Rejecting Retributivism by Caruso Gregg D.;

Rejecting Retributivism by Caruso Gregg D.;

Author:Caruso, Gregg D.; [Caruso, Gregg D.;]
Language: spa
Format: epub
Published: 2021-01-25T12:11:44+00:00

Sidgwick, and Ross (see Feldman and Skow 2015). There are, however, several

prominent theories of justice that are not desertist, including the well-known

theory of John Rawls (1971). In A Theory of Justice, Rawls stresses the fact that

inequalities of birth are types of underserved discrimination and claims that

desert does not apply to one’s place in the distribution of native endowments,

one’s initial starting point in society, the familial or social circumstances into

which one is born, or to the superior character that enables one to put forth the

effort to develop one’s abilities. Rawls’ theory therefore suggests a metaphysical

argument against desert, according to which “since most of who we are and what

we do is greatly influenced by underserved native endowments and by the

undeserved circumstances into which we are born, one cannot deserve anything,

or, at best, one can deserve very little” (Celello 2014). For Rawls, desert should

not have any role in distributive justice, since these underserved factors have

a major influence on all would-be desert bases (Sher 1987: 22ff; cf. Moriarty

2002: 136–137).

6.1 The Public Health–Quarantine Model


Another philosopher who proposes a non-desertist theory of justice is David

Hume (1983). And as Peter Celello explains, Hume’s insights can be used to develop

epistemological and pragmatic arguments against desert:

Hume argued that since humans are both fallible in their knowledge of the factors

that would establish others’ merit and prone to overestimating their own merit,

distributive schemes based on merit could not result in determinate rules of

conduct and would be utterly destructive to society (Hume [1983], 27). This

thinking is captured in the epistemological and pragmatic argument against desert.

According to the epistemological argument, since we cannot know the specific

details of the lives of every member in a community or society, we cannot accurately

treat people according to their desert . . . The pragmatic argument against desert is

that, regardless of whether we could gain the knowledge needed to treat people

according to their desert accurately, attempting to do so would have overriding

negative consequences. Such negative consequences could include expending

large amounts of time and resources in an effort to make accurate desert judgments

and, perhaps, losses of personal privacy as one delves into the details of others’ lives.

Both the epistemological and pragmatic arguments must be accounted for when

attempting to explain how a true meritocracy could and should be arranged. (2014)

These metaphysical, epistemic, and pragmatic considerations count strongly against

desertist theories of justice. And Rawls’s theory of justice, which he calls justice as

fairness, provides one potential non-desertist approach to social and distributive


On the other end of the political spectrum, political libertarian accounts of justice

also tend to be non-desertist. For the political libertarian, the primary goal of justice

is the protection of negative liberty – that is, the absence of constraints on an

individual’s actions. In Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), Robert Nozick advances

one of the best-known libertarian accounts of justice – his entitlement theory of

justice. On this view, a just distribution is one where each person is entitled to the

holdings that he/she possesses according to the principles of justice in acquisition,

transfer, and rectification. Nozick describes his entitlement theory as “historical,”

because it determines the justice


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