Desert (Studies in Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy) by George Sher

By George Sher

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Sample text

But surely something sim­ ilar can be said for other differences in initial ability as well. Even if M is initially stronger or more intelligent than N, this difference will only entail that M does not deserve what he has achieved rela9 For the argument of this paragraph, l owe an obvious debt to Stuart Hampshire, Thought and Action (New York: Viking, 1959), chap. 3 . 31 CHAPTER TWO tive to N if the difference between them has made it impossible for N to achieve as much as M. However, differences in strength, in­ tdligence, and other native gifts are rarely so pronounced as to have this effect.

Sidney Hook (New York : Collier, 1961) , pp. 126-42 . 23 C H A P TER T W O have ability and motivation in order to act, we cannot acquire all uur abilities and motives through action. We may do things to de­ velop our talents, to alter our motives , or to increase our effort­ making ability ; but all such steps must depend on some earlier com­ plement of talents, abilities, and traits . Once this is made clear, the issue of freedom, and so too of causation, drops out as irrelevant. Properly interpreted, Rawls's claim that our "natural assets" are undeserved rests not on the fact that they are uncaused, but simply on the fact that our possessing them is not the result of anything we have done .

371. 5 25 C H A P TER T W O however, is that Rawls's premises about personal desert should themselves not be question-begging in turn. Although they must of course be strong enough to yield the desired conclusion, Rawls's premises should also be uncontroversial enough to be acceptable even to persons initially sympathetic to personal desert. As we have stated it, premise (5) fails to satisfy this requirement. Can any al­ ternative premise do better ? Perhaps one can . The basic problem with (S) is that it promiscu­ ously allows a person's desert of Y to be canceled by a ll undeserved necessary conditions for his having Y.

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