Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pojman on desert

New content for today:

I am redating this post one more time because I believe that the paper here shows the extent to which we are starting to stop thinking in terms of what someone deserves. Pojman is, in fact, trying to regain a role for desert in our thinking which he thinks is an endangered species.

I think one essential feature to many religious traditions is that there is some sort of answer to the question "What do people deserve?" I think this makes the free will problem a problem, in that determinism tends to undercut this notion that people should receive either something good or something bad for doing something bad, simply because this is deserved. If you stop thinking that way, you may do a number of things in the interests of behavior modification that are similar to what you would do if you were trying to give people what they deserve, but that doesn't mean that you actually believe in desert.

So if someone says "I am a compatibilist" on free will, it is not clear based on that whether they really think desert and determinism are compatible. Dennett's Elbow Room is a classic example of someone who reconciles all the varieties of freedom and all the varieties of moral responsibility worth wanting with determinism, but doesn't really find room in his thinking for desert. This suggests to me that he's really finding ways of living without free will, and the sort of moral responsibility that free will was supposed to provide for, rather than reconciling free will with determinism. I see him as a hard determinist who hasn't come out of the closet.

This is a fascinating paper by Louis Pojman on the vanishing role of desert in, particularly, liberal political thought. Though I'm not sure its role in conservative thought is so secure. If I read him correctly, it looks as if Marx wasn't the Marxist most of us are inclined to think of him as being, in that he didn't seek to implement "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" from the outset, and criticized some utopian socialism for attempting this, making the kinds of criticisms against that program that defenders of capitalism would make against 20th-Century communism.

So, how should it go?

"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."
"From each according to his abilities, to each according to the principle of utility"
"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his deserts."
"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his merits." (and note the difference between merit and desert in Pojman).


ichabod's cranium said...

Sorry for putting this here.
But do you know if Stunney still comes around these parts?
Haven't heard from Stunney in a couple of years now.

Victor Reppert said...

No sign of him of late.

J said...

Interesting essay, though Pojman sides with the usual classical strongmen: Aristotle, machiavelli, et al.

Rawls comments on desert seem fairly apt: a citizen might deserve--or be entitled to-- basic necessities (a rational person would probably select that scenario under the original position...), but not deserve vast wealth and power, which were the product of fortunate circumstances, family connections, market economy etc. Does Paris Hilton deserve her millions? We say ..nyet.

I don't recall Rawls' points on merit, but I suspect as rationalist he would agree that people who achieve certain accomplishments, degrees, skills would be entitled to greater rewards than the slothful, but only within a framework where the ambitious started from similar oh circumstances as the lazy. The point is equality as a starting point, not complete equality at all levels of society.

SO it goes something like..."from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." But you are right Marx was not a utopian (or maoist), and certainly recognized differences in skills and abilities. As did bolsheviks: the winner in the chess tournament earned a right to be soviet boss or something....