chapter  4
3 Pages

Two views on desert

A key assumption behind the scenes in Pereboom’s argument involves basic desert. Pereboom (2011, 408) believes that what is at issue in this debate is a basic desert notion of moral responsibility. Pereboom grants that contractualist, consequentialist, and pragmatic grounds for moral responsibility might be consistent with the truth of determinism. But a notion of moral responsibility claiming that agents deserve praise/blame just in virtue of performing some action “given sensitivity to its moral status”, is not consistent with the truth of determinism. This account of desert is under-described and more needs to be said about what it is that compatibilists are not supposed to be capable of accommodating. But for now, note that Pereboom is not denying that moral responsibility is incompatible with causal determinism. Rather, he is claiming that theories of moral responsibility which appeal to basic desert require agents to satisfy conditions that they are unable to meet if determinism is true. Pereboom proposes that most compatibilist accounts of moral responsibility, including reactive-attitude approaches popularized by Peter Strawson, presuppose this strong notion of desert. What basic desert is and whether compatibilists are committed to a basic desert notion of responsibility will be taken up in the next two sections.