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Merit and the Epistemological Argument Against Desert

Political Theory
Knowledge
Normative Theory
TS08

Room: General

Friday 09:30 - 10:45 (31/07/2020)


Abstract

Instructor: Sorin Baiasu, Keele University Abstract: Egalitarian theories of distributive justice have become increasingly dominant since the 1960s. One dominant model they had to contend with was the classical model of justice as getting what we deserve. Rawls’s A Theory of Justice seemed to provide the decisive critique of desertism, although careful attention to Rawls’s argument shows that he is not rejecting desert as such, but the possibility of precisely ascertaining what we deserve. Jeffrey Moriarty called this the “epistemological” argument against desert. Hope for a response to this argument can be found in John Roemer’s work. Roemer proposes a model of equality of opportunity, which seems to allow relatively accurate responsibility measurement. On this theory, in order to measure desert, we observe differences in performance between persons who are affected by the same set of natural and social factors. A better performance is more deserving. Another response to the epistemological argument can be found in Thomas Mulligan’s more recent proposal for a desert-based theory of justice. This proposal starts from some important intuitions, such as the role of desert in distributive justice, the implausibility of an equality-first principle of distribution, the unattractive features of luck-egalitarianism or the relation between desert and personal responsibility. While acknowledging the significance of these premises, the focus of the presentation will be on the distinction between desert and merit, and the meritocratic character of the theory proposed. In particular, the question will be whether this new desert-based account takes into consideration seriously enough Rawls’s epistemological argument. Core Reading: 1. Mulligan, T. (2018) Justice and the Meritocratic State. New York: Routledge, Ch. 7, 165-82. Further Readings: 2. Baiasu, S. (2020) “Why fairness matters more than equality – three ways to think philosophically about justice”, in The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/whyfairness- matters-more-than-equality-three-ways-to-think-philosophically-about-justice- 140954 - an outline of the debate and of my solution. 3. Rawls, J. (1995[1971/1993]) A Theory of Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press/Rev. ed], §17 – includes Rawls’s main arguments against desert. 4. Moriarty, J. (2002) “Desert and Distributive Justice in A Theory of Justice”, in Journal of Social Philosophy. 33(1): 131-43 – a discussion of how to interpret Rawls’s critique of desert. 5. Roemer, J. (1993) “A Pragmatic Theory of Responsibility for the Egalitarian Planner”, in Philosophy and Public Affairs. 22(2): 146-66 – outline of Roemer’s pragmatic theory of responsibility. 6. Moriarty, J. (2005) “The Epistemological Argument against Desert”, in Utilitas. 17(2): 205- 21 – formulates the epistemological argument against desert and the pragmatic theory of desert measurement.