Explaining the Geometry of Desert

Public Affairs Quarterly 18:273 (2004)
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In the past decade, three philosophers in particular have recently explored the relation between desert and intrinsic value. Fred Feldman argues that consequentialism need not give much weight – or indeed any weight at all – to the happiness of persons who undeservedly experience pleasure. He defends the claim that the intrinsic value of a state of affairs is determined by the “fit” between the amount of well-being that a person receives and the amount of well-being that the person deserves. Shelly Kagan uses a similar claim to motivate the view that equality is not intrinsically valuable. Thomas Hurka argues that desert is a third-order value, which is a function of the relation between the second-order value of having a virtuous or vicious character and the first-order value of experiencing pleasure or pain. In this paper, we sketch a theory of desert as fittingness and defend a general account of the relation between desert, well-being, and intrinsic value. We then discuss various applications of our “geometry of desert,” including a solution to the problem of the Repugnant Conclusion.
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