Standard conceptual analyses of desert
Freedom and Resentment is primarily about moral responsibility and its relationship to determinism, but it has implications for the less-discussed notion of desert. Here we consider whether and how Strawson’s argument and the Strawsonian approach more generally succeed in illuminating desert. The discussion will proceed as follows. First we review some philosophical attempts to analyze the concept and suggest our own way of understanding it. Next we consider Strawson’s arguments regarding whether and how moral responsibility, and the practices of moral approbation and blame connected with it, can be reconciled with determinism. We ask whether Strawson’s arguments can be extended to justify a notion of desert. Here, we argue, the outcome is equivocal. However, taking Strawson’s cue to pay closer attention to our commonsense moral practices, we look at some recent work in psychology that investigates folk concepts and practices regarding freedom and moral responsibility. These studies illuminate how people actually arrive at judgments of blame and desert, and lend credence to Strawson’s general anti-metaphysical position. We suggest that by pushing the Strawsonian line even further than Strawson did, by empirically investigating actual moral practice and folk understandings, we can dispel some of the uncertainty about desert that Freedom and Resentment provokes.