Date of this Version
Ethics Jul 2017, Volume 127, Issue 4, pp. 929 - 934
Fred Feldman is known for the view that consequentialists should admit a fundamental role for desert in moral evaluation. But this book sketches a different desertism. It is a theory of what Feldman calls “political-economic distributive justice,” according to which such justice is a matter of getting what one deserves.
The view, briefly stated in Feldman’s theoretical vocabulary, is this: First, there is perfect political-economic distributive justice in a country if and only if, and in virtue of the fact that, in every case in which a citizen of that country deserves a political-economic desert, he or she receives that desert from the appropriate political-economic distributor (71–72). Second, there is greater political-economic distributive justice in one imperfectly just group than another when the situation of the first more closely approximates perfect political economic justice than does the situation of the second (72).
These claims require unpacking. I will focus, with Feldman, on the first and central claim. What does it mean?
Perhaps the best way to capture the basic idea behind Feldman’s view is to cite the case used to motivate it: a hurricane causes enormous damage to a farm, which the farm family needs some assistance to repair. Feldman says that they “need to get some help from someone—presumably their community, and they deserve it because they need it” (76). Many people do not have devastated farms. But, Feldman says, they “are like the farmers in this somewhat more abstract respect: since they are vulnerable to natural disasters . . . and since they are individually unable to protect themselves against these natural disasters, they deserve to be embedded in a community that will do its best to ensure that help will be provided to members who are adversely affected by such things” (77). Everyone is vulnerable to natural disasters, and on Feldman’s view, everyone deserves for that very reason assurance of assistance, guaranteed by their community (77).