Desert and Merit (Part 1 of 2)

Having finished Sher’s Desert last week, the MTSP Discussion is on to discussing HLA Hart’s The Concept of Law, but I’m going to spend the next few weeks hammering out summaries of the last four chapters of Sher’s book, just for the hell of it. I’ve had to break my discussion of Chapter 7 of Desert into two parts, a summary and a critique. This post is the summary; I’ll post the critique when I get a chance.

Chapter 7 of Desert discusses a so-far neglected basis of desert, merit. It seems self-evident or obvious to many people that we deserve things insofar as we have or exhibit the right kind of merit, whether moral or non-moral, to do so. Chapter 7, “Merit and Desert,” discusses contexts where moral and non-moral considerations merge in ways that are hard to entangle.  Take for instance the common claim that college admissions be based on candidates’ “merit” with respect to admission. Is that a moral claim or a non-moral one? Does it involve a moral conception of merit or a non-moral one? Continue reading

Hit Me with Your Best Shot

Well, it looks like the pro-booster side has essentially won the argument, at least in the US, over whether boosters ought to be given for recipients of the Pfizer-Biontech COVID vaccine, six+ months after the second dose. My brother Suleman and I have (very incompletely) argued the case in favor of boosters here, here, and here. As front-line health care workers (he’s a physician, I worked in OR EVS), we got our first doses of the shot back in December 2020, and our second ones in January 2021. He works with COVID patients in a hospital, and I work in an increasingly crowded office. Neither of us had any sense of how much protection we were getting from the vaccine at this point.

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The “Other Side” of the Holocaust

My response to a (perfectly legitimate) critique of the Texas directive demanding that teachers teach “both sides” of every issue, including the Holocaust:

Irfan Khawaja October 16, 2021 at 11:08 am

This is a fundamentally idiotic directive with a fundamentally idiotic motivation. But if they’re really duty-bound to abide by it, why not teach the history of the Palestinian nakba of 1947-49? The Palestinians were (and are) the victims of the victims of the Holocaust, the people whose story is rarely told in American discourse. If you want “the other side” of the Holocaust, that’s it. You don’t have to tell the Holocaust from the perspective of David Irving or the SS. Tell it from the perspective of those who were collateral damage of the attempt to compensate the victims.

The Lost Boys

Here’s an exchange I just had with Stephen Hicks over a recent Wall Street Journal article, “A Generation of American Men Give Up on College” (Sept. 6, 2021). (The Journal piece is paywalled, but can be one-time accessed by registering.)

Naturally, I’m having trouble with the technological wonders of the “block editor,” so I’ve indicated in italics where each separate quotation begins.

Stephen’s reaction to the article:

Two thoughts:

  1. This is a bad thing. Boys and young men have been ill-served by mainstream education, such that they are unmotivated and unprepared for life’s challenges — and they know it in their bones.
  2. This is a good thing. Rather than waste two or four more years of the same at colleges and universities that extend the mis-education, the young men will gropingly get into real life and actually find something engaging and valuable to do.
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There is a point about desert that Fred Feldman and Brad Skow get wrong in their SEP entry on desert. They distinguish between desert and entitlement (their terms; other terms would be ‘pre-institutional desert’ and ‘institutional desert’). There should be a threefold distinction here, not a twofold distinction.

If a convention or institution specifies that, if someone makes a certain mark, then they are to be rewarded or honored in a certain way, Feldman and Skow say there is entitlement, not desert (they want to reserve the term ‘desert’ for pre-institutional desert). However, it is both true that the winner of the footrace deserves (or is entitled to) the specified prize for winning and that the person who is fastest (but failed to win due to happenstance) deserves to have won. The former is institution-dependent in an obvious way, but so is the latter. Neither makes sense except relative to the conventions of a contest (and similarly for other conventions or institutions). We might call the first procedural or specified-reward institutional desert and the second substantive institutional desert with respect to what is meant to be (but might not always accurately be) measured by the making of the mark. (The basic point here is not original to me: Scanlon makes a version of this point in his 2013 article, “Giving Desert Its Due.”) Continue reading

Voting on Character Means Voting Republican

So here’s a case of character-based voting–not a particularly dramatic one, I’ll admit, but a case just the same, and evidence that character-based voting can, under the right circumstances, make perfect sense. 

I recently got my mail-in ballot for the upcoming general election. One of the offices on the ballot is that of Hunterdon County Clerk (for Hunterdon County, New Jersey). The Republicans are running incumbent Mary H. Melfi as their candidate; the Democrats aren’t running a candidate this time. Assuming that I vote in this election (as I plan to), I have three options:

  1. I could vote for Melfi.
  2. I could leave the relevant part of the ballot blank.
  3. I could write someone in besides Melfi, or write something in the relevant slot, whether or not it’s the name of a candidate, up to and including a ballot-spoiling piece of profanity.

As it happens, I’m a Democrat strongly opposed to the Republican Party in its current incarnation. In previous elections where a Republican was running unopposed by the Democrats (or I was, due to a bureaucratic glitch, forced to vote Republican in a primary), I’ve either left the ballot blank, or in some way voted against the Republicans by some ad hoc expedient–e.g., making use of the write-in option, and writing “Not X” with the Republicans’ name for “X,” or writing in “NOTA” (None of the Above) in rejection of everyone on the ballot. In general, I have no problem with taking a party-line stance on voting, whether for the Democrats or against the Republicans.

In this case, however, I’ve decided to vote for Melfi on grounds of character. So yes: voting on character means voting Republican, at least in this case.

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