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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 44, 1998

Theoretical Ethics

Christopher Phillips
Pages 175-180

Justice As Desert
Is There Any Such Thing?

Philosopher Matthew Lipman, in Social Inquiry, says that there are instances in which 'what one deserves may be specified fairly readily. A sick child deserves medicine, a hungry child deserves food, children deserve an education...' This seems to imply that these are cases in which what one deserves is clear-cut, and only when 'the cases become more complicated' does it become 'progressively more difficult' to determine desert. I would submit that these cases are not nearly so cut-and-dry, in terms of determining desert, as one might imagine. Is it really correct to say that a sick child deserves medicine? Who is to say? Who is to be the ultimate arbiter? Is there some sort of authority or power (higher or otherwise) who is looked to in order to make such a determination (or who is looked to in order to justify making such an assertion in the first place)? Is desert to be determined based on need? On abundance of what is deserved? On legal entitlements? This paper will address just such questions.

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