chapter  5
1 Pages

Desert without freedom and without ‘moral responsibility’

What does all this tell us about desert? Feinberg (1970) laid important groundwork by distinguishing desert from related concepts such as entitlement and qualification. Genuinely moral desert, as we see it, refers to the decision whether a person deserves18 blame or praise and, if so, how much. The concept of deserving plays no special role here over and above the criteria that people consider when deciding on a proper moral response – heeding norms, causality, intentionality, mental states, and so on. Ordinary people seem to assume that if blame (or praise) is appropriate, given the abovementioned conditions, it is ipso facto deserved. Perhaps there is no justification for the entire practice, because justification normally occurs as part of the practice – which is what Strawson appears to have argued. If further justification is desired, the practice would have to be measured against deeper values such as fairness and justice (and perhaps some cultures have more just practices of blame and punishment than others). But even then, the spirit of Freedom and Resentment reminds us, we are not best served by worrying about freedom of the will and determinism.