A few months ago, I posted an article explaining how the theory of desert untangles particular ethical dilemmas more effectively than consequentialist theories like utilitarianism and prioritarianism. At the end of this article, I briefly touched on John Rawls’s criticism of desert and proposed my own solution to it. Today, I realized that I mischaracterized John Rawls’s criticism of desert. Instead of, as I’ve claimed, submitting to the consensus of rational agents that desert is the way to go, Rawls would object. He would object, because he has a reason to and consensus does not refute that reason. What is his reasoning then? Let me show it to you like this:
- I deserve X iff I, alone, am the only factor responsible for deserving X.
- One cannot claim responsibility of such degree at all.
∴ One does not deserve anything.
In other words, if I were to deserve a grammy, then I should not have advantages uncaused by me such as good genes –not being tone deaf, having large hands, etc. This kind of responsibility is impossible to have; thus, desert is impossible. Now, one could argue that premise 1 is too strong. One could also be a contractarian –like Rawls–and still believe that desert could be a value to which all rational agents could agree. Nonetheless, one cannot be a strict Rawlsian and believe that one deserves anything.