[CONTINUING A BIT OF THE MTSP ZOOM DISCUSSION OF CH. 1 OF SHER’S DESERT]
I had developed a view of desert-basis (the fact or facts in virtue of which a deserver deserves something) and how it determines desert that went like this: (a) true desert basis, at least in a certain important sense, is the full set of conditions that make it such that the deserver deserves something, (b) in the standard formula (from Kleinig, adopted by Sher), “M deserves X for A” (or “M deserves X because of A”), the ‘for A’ (or ‘because A’) part functions like ‘the cause’ does in our language specifying the cause of events, viz., by picking out a salient (cognitively, pragmatically, conversationally salient) element from the full set of determiners that stands in for the full set, (c) this is evidenced by the case of my wronging you making it such that you deserve an apology because the cited property is different from the sorts usually cited (and not, not in the relevant sense of ‘property’, a property of the deserver, the thing that the standard view takes to be the sole or special determiner). I now think that all of this is basically wrong: [a] if true misses the point, [b] is flat-out wrong, and [c] is also wrong.
In the Zoom discussion of Sher’s chs. 1-2 with David, Irfan and Roderick, I presented this view, leading off with presenting [c] and framing it as a counterexample to the standard view that the desert-basis is always (or has to be) a property of the deserver (boom! counterexample! catnip for philosophers…). But Roderick (and Irfan earlier, in correspondence) insisted that, taken literally and using a standard philosophical sense of ‘property of an individual’, my counterexample simply fails. The property of your being wronged by me is a property of you. Anticipating this move, my counter-move was to fall back on some more-restricted idea of what a property of an individual is. But I never really fleshed that out. And here, I think, is what my partially-unconscious intuition-driving thought-process was: the property of being wronged by me is unlike other common desert-bases like (roughly) having some desirable property, achieving something or being virtuous. This is correct, but the standard view that I was attacking need not (and perhaps typically does not) deny this. Ultimately, my self-diagnosis here is something that sometimes worries me about how people theorize about desert: I got fixed in my mind one important or paradigmatic sort of desert and desert-basis (roughly, desert on the accomplishment/reward model) and confused it with the entire phenomenon. So my whole line here is a total flop — made worse by attempting the old definitive-counterexample mic-drop. Ugh. Sort of embarrassing.
In a way, I made a similar mistake regarding [b]. Sometimes our language of cause or determination works in the way that I was fixed on (as with ‘the cause’ being used to specify an element of the total cause that is salient to us in some context, thus in part reflecting facts about us, not just facts about the world) — but not always. Sometimes, instead, it is used to reference things that fill particular, metaphysically distinctive determining roles. (David strongly pressed a view like this, in distinguishing metaphysically distinct difference-makers and background conditions. Though I’m skeptical about this precise distinction doing the right work, especially in the fire/match-striking/oxygen-present case, I had no ready answer for this objection; and this, as much or more than Roderick’s and Irfan’s objections to my [a], prompted this post.) For example, if I say that being morally virtuous makes someone admirable, I seem to be specifying a special metaphysical role for those features in determining the admirability. This role need not be, and in this case probably is not, a total determiner (as is commonly claimed, I think falsely, regarding the supervenience of the normative on the descriptive). If this is right, and if desert is like admirability, then my analogy with ‘the cause’ sorts of causal expressions would be all wet.
As would be my metaphysics of the determination relationship, what I assert in [a]: in addition to the total set of determination conditions, there is a special metaphysical role (and this is what the language of ‘for A’ and of desert-basis would be getting at). In our discussion, I gestured toward allowing such a special role, as a free-standing thesis, suggesting that being-a-human or being-a-moral-patient or some such, rather than being-wronged-by-me might play a special determining role, a role similar to that of desirable features or accomplishments in other, perhaps more paradigmatic, cases of desert. That is all fine and well in one respect, but it just doubles down on the error of taking all cases of desert to fit the accomplishment/reward model. Perhaps a nice stroke, but still swimming in the wrong direction.
And guess what? All along, my best guess about being deserving has been that it is very much like being admirable! So I’m just going to switch sides on the metaphysics of desert-basis to line myself up with my tentative view of the nature of desert. But there is substantive work to do here: just what is the special determining role (beyond the formal characterization given)? Here is what I think now. Consider being admirable. Being virtuous is what is specified as (i) the input or response-demanding condition (ii) for a standard that (iii) exists, (iv) applies and (v) is (or functions) normatively. I suspect that these standards are naturalistically-kosher proper-functional (or functional-aim) standards that are hooked up to our psychologies (most especially to our motivations) in the right way. In any case, for desert, it might go like this: for being-wronged type (or more generally wronging-related type) desert, the deserver having been wronged plays the input or response-demanding role for a standard that demands a certain output. I suspect that the relevant (functional-cum-normative) standard applies to everyone and demands some positive attitude-type response to the deserver getting what she deserves (you getting your apology from me).
All of this requires a ton more specification and defense. But I think I’m on the right track now, regarding desert-basis, the metaphysics of how desert-determination goes and how the relevant bits of language function in picking this out. Much thanks to y’all for challenging my all-too-confident assertions of [a], [b] and [c]. I was wandering down the wrong road.