Roberto Brigati

On the Concept of Desert

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Desert - merit - entitlement - meritocracy- justice - equality.

The concept of desert (or merit) is at the core of some recent theories of justice, both retributive and distributive. This is partly due to the mounting rhetoric of meritocracy in Western political discourse, and, within ethical theory, to the growing opposition to egalitarianism of Rawlsian or other variety. This paper focuses on the concept of desert itself, trying to pin down its fundamental semantical ambiguity. For this notion may refer to individual achievements and performances, i.e. work done in the service of community, and/or to inherent qualities inborn in the individual: e.g. talents, skills, but even status or nobility by blood. It is the relevant society or human interactional framework which decides what is to count as desert. This makes of desert an essentially social notion, bound to given purposes, values, conventions, and norms. Moreover, this insight affects the rhetoric of meritocracy in that it is no longer possible to think of it in terms of measuring and rewarding objective features independent of any social construal.

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