ subject classification

  • Philosophy

Layman's description

The concept of moral desert gives rise to many difficult question, and the purpose of this project is to answer some of them. Perhaps one of the most important ones is this: to what extent do considerations of desert justify a capitalist system in which the market determines the distribution of social resources?

This project attempts to answer a number of central, and to some extent neglected, questions about the concept of desert — a concept that is an important, if unclear, part of the moral outlook of most people. The questions are the following:

(1) Is desert a deontological or a teleological concept? In other words: is that people get what they deserve only a goal to be pursued or is such treatment something we owe to whose who deserve it?

(2) How is desert related to rights? More specifically, can we have a right to benefits we do not deserve, and if so how?

(3) It is possible to deserve the attitudes of others (e.g., admiration) as well as different forms of treatment (e.g., rewards and punishment). How are these two types of desert related to each other?

(4) Is it possible to reconcile the thought that persons should be treated as they deserve with a contractualist moral theory (i.e., a theory according to which right and wrong are determined by the rules for human coexistence that rational individuals would accept)?

(5) Is desert comparative or non-comparative? That is, do we determine what persons deserve by comparing them with each other, and if so in what contexts?

(6) Why care about desert in the first place? And is it even meaningful to talk about what persons deserve?
Effective start/end date2006/01/012009/12/31