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How to Deserve Author(s): David Schmidtz Source: Political Theory, Vol. 30, No. 6 (Dec., 2002), pp.

774-799 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. Stable URL: Accessed: 06/08/2010 10:36
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DAVIDSCHMIDTZ UniversityofArizona

People oughtto get whatthey deserve.And whatthey deservecan depend or on effort, on performance, on excelling in competition,even when excellence is partly a function of a person's naturalgifts. Or so most people believe. Philosophersoften say otherwise.John Rawls famously calls it
one of the fixed points of our consideredjudgmentsthatno one deserveshis place in the distributionof naturalendowments,any more than one deserves one's initial starting that place in society.The assertionthata mandeservesthe superiorcharacter enableshim to make the effort to cultivate his abilities is equally problematic;for his character this AUTHOR'S NOTE:Myintellectualdebts regarding essay are many.Thisis only a partial list of those whose inputhas beenpivotal: DavidAlm,JuliaAnnas,MarvinBelzer,PaulBloomfield, Gillian Brock,TomChristiano,AndrewCohen,David Copp,JonathanDancy, PeterDanielson, StephenDarwall, Steve Daskal, John PatrickDiggins, Paul Dotson, Amitai Etzioni, Ray Frey, Allan Gibbard, Charles Goodman, Chris Griffin,Amy Gutmann,Allen Habib, Bill Haines, RichardHealey, Rosalind Hursthouse,Jenann Ismael, David Johnston,Scott LaBarge,Loren EduardoRiveraLopez,MichaelMcDonald,FredMiller,DarrelMoellendorf,Richard Lomasky, Jan MarkMurphy, Narveson,Wayne Donald Moon, ChristopherMorris, Norman, Montgomery, David Owen, Jeff Paul, Michael Pendlebury,Guido Pincione, Steve Pink, Francis Fox Piven, James Rachels, Peter Railton, HenryRichardson,Dan Russell, Jack Sanders,Daniel Shapiro, HoustonSmit,MichaelSmith,RhondaSmith,David Sobel, Horacio Spector,ChristineSwanton, Fernando Teson, Mary Tjiattas,David Truncellito,David Velleman,Elizabeth Willott,Matt Zwolinski,and two anonymousreviewers.I thankaudiences at the RochesterInstituteof Techdi nology, ChungCheng University,Torcuato TellaLaw School, and the Universitiesof MichiAuckland,Arizona, British Columbia,Calgary, Yale,and gan, WestVirginia,Witwatersrand, Bowling GreenStatefor theirhospitality.In additiontopeople alreadynamed,I wantto I thank Bob Ware, HahnHsu, Rob Gressis,Joseph Tolliver, RogersSmithand CoreyRobin,and Marina Oshanaand KorySwansonfor arrangingthose talks.I also wish to thankthe Social Philosophy and Policy Centerat Bowling GreenState University,the Centre Applied Ethics at the Unifor and the Universityof Arizonafor research versityof BritishColumbia,the EarhartFoundation, support.Finally, I want to thankChris Maloney. Welive in the same neighborhoodand often walkhometogetheras the sun sets behindus, discussingjusticeand otherphilosophicaltopics. I treasurethose walks, although Chris is not to blamefor how I write them up. 2002 774-799 Vol. POLITICAL THEORY, 30 No.6, December DOI:10.1177/0090591702238203 ? 2002SagePublications 774



depends in large partupon fortunatefamily and social circumstancesfor which he can claim no credit.The notion of desert seems not to apply to these cases.

EricRakowskisees the passage as an "uncontroversial assertion,which even libertarians such as Nozick accept."2 our The view is, in a way,compelling.Inevitably, effortsareaidedby naturalgifts, positionaladvantages,andsheerluck, so how muchcan we deserve? resultfroman interplayof those same factors,how And if ourverycharacters can we deserve anythingat all?3Accordingly,says Samuel Scheffler,"none of the most prominentcontemporaryversions of philosophical liberalism principle."4 assigns a significantrole to desert at the level of fundamental This essay begins by indicatinghow desertis conceived in philosophical literature.The main objective, though, is to consider what we can do to be I deserving.In particular, arguethatthereis an aspectof what we do to make ourselvesdeservingthat,althoughit has not been discussed in the literature, plays a centralrole in everydaymorallife, and for good reason.

AND I. THE "BIGBANG"THEORY A COMPATIBILISTALTERNATIVE Nearly everyonewould say people ought to get what they deserve. But if we ask what people deserve, or on what basis, people begin to disagree. A few will say we deserve things simply in virtueof being humanor being in to need. Manywill say we deserverewardin proportion the effortwe putinto to ourprojectsor in proportion the realvalue oureffortsaddto those projects. Some say we deserve on the basis of our manifesttalentor our excellence in competition.5 If we could sort out which of these alleged desertbases are genuine, it is hardto know exactly what the membersof the resulting set would have in common. However, as George Sher plausibly suggests, to judge a person deservingis to respondto featuresof the personthatwe judge to be of value.6 To judge Bob deserving of X is to judge Bob worthy of X. Intuitively (although admittedly this is less obvious), to acknowledge that there are thingsBob can do to be deservingX is at some level to acknowledgethatBob is a person.7Somethingroughly like this is implicit in normaldeliberation aboutwhat a person deserves. The skeptics' theory,in its most sweeping form, depicts desert in such a way that to deserve X, we must not only supply the sort of input that is standardly thoughtto grounda desertclaim;we also mustbe deservingof the



prior history of the world that caused us to be in a position to supply that input.8 Needless to say, we all have whateverwe havepartlyin virtueof luck, and luck is not a desert maker.Every outcome is influenced by factors that are has (Arbitrary a negativeconnotation,but withoutfurther morallyarbitrary. we areentitledonly to say luck is morallyneutralor inert,andthat argument, is how I intendthe termarbitraryto be understood here.)But does the supposition thatsome of an outcome'scausalinputsaremorallyarbitrary entailthat all of them mustbe? No. Everyoneis lucky to some degree,butthereis a big difference between being lucky and being merely lucky. The bare fact of being lucky is not what precludes being deserving. Being merely lucky is whatprecludesbeing deserving,becauseto say we aremerelylucky is to say we have not supplied inputs (the effort, the excellence) that grounddesert claims. To rebuta desertclaim in a given case, we need to show that inputs that can grounddesertclaims (and on a nonemptyconception,therewill be some9)aremissing in thatcase. The fact thattherealso will be inputsthatdo not grounddesertclaims (luck, the Big Bang) is both inevitableandinconsequentialand, thus, goes without saying. links, but no one Skeptics say every causal chain has morally arbitrary doubtsthat.The idea with genuinely skepticalramificationsis thatno chain has nonarbitrary links. The argument thateven character, is talent,and other internalfeaturesthatconstituteus as personsarearbitrary long as they are so links. The upshot is that productsof chains of events containing arbitrary internalfeaturesof personsmustbe uncaused,lest they be reducedto the status of mere luck. Harddeterminismis the view thatevery event is determined,thusthereis no free will. Skeptics about desert accept an analog of hard determinism: thereforenotheverycausalchaintracesbackto somethingmorallyarbitrary, is deserved.So, why not respondwith an analogof whatphilosopherscall ing In compatibilism?10 otherwords, why not say (somewhatas a compatibilist would say) thatwhile everyevent has a cause, some causal chainsworktheir way throughfeaturesinternalto persons?Such featuresare not all morally unless everythingis. If a skeptic says, "Character arbitrary," is a arbitrary, to what?We are talking about featuresthat nonskepticreplies, "Compared make personspersons. If character does not matter,what does?"We distinbetweenoutcomesthatowe somethingto a person'schoices, character, guish talent,andeffort,andoutcomesthatdo not.1 Desertmakers,if therearesuch things, are relationsbetween outcomes and internalfeaturesof persons. In general, nothing is assumed about what caused those featuresto come into existence.



Is thereanythingodd or surprisingaboutthe fact that we generallymake no assumptionsabouta desertmaker'scausalhistory?Probablynot. Whatif we had been talking about the features of nonpersons? Joel Feinberg observes, "Artobjects deserve admiration; problemsdeservecarefulconsidbills of legislation deserve to be passed."1 John Kleinig says the eration; Such remarksaboutnonpersonsare GrandCanyondeserves its reputation."3 offeredas smalldigressions,mentionedin passingandthenset aside, butthey pointto somethingcrucial.We neversay the GrandCanyondeservesits reputationonly if it in turndeservesthe naturalendowmentson which its reputation is based. We never question artisticjudgments by saying, "Even the greatestof paintings were caused to have the featureswe admire.Not one everdid anythingto deservebeing causedto havethose features." Intuitively, obviously, it doesn't matter. Skeptics assume it does matterin the case of persons,but the assumption appearsto be groundless.As with nonpersons,when a person'sinternalfeaturessupportdesertclaims, the supportappearsto come froman appreciation of whatthose featuresare,not fromevidencethatthe featuresareuncaused. Here, then, is where matters currently stand. Ordinarythought about desertwould be a recipe for skepticismif it were truethat ordinarythought assumespeople deserve creditfor doing X only when people in turndeserve credit for having the ability and opportunityto do X. However, insofar as ordinarypracticedoes not assume this, ordinarypracticehas no such problem. We seem to have two options. First, we can say no one deserves anything,andthatis whatwe will say if we assumewe deservecreditfor working hardonly if we in turndeserve creditfor being "destined" work hard.The to second option is to say we deserve credit for working hardnot because we deserveto have been destinedto workhard,but simply because we did, after all, work hard.The latteris our ordinarypractice. Neither option is compelling. We are not forced to believe in desert;neither are we forced to be skeptics.We decide. If we take a fresh look, we can ask whetherwe treatpeople more respectfullywhen we give them creditfor whatthey do or when we deny themcredit.Orwe can ask whatkindof life we have when we live by one conceptionrather thananother. These aredifferent and not the only questions we could ask. Perhapsthe answersall questions, pointin the same direction.Perhapsnot. Sweeping skepticismis unattractive to most people, but thereis no denying thatskepticismis an option, and that some do choose to be skeptics. Refuting the skeptic and answeringthe question "How can we deserve anythingat all?" are differenttasks. This chapteranswers the question, but not by refutingskeptics. For those who want an answer-for those who do



not want to be skeptics-this essay's objective is to make room within a philosophicallyrespectabletheoryof justice for the idea thattherearethings we can do to be deserving.

A II. DESERVING CHANCE Suppose we know what a personhas to do to be deserving.Is therealso a questionaboutwhena personhas to do it? JamesRachelssays, "Whatpeople deserve always dependson what they have done in the past."14 David Miller "desertjudgments arejustified on the basis of past and presentfacts says, aboutindividuals,never on the basis of states of affairsto be createdin the future."'5 I thinkthat if we are not careful,we could interpretsuch statementsin a way that would lead us to overlook an important,perhapseven the most relation.It is a conventionalview that important, categoryof desert-making whatpeople deservedependson whatthey do, and surelyit is a conventional view that we deserve no credit for what we do until after we have done it. There seems to be a furtheraspect to academicconvention,though,namely, that when we first receive (for example) our naturaland positional advantages, if we have not alreadydone somethingto deserve them, it is too late. We areborninto ournatural positionaladvantages mereluck, andthat and by which comes to us by mere luck cannotbe deserved. This furtheraspect is what I reject. I said being merely lucky precludes being deserving.I did not say,anddo not believe, thatbeing merelylucky at t, precludesbeing deservingat t2.Even when action is needed to forge a connection between outcome and internalfeatures,I argue,the action need not we precedethe outcome.In particular, have not yet done anythingto deserve our naturalgifts at the momentof our birth, but that need not matter.What matters,if anythingat all matters,is whatwe do afterthe fact. Let me makea claim thatmay at first seem counterintuitive:
We sometimesdeserveX on the basis of whatwe do afterreceivingX rather thanwhatwe do before.

Upon receiving a surprisinglygood job offer, a new employee vows to work hard to deserve it. No one thinks the vow is paradoxical.No one takes the employee aside and says, "Relax.There'snothingyou can do. Only the past is relevant,and the past is arbitrary from a moralpoint of view."But unless sucheverydayvows aremisguided,we can deserveX on the basis of whatwe do afterreceiving X.



How can this be? Is it not a brutefact thatwhen we ask whethera person deservesX, we look backward,not forward?Supposewe say yes, conceding for argument'ssake thatwe must look back. Even so, notice we still need to ask: backwardfrom where? Perhapswe look back from where we are but mistakenlyassumewe need to look back from wherethe recipientwas at the moment of receiving X. If we look back, a year after hiring the new whatdo we ask? employee, wonderingwhethershe deservedthe opportunity, We ask whatshe did with it. Whenwe do that,we are lookingbackeven while looking at events thathappenedafterX was received.Fromthatperspective, We we see we can be deservingof opportunities.16 deservethemby not wastthem theirdue, as it were.'7 ing them-by giving Therefore, even if we necessarily look back when evaluating desert claims, the crucialpointremainsthatthe use sometimes-even when the use occurs afterthe fact-bears on whethera personwas worthyof the opportunity. Imagine anothercase. Two studentsreceive scholarships.One works hard and gets excellent grades. The other partiesher way throughher first year before finally being expelled for cheating. Does their conduct tell us nothing aboutwhich was more deservingof a scholarship? Can we defend the convention (that whetherwe deserve X depends on what happensbefore we receive X) by saying the students'conduct is releIt vantonly becauseit revealswhatthey were like beforereceivingthe award? would appearnot. When we look back at the expelled student'sdisgraceful firstyear,our reasonfor saying she did not deserve her awardhas nothingto do with speculationabout what she did in high school. We may agree that both studentswere equallyqualifiedfor scholarships reward.Orsuppose qua bothwere chosen via clericalerrorandpriorto theywere equallyunqualified; the awardwere equallydestinedfor a lifetime of failure.The differencelies in not subsequentperformance, priorqualifications.Whatgroundsour convicis tion thatone is moreworthyof the scholarship opportunity thatone stuqua dent gave the opportunityits due; the other did not. Again, we sometimes thanwhatwe do deserveX on the basis of whatwe do afterreceivingX rather before. Needless to say, skepticsgreetthis conclusionwith skepticism.It can look dubiouseven to less skepticalphilosophers.Why?Partof the problemis that as philosopherswe learn to focus on desert as a compensatorynotion. The idea is, inputswe supplypriorto receivingX puta moralscale out of balance, suchthatourreceivingX rebalancesthe scale. Tothose who see desertas necnotion,we deserveX only if X representsa restoring essarilya compensatory of moralbalance.We deserve X only if we deserve it qua reward,only if our receiving X settles an account.



In ordinaryuse, though,desertsometimes is a promissorynotion. Sometimes ourreceivingX is whatputsthe moralscale out of balance,andoursubsequentlyproving ourselves worthyof X is what restoresit. X need not be compensationfor already having supplied the requisite inputs. There are times when it is the otherway around-when supplyingthe requisiteinputsis what settles the account. In either case, two things happen,and the second settles the account. In cases, desert-making compensatory inputsaresuppliedfirst,thenthe reward settles the account.In promissorycases, the opportunityis given first, then supplying desert-making inputs settles the account. On the promissory I model, a new employee who vows, "Iwill dojustice to this opportunity. will show you I deserveit"is not babbling.She is not saying futureeventswill retthe roactivelycause it to be the case thatherreceivingX represents settlingof an account now. Instead,she is saying futureevents will settle the account. Herclaim is notthatshe is gettingwhatshe alreadypaidfor butthatshe is getting what she will pay for.'8 So why does James Rachels assert that, "Whatpeople deserve always Rachels says, "theexplanadependson what they have done in the past"?'9 tion of why pastactionsarethe only bases of desertconnectswith the factthat if people were neverresponsiblefor theirown conduct-if strictdeterminism were true-no one would ever deserveanything."20 Crucially,when he says, Rachelsis stressing"actions," not actions arethe only bases of desert," "past WhatRachels sees as the unacceptable is alternative not a theorysuch "past." as mine but rather view thatpeople deserveto be rewarded theirnatufor the ral endowments.He is thinkingof past actions versuspast nonactionsand is not considering whether actions postdatingX's receipt might be relevant. Thatis why Rachelscould see himself as explainingwhy "pastactionsarethe only bases of desert"when he arguesthat"if people were neverresponsible Notice: this for theirown conduct,... no one would ever deserve anything." in no way connects desertbases to events predatingX's receipt.It argument connects desertto action, but not to past action.21 Rachels also says, "Peopledo not deservethings on accountof theirwillThere ingness to workbutonly on accountof theiractuallyhavingworked."22 arereasonswhy Rachelswould say this, andhe maybe exactlyrightwhen we are talking aboutrewards.It appearsanalytic that rewardsare responses to However,rewardsarenot the only kindof thingthatcan be pastperformance. deserved.We sometimesalso havereasonsto say thingslike, "shedeservesa chance."We may say a youngjob candidatedeservesa chancenot becauseof any work she has done but ratherbecause she is plainly a talentedand wellmeaningpersonwho wantsthejob andwho will throwherselfinto it if given the chance.



A more seniorinternalcandidatemay be deservingin a differentway: that Yet,the idea thatan inexperienced is, worthyof rewardfor pastperformance. candidatecan deserve a chance, andfor the reasonsmentioned,is something most people find compelling. We can be glad they do, too, because thinking this way helps to bringit aboutthatopportunities to those worthyof them go in the promissorysense, that is, those who do justice to them when given a chance. If we say a job candidatedeserves a chance and then, far from throwing herself into the job, she treatsit with contempt,thatwould make us wrong.23 The promissoryaspectof desertwill have failed to materialize.She will have Note thatif hada chanceto balancethe accountandwill havefailedto do so.24 it of the time line is relevantmerelyas information, is the partbefore anypart she was hired,not the partafter.The "before" justifies the hiringcommitpart tee's predictionthat she will supply the requisiteinputs. The "after"partis what makes the prediction true.25We sort out applicants for a reason. Normally, the point is not to rewardsomeone for past conduct but to get someonewho can do thejob. Thatis why,by thetime we reacht2,the question but is not what she did before the opportunity what she did with it. The question at t2need not and often does not turnon what was alreadysettled at tl. To furtherclarify the natureof the promissorymodel, we should separate it into two elements. The first element explains what we can say aboutJane from the perspective of t2. The second element explains what we can say aboutJanefrom the perspectiveof t,.
X Element(a): A personwho receivesopportunity at tl can be deservingat t2in virtueof having done justice to it. Element (b): A person who receives opportunityX at tl can be deserving at tl in virtue of what she will do if given the chance.

What does element (a) tell us? It tells us that it can be true at t2 that the accounthas been settled.Janesuppliedinputsthatdidjustice to X. We do not supposeJanealreadysuppliedthose inputsat t1.Whenwe call Janedeserving at t2, as per element (a), we are not denying that she may have been merely lucky at t,. All we aresaying is, when the chanceto proveherselfworthypresented itself, Janedid what she needed to do. Next considerelement(b). We askedwhatis supposedto be trueat t2.If we insteadask what is supposedto be trueat tl, thatwould be a questionfor element (b). Element (b) says Jane can deserve X at tl, but this does not mean her Janehas alreadydone somethingsuch thatrewarding with X at t, settles an account. Instead,what is supposed to be true at t1 is that Jane is choiceworthy. Specifically, a hiring committee may, at tl, judge Jane's choice-



worthinessin termsof whethershe will settle the account,given the chance. element(b) andnone areperfect;howTherearevariousways of formulating ever, when we thinkof contexts like hiringdecisions, it seems naturalto say the hiring committee is looking not merely for someone who theoretically can do the job, but for someone who will do the job given a chance, where "given a chance"means not only "if we offer her the job" but also "barring and unforeseencatastrophe" so on. Also, ourinvocationof element(b) at t, is, in effect, a predictionthatby the time we get to t2,we will be in a position to invokeelement(a). We arepredictingthatby t2,she will have suppliedthe relevantdesert-making inputs.However,we arenot merely wageringon future Rather,we are wagering that the person has desert-making performance. internalfeatures that will translateinto future performancebarringunexpectedmisfortune.We aresaying she is thekindof personwho will do thejob given the chance.(Whenwe areconfidentthata machinewill performwell if we give it a chance, we generallydo not speakof the machineas deservinga chance.At very least, we do not meanthe samethingwhen speakingof a peras son's character when speakingof a machine'scharacteristics.) Finally,we choice-worthinessas a questionof what is trueof the candicould interpret dateor as a questionof whatthe committeeknows aboutthe candidate.There areprosandcons eitherway.The committeejustifiesits decisionby citing the best evidence it can gatherregardinghow she will do. Still, we might hold thatwhatmakesit truethatshe is choice-worthyis the fact thatshe trulyis the and kind of personwho will supplythe requisitedesert-makers thus become at t2in the sense of the promissorymodel's element (a). deserving What the promissory model's element (a) says is that although desert requiresa balancebetween whatJanegives andwhatJaneis given, Janeneed X not move first.Element(b) says Janecan deserveopportunity (in the sense of being choice worthy) before she does her part. In contrast,element (a) pointedlydoes not say Janecan deserveX before doing her part.Element(a) stressesthateven if JanedeservesX only after doing her part,it still does not follow thatshe has to do herpartbeforereceivingX. Element(a) thereforeis the essence of the promissory model's departurefrom the idea that we So deserveX only if we deserveit as a rewardfor pastperformance. faras our purposeis to challenge this idea, we do not need element (b). We need some versionof element (b) only insofaras we seek to vindicateordinary practice, our andin particular tendencyto speakof candidatesas deservinga chancein virtueof what they can and will do if given a chance. Admittedly,if a committeeinvokeselement (b) in concludingthatJaneis choice worthyat t,, then whetherthe committeejudged correctlyremainsto be seen. Is this a puzzle?If so, it is less a puzzle aboutdesertandmore a puzzle aboutprediction.To see this, consider an analogy. Suppose at t, we say



In Janewill be married t2.Janethengets married. thatcase, eventsat t2have at indeed settled the truth-value a claim utteredat tl. Does anyone find this of puzzling? So far as I know, no one speaks of future events as backwardcausing a predictionto be true. Futureevents simply settle that a prediction of was true.Eventsat t2can settlethe truth-value a claim like, "She'll get mara chance."They also can settle the truth-valueof a claim like, ried, given "She'lldojustice to X, given a chance."Therecomes a time when we can say, "Yousaid she'd get married; turnsoutyou wereright," when a committee it or it can say, "We said she'd do justice to the opportunity; turnsout we were In eithercase, Janesettles whathadbeen unsettled."ShedeservesX," right." than meaningshe will dojustice to it if given a chance,is no moreparadoxical "Saltis soluble,"meaningit will dissolve in waterif given a chance. Insofaras the hypothesis that Jane deserves a chance at t, is a matterof whetherJanehas relevantdispositionalpropertiesat tl, andinsofaras the test of this hypothesis lies in the future, the promissory model's element (b) implies thatmorallife sometimesinvolves decision makingunderconditions of uncertainty.Hiring committees make decisions about which candidates are most worthywith no guaranteethatthey are deciding correctly.When a committeejudges at t1 that Jane deserves a chance, they are placing a bet. her They also arejudginghercharacter. They may even be transforming characterinsofaras theirtrustmay inspireJaneto become the kindof personthey judge her to be. At tl, though, it remainsto be seen whetherJane is or will become that kind of person. Jane settles that later, in an epistemological sense, and perhapsin a metaphysicalsense too, insofaras Jane will have to that decide, not merely reveal, whethershe really is that trustworthy, hardand so on. The committeewill have to wait and see. Since life truly working, is difficultin preciselythis way, I regardit as a virtueof my theorythatit correctly depicts the difficulty.I have no wish to develop a theory that makes morallife look simplerthan it really is.26 In passing, whatcan the promissorymodel tell us aboutunsuccessfulcanElement(a) is didates,or moregenerallyaboutpeople who lack opportunity? silent on questions aboutpeople who never get an opportunity, element but (b) is bolder, allowing us to go furtherin defending ordinarypractice.Element (b) can say aboutunsuccessful candidatesroughly what it says about successful ones; namely,they may well deserve X in the sense thatthey too would havedonejustice to X, given a chance.It is no partof my thesis to suggest thatpeople who lack opportunitiesare undeserving. Also in passing, would I entertaina promissorytheory of punishment? ("Hemay be innocentnow, but if we put him in jail, he'll turninto the sortof personwho belongs injail.")No. Rewardandpunishmentaretwo sides of the compensatorymodel's coin, but no such parallelexists between opportunity



andpunishment. The transformative of expectations(thatis, the fact that role we tendto live up to them,ordown,as the case may be) canjustify the show of faithinvolvedin grantingan opportunity, it cannotjustify punishment.If but Jean Valjeanwrongly is imprisonedand says, "OK, if they treat me like a criminal,I'll act like one," that cannot vindicate the wrongful punishment. Indeed,thatthe punishmentinduces furtherwrongs furthercondemns it. In contrast,if Valjeanlater is rocked by a bishop's kindness and says, "OK,if they treatme like a decenthumanbeing, I'll act like one,"thatdoes vindicate the bishop's kindness.27

AND EARNING III. DESERVING We commonly show respect for people's achievementsby saying things like, "You deserved it." Sometimes we refer to things people did prior to receiving a reward.Sometimes we referto things people did since receiving an opportunity. issue is not merely abouthow we happento use words. I The contendthatthe locution"Youdeservedit"is as aptin one case as in the other. If we wantto indulgein a bit of linguisticlegislation,though,therearedistinctionshere worthmarking.In particular, termsdeservingand earning the in arenearlyinterchangeable ordinary butthereis a difference,andit will use, be useful to give the differencea bit more emphasis thanit gets in ordinary use. A paycheckis not earneduntil the work is done. Upon being hired,I will do whatI need to do to earnthe paycheck,butthe futuredoes not settle thatI have earnedthe paycheck now. I have not earnedit until I put the work in. Thus, while we do speak of people as deserving a chance even before they supplythe requisiteinputs,we do not speakof people as havingearneda paycheck in advance of supplying requisite inputs. In part, this appearsto be because what Jane deserves has relatively more to do with her character, while the questionof whatJanehas earnedhas relativelymoreto do with her work. Jane's charactercan be manifest before she supplies the requisite inputs.Herworkcannotsimilarlybe manifestpriorto supplyingthe requisite inputssince her work is the requisiteinputwhen the questionconcernswhat she has earned.Jane can be deserving at t, in virtue of what she will do, if given a chance.To have earneda paycheckat tl, though,she has to have done the workat t,. Therefore,thatshe would earnthe check at t2is not relevantto what Jane has earned at t,, even though-according to element (b)-it is highly relevantto whetherJanedeservesa chance at tl. Therefore,thereis no analog of element (b) for earning. So far, then, the compensatorymodel appearson targetas a thesis aboutearning.



Strikingly,though, there is an analog of element (a). We acknowledged thatI havenot earnedthe paycheckuntilI putthe workin. Does it follow thatI earnthe check only if I do the workfirst, before the check is issued? No! In everyday life, we do not doubt that a new but trusted employee, paid in advance,can earnthe money afterthe fact. Money is paid at t,, andthen what was not true at t1 becomes true at t2, namely,the scale is now balancedand money given at t1has been earned.It becomes trueat t2thatJanedid whatshe was paid to do. Therefore,we cannotsave the convention(thatwe deserveX only if ourreceivingit representsa rewardfor previouslysuppliedinputs)by The recastingit as a thesis aboutearning.28 conceptsof deservingandearning aredistinctat tl, but at t2,they converge. We can deserveX at t2,andcan have earnedX at t2,in virtue of work done afterX was received. An unearnedopportunityis an unearnedopportunity,but an unearned may yet be redeemed.Though unearned,it remainspossible to opportunity do justice to it. That possibility is what skeptics ignore, and thatpossibility plays a centralrole in ordinarymoral life. It is what ordinarypeople often havein mindwhenthey say a persondeservesa chance.If anyconceptiontortures ordinarylanguage, it is the convention that we cannot deserve what issue is that comes to us by mere luck. Languageaside, the more important the conventionembodies a resolutionto ignorethe possibility of redemption Thatignoredpossibility involved in workingto do justice to an opportunity. is is of immensemoralsignificance.The process of redeemingopportunities at the heartof so much of what is beneficial and even noble aboutordinary humancommerce. In a popularfilm aboutWorldWarII, SavingPrivateRyan,CaptainMiller is fatally injuredwhile rescuing Private Ryan. As Miller dies, he says to Ryan, "Earnit!" At that moment, neither characteris under any illusions aboutwhetherRyanhas earnedthe rescue.He has not, andtheybothknow it. Neither is Ryan choice worthy in the sense of the promissorymodel's element (b), and they both know it.29Still, as both charactersalso know, thatis not the end of the story,for it is now up to Ryanto settle whetherMiller's sacIt rifice was in vain.30 is not too late for Ryanto striveto redeemthe sacrifice on to be as worthyof it as a person could be. by going If thereis anythingRyancan do to earnthe rescue, it will be at t2,not t,, as analogous to the promissory model's element (a). That is, we could hear Miller's dying words as commandingRyan to treatthe rescue as if it were advancesalaryto be earnedlater.Fittingly,the film ends with a scene from decades later. An elderly Ryan visits Miller's grave. Anguished, Ryan implores his wife to, "Tell me I've been a good man!"The implication:if Ryan has been a good man, then he has done all he could to earn the rescue thatgave him a chance to be a good man.31



In some ways, Ryan's situationis like a lotterywinner's.If Miller hands Ryan a winning lotteryticket and says with his dying breath,"Earnit,"is it but possible for Ryan to earnit? No one would say Ryan has earnedit at t1,32 thatis not the end of the storybecauseeven when a windfallis sheerluck, it is not only sheerluck. It is also a challenge,andthereis a rightway of respondwhetherRyan ing to it. Some day,therewill be a fact of the matterregarding well. responded PrivateRyan's situationalso is like thatof a personbornwith naturaland positional advantages.We are not born having done anything to deserve advantagesas rewards.So, the compensatorymodel has no resources that could underwriteclaims of desert at the moment of birth. Also, at that moment,thereis no basis for deeming us choice worthy,if choosing us were even an issue. Thus, the promissorymodel's element (b) likewise has no resourcesto underwrite claims of desertat the momentof birth.Still, regardour advantages,thereis somethingwe can do lateron, in the mannerof ing element (a). We can do justice to them.

IV WHYONE CONCEPTION RATHER THANANOTHER? The main issue is not whetherwe use the same word when referringto those who did theirbest before receivingrewardsand to those who did their best afterreceiving opportunities.We do, but the largerquestion is, are we justified in thinkingdesertclaims are as weighty in the second instanceas in the first? I arguedthatin everydaylife we graspthe conceptof deservinga chancein virtueof what we do with it. I would not appealto common sense to justify our commonsense understanding,though. To justify, we look elsewhere. This section indicates (althoughonly indicates)where we might look. Partof what makes it difficult even to begin such a discussion is that, in trying to justify, we risk trivializing.We risk seeming to ground a thing in considerationsless important thanthe thing itself. Thatcould especially be a problemwith anythingseen as an attemptto justify a conceptionof justice. Whenassessing alternative conceptionsof justice, we generallycannotsettle the contest by appealto yet anotherlofty butcontestedideal of justice. However,if, in tryingto avoidbegging the question,we appealto somethingother than (our conception of) justice itself, we are bound to be appealingto that which seems less important. thatis okay.We arenot seeking the foundaBut tion of that which is itself foundational.We simply ask what can be said on the conception'sbehalf.



that Margaret Holmgrensaysjustice "demands each individualbe secured the most fundamentalbenefits in life compatiblewith like benefits for all," then adds, "theopportunity progressby our own efforts is a fundamental to interest."33 Richard Miller concurs: "Most people (including most of the worstoff) wantto use whatresourcesthey have actively,to get aheadon their own steam, and this reflects a propervaluing of humancapacities."34 Comin mentingon Rawls, Holmgrensays contractors the originalposition would know that, as a perfectly general featureof humanpsychology, people not only wantto be given stuff;they wantto be involvedin successful endeavors, and they want their success to be deserved. Accordingly,the most grossly risk-aversecontractors,focusing only on the prospects of the least advantaged economic class, would be anxiousto ensurethatmembersof thatclass have an opportunityto advance by their own effort. "Ratherthan focusing exclusively on the shareof income or wealth they would receive, they would choose a principleof distributionwhich would ensurethatthey would each have this opportunity."35 Holmgren'sclaim will seem incompatiblewith the difference principle (which is what risk-aversecontractorsin Rawls's originalposition are supposed to choose) if we interpretthe principleas a ground-levelmandatefor redistribution. to Why?Because the idea thatJanecan be deservingthreatens limit ourredistributive mandate.By contrast,supposewe interpret differthe ence principlenot as a ground-levelprincipleof just distribution (thatis, not as a principlethat says "keepgiving to the least advantageduntil you reach the point where,if you triedto give themmore,they end up gettingless") but ratheras a meta-level criterionfor evaluatingbasic structure,whose thrust concerns whethersociety's basic structureworks to the benefit of the least advantaged(that is, as a principle that says we choose between rules like "givepeople whatthey deserve"and"giveeverythingto the least advantaged, free of charge"by asking which is best for the least advantagedin actual the empiricalpractice).The latteris undoubtedly principle'scanonicalinterIn that case, the difference principle, far from competing with pretation.36 principlesof desert,can supportthe idea thatpeople can deserve a chance. It would do so if Holmgrenis correctto say the least advantaged wantandneed the chance to prosperby theirown merit.Likewise, it would do so if it is historically true that the least advantagedtend to flourish within, and only within, systems thatrespect what they and otherscan do to deserve rewards and also (perhapsespecially) opportunities.37 need not be Rawlsians to We see these considerationsas weighty. Likewise, we need not be utilitarians to care about consequences. Feinbergsays, "The awardingof prizes directlypromotescultivationof the skills which constitutebases of competition."38 Rawls seems to agree with



Feinbergwhenhe says, "Other thingsequal,one conceptionofjustice is preferableto anotherwhen its broaderconsequencesare more desirable."39 Yet, neitherone sees himself as a utilitarian, rightly so. While utility is not a and desertmaker,the fact remainsthatthe things that are desert makers(effort, excellence) can makepeople betteroff, and makingpeople betteroff is morally significant.Rachels adds,
Ina systemthatrespectsdeserts,someonewho treatsotherswell may expectto be treated well in return,while someone who treatsothersbadly cannot.If this aspect of morallife were eliminated,moralitywould haveno rewardandimmoralitywouldhaveno badconsequences, so there would be less reason for one to be concernedwith it.40

In short,our ordinarynotionof desertserves a purpose.One (if only one) fruitsof cooperkey way in which a society benefitspeople is by distributing ation in proportionto contributionsto the cooperativeeffort. That is how societies induce contributionsin the first place. Desert as normallyunderstood is partof the glue thatholds society togetheras a productiveventure. Respectingdesertas normallyunderstood(respectingthe inputspeople supply) makes people in generalbetteroff. To be sure, it would be a misuse of termsto say Bob deserves a pay raise on the groundsthatgiving him a raise would have utility.We may say Bob deserves a raise because he does great work,does morethanhis share,anddoes it withoutcomplaint.We do not say giving Bob a raise would have utility.But if we ask why we shouldacknowledge thatBob is a greatworker,a big partof whatmakesBob's effortsworthy of recognitionis thathis effortsare of a kind thatmakeus all betteroff. If we ask why Bob is deserving,the answershould be: Bob suppliedthe requisite inputs.If we ask why we care whetherBob suppliedinputsthatgo into making a persondeserving,one answerwould be: supplyingthose inputsmakes Bob the kindof personwe wantourneighbors,ourchildren,andourselvesto be, and makes us all betteroff to boot. The point need not be to maximize utility so much as to show respectfor customs and institutionsand characters that make people betteroff. (Either deserttracksconstructiveeffort ratherthan effort per se. Efforttokens way, need not be successful, but they do need to be of a type thattends to produce worthyresults.)If we areto do justice to individualpersons,then when their effort,we hadbetterbe prepared individualitymanifestsitself in constructive to honorthateffortandto respectthe hopes anddreamsthatfuel it. We do that when we regardproductiveworkersas deservingand when we refuse to see theirhardwork. theirgood fortuneas a moralproblemthatsomehowdiscredits When we say, "She deserves a chance,"how does thatdiffer from saying she needs a chance? Deserves suggests she has some realized or potential



meritin virtueof which she ought to be given a chance, whereasneeds sugway. However,if gests neitherreal norpotentialmeritin any straightforward we say, "Allshe needs is a chance,"thatcomes close to saying she deserves a chance. It comes close to saying she is the kind of person who will give the opportunityits due. Nonetheless, I agree with Gillian Brock thatwhateverroom we make for In desert,the fact remainsthatpeople's needs matter,at least at some level.41 I would go so far as to say desert matterspartlybecause needs matter. fact, ThatBob needs X is no reasonto say Bob deservesX for the same reasonthat X's utility is no reasonto say Bob deservesX. And if thatis true,then need is not a desertbasis. But there are otherways for need to be relevant.Suppose for simplicity's sake thatthe only way to deserve X is to work hardfor X. In thatcase, by hypothesis,need is not at all relevantto whetherBob deservesX. All thatmattersis thatBob workedhardfor X. Now supposewe go on to ask a further differencedoes it makewhetherBob workedhardfor question,"What X? Who cares?"Here is where need becomes relevantbecause we may say thatas a matterof empiricalfact, thereis a generalreasonwhy people work hardfor X, andthe reasonis thatthey need X. So, althoughneed has nothing to do with ourreasonfor thinkingBob deservesX, it remainsa reasonfor caring aboutdesert.Onereasonto give people whattheydeserveis thatit renders people willing and able to act in ways thathelp them (andthe people around them) to get what they need, and even to flourish. Welfareconsiderations (such as need, or more generallywhat helps us flourish)are not desertmakers, but they can still provide non-question-beggingreasons for taking a given desert makerseriously (e.g., for respectingpeople who work hard).42 we When the question is whethera person did justice to an opportunity, do not look back to events occurringbefore the opportunitywas typically received, and often thatis a good thing. I indicatedhow we might arguethe grounds.It maybe a good thingon Kantiangrounds pointon consequentialist too. AlthoughI will not press the point,the idea is, thereis somethingnecessarily and laudablyahistoricalaboutsimply respectingwhatpeople bringto the table. We respect their work, period. We admiretheir character, period. We do not argue (or worse, stipulateas dogma) that people are productsof nature/nurture thus ineligible for moral credit. Sometimes, we simply and credit for what they achieve and for what they are. And somegive people times, simply giving people creditis the essence of treatingthem as persons ratherthan as mere confluences of historicalforces. Partof the oddity in doubtingwhetherJanedeserves her characteris that Jane'scharacter not somethingthathappenedto her.It is her.Orif we were is to imagine treatingJane and her characteras separatethings, then it would have to be Jane'scharacter thatwe creditfor being of good character, the so



questionof why Janeper se shouldget the creditwould be moot. In truth,of that course,it is people, not theircharacters, workhard.Thus,if we say exemcharacter morallyarbitrary, is people, not merelycharacter, we it is that plary are resolving not to take seriously. MartinLutherKing once said, "Ihave a dreamthatmy four childrenwill one day live in a nationwheretheywill not bejudgedby the color of theirskin but by the contentof theircharacter." King did not dreamhis childrenwould live in a nationwhere theircharacterswould be seen as accidentsfor which theycouldclaim no credit.Kingasks us tojudge his childrenby the contentof theircharacter, by its causes. That is how we take characterseriously.If not theircharacters not takenseriously,they will get neitherthe rewardsnor are the opportunities they deserve. This is no place for lengthydiscussionof desert'srelationsto othermoral desiderata,but these remarksindicate that the possibility of deserving a chanceis not merecommonsense. In the end, the bottomline is in parta practical question,somewhatamenableto empiricaltesting:which way of talking (aboutwhatwe can do to be deserving)empowerspeople to makeuse of their opportunities?

V JUSTICE,INSTITUTIONAL AND NATURAL ToFeinberg,"desertis a natural moralnotion(thatis, one which is not logtied to institutions,practices, and rules)."43 Rawls, meanwhile, conically cedes the legitimacyof desertclaims as institutionalartifacts.Fasterrunners deserve medals accordingto rules createdfor the express purposeof giving medals to faster runners.However,Rawls hastens to add, such claims (1) have no standing outside the context of particularinstitutionalrules, and therefore(2) do not bear on what rules we should have in the first place.44 strucOthersenses of desert,of course,areless closely tied to institutional tures. A medalist who trainsfor years deserves admirationin a way that a medalistwho wins purelyon the strengthof genetic gifts does not, even when rules. the two areequallydeservingof medalsby the lights of the institutional Likewise, athletesprovethemselves worthyof the faithof theirfamilies and coaches by doing all they can to win andby being role models in the process, even when institutionalrules are silent on the relevanceof such inputs. But setting this aside for a moment,even if we were seeking only to understand desert'sinstitutionalcontours,we still would need to know what can defeat claims groundedin rules of particularinstitutions.CanadiansprinterBen race Johnsonranthe fastesttime in the hundred-meter at the 1988 Olympics. He did nothingto show thathe deservedhis genetic gifts, or his competitive



or character, the excellence of his coaches. All he did was runfasterthanthe competition,which on its face entails he deservedthe gold medal. However,blood tests revealedthatJohnsonhad takensteroids.Did it matter? Yes it did. The fact that he took steroids raises questions of desert, whereasthe barefact thathe had a background had genes; he grew up in (he an environment)does not. Being born in the wake of the Big Bang did not stop Johnson from deserving a medal, but there is a real question about whethertaking steroidspreemptsinputsby which sprinterscome to deserve medals. We may ask whethersteroids are in fact banned.That is an institutional question. We also may ask whethersteroids should be banned.That its questionis straightforwardly pre-institutional: answer(1) does not turnon institutionalrules and (2) does bearon what rules we shouldhave particular in the first place. I agree that some desert claims carry moral weight as institutionalartifacts. The point, though, is that some claims do not simply happento carry weight as institutionalartifacts.They ought to carryweight as institutional artifacts because they carry weight pre-institutionally.We see winning as sprinters deservingwhen we see theirexcellence as resultingfromyearsof ferocious dedication.If instead we thoughtthe key to winning was to take largerdoses of more dangerouschemicals, we would not regardwinners as artifact.We see the cases difdeserving.This differenceis not an institutional even when the chemicals are permittedby the institutionalrules. ferently Partof ourreasonfor caringis thatthe race'spointis to set anexample-to show us all how excellent a humanbeing can be. If we haveto explainsuccess in terms of steroidsratherthan in terms of featuresof persons that ground desertclaims in a pre-institutional sense, the institutionis not working.Likewise, if the competition inspires impressionableviewers to take steroids ratherthanto develop theirtalents,the institutionis not working.If one way of competingrisks competitors'lives and sets a dangerousexample for children who idolize them, while a version that bans steroids is healthierfor everyone,then we have pre-institutional groundsfor thinkingit was rightto Ben Johnestablish,publicize, andenforcethe ban, andthatmy countryman son did not deserve a medal.45

VI. CONCLUSIONS This essay's purposehas been to offer a non-skeptical conceptionof desert to those who wish to makeroom within a philosophicallyrespectabletheory of justice for the idea that there are things we can do to be deserving. SpeMoreover,whether cifically, it is possible for Janeto deserve an opportunity.



can Janedeservedan opportunity dependat least partlyon what she did with it. It is crucialthatthe scales be balanced.It is not crucialthatcomponentsof order.If X is conferredfirst and the the balance be suppliedin a particular desertbase is suppliedlater,thattoo is a balancingof the moral scale. This possibility, althoughnot yet a subjectof philosophicaldebate, is centralto ordinarymorallife. The importof the promissorymodel's element (a) is that what was once need not remainso. The most valuablethings we aregiven morallyarbitrary in life areopportunities, the mainthingwe do to deservethemis to dojusand tice to themafterthe fact. Goodluck cannotrobus of the chanceto act in ways thatmakepeople deserving(althoughbad luck can, which is one reasonwhy The bad luck is bad).46 importof element (b) is thatwe can accommodatethe idea thatpeople can deservea chance.Theycan deservea chancenot because of what they have done but because of what they can and will do, if only we give them a chance. We need to keep this essay's conclusions in perspective. What I call "deservinga chance"is not the whole of desert.Desertis notthe whole ofjusThis tice. Justiceis not the whole of morality.47 partof a largertheorytells us as to treatopportunities challenges and to respectthose who meet theirown challengesin fittingways, butthis partdoes not answer all questions.It does shouldhave been paid or what opportunities not say whatWilt Chamberlain It Wilt shouldhave had.48 answersone question:whatcan Wilt Chamberlain or anyoneblessed by good fortunedo to be deserving?Its answeris: when we look back on Chamberlain'scareer, wondering whether he deserved his and packageof natural positionaladvantages,we arenot restrictedto considwhat he did before receiving that package. We can acknowledge that ering what really matters,if anythingmatters,is what he did with thatpackage.49 I followed Rawls in assumingfor argument'ssake that naturaland positional advantagesare on a par,but we do well to hesitatehere. As just mentioned,not everyimportant questionis a questionaboutdesert,andin particuassets in lar,it wouldbe a mistaketo assumeWilt needs to deservehis natural orderto be entitled to them. Conceptionsof desert respondto the fact that people areactive agents. Conceptionsof entitlementrespondto the fact that people areseparateagents.As a separateagent,it may be no one else's business whetherWilt does justice to the potentialgiven to him by luck of the draw in the naturallottery. Wilt is not indebted to anyone for his natural assets. No scale is out of balancemerelyin virtueof Wilt havingcharacteristics thatmakehim Wilt. Still, even if it is no one else's businesswhetherWilt doesjustice to his potential,the factremainsthatWilt will do or fail to do justice to it. Regardlessof whetherit is anyoneelse's business, there arethings Wilt can do to be deserving.



This conceptionmakesroom not for honoringthose who have opportunities as comparedto those who do not but simply for honoringpeople who do what they can to be deserving of their opportunities.This partof the larger theoryasks not whetherWilt has the rightsalarybut whetherhe has the right character. More precisely, this partasks whetherWilt has internalfeatures to the outcomein relevantways, suchthatthe outcomeis not simply a relating matterof arbitrary luck (unless everythingis). This partasks aboutcharacter as manifested in action-whether Wilt has done or will do what he can to deserve his salary,whateverhis salaryhappensto be. Desertis not an essentiallycompetitivenotion.The fundamental question is whethera personhas suppliedthe requisiteinputs,not whetherthe person has done more than someone else has. There are cases like the following:
1. 2. 3. 4. Wilt Chamberlain X and you have Y, has Wilt did somethingto deserve X while you did somethingto deserve Y, X is more than Y, and (so far as desert is concerned) there is nothing wrong with X being more than Y, despite the fact that Wilt does not deserve "morethan you" under that description.

In other words, the first question about Wilt is not whetherWilt has done somethingto deservemorethanyou butwhetherWilt has done somethingto deservewhathe has. Perhapstherewas nevera time when an impartial judge, weighing your performanceagainstWilt's, concluded or had any reason to conclude that Wilt's prize should be largerthan yours. All thathappenedis thatWilt didjustice to his opportunities you didjustice to yours.At issue and is not a relationbetween you and Wilt;rather,what is at issue is one relation betweenwhatWilt did andwhatWilthas anda secondrelationbetweenwhat you did and what you have. That is all. If a centraldistributor were chargedwiththe taskof distributing according to desert, and if resourceswere scarce, then the centraldistributor presumably would have to make a series of comparative judgmentsaboutwhatpeoof ple deserve,andthenallocatefundsso as to producea pattern sharestrackthe patternof people's relative deserts. (Thus, if the averagecolleague ing deservesa ten percentraisebutwe haveonly enoughto give averageraisesof five percent,thenwe cannotgive everyonewhatthey deserve,butwe can give everyonethe same percentageof what they deserve.) The situationis different if there is no centraldistributor. Wilt workedhardfor his salary of X If while you workedhardfor yoursalaryof Y, thenthereis somethingaptabout Wilt havingX and you having Y. Each of you supplieddesert-making inputs connectingyou to yourrespectiveshares.Perhapsit would be impossiblefor a central distributorto justify allocating X to Wilt and Y to you, but by



hypothesis,therewas no such allocationdecision, andthereis no centraldistributor who needs to justify makingsuch a decision. This does not meanthe difference between X and Y needs no justification (on, say, egalitarian grounds).The point is only thatthe differencedoes not needjustifying in the same way deliberatelycreatingthe differencewould needjustifying. Onejustificationfor giving people creditfor peacefullymakingfull use of theiropportunities thatdoing so helps people live peaceful andproductive is lives. It empowerspeople to make full use of their opportunities.However, our reasons to respect desert as normally understoodalso are reasons to thereare limits respectdesert'slimits as normallyunderstood.In particular, to what a society can do, and limits to what it can expect its citizens to do, to ensure that people get what they deserve. Thus, even something as fundamentalas the principlethatpeople oughtto get whattheydeservehas limits. In particular, ajust system worksto minimizethe extentto which people's entitlementsfly in the face of whatthey deserve,but not at a cost of compromising people's ability to form stable expectations regarding their entitlementsand thus to get on with their lives in peaceful and productive ways. It goes bothways, though,for desertalso correctsthe capricesof rightful entitlements,and thattoo is a good thing. For example, a proprietor may know her employee is entitled to a certainwage while also seeing that the employee is exceptionallyproductiveand (in both promissoryand compensatorysenses) deservesa raise.If she cares enough aboutdesert,she restructuresher rightfulholdings (her payroll)accordingly,benefitingnot only the employee but probablyher company and her customersas well. A society cannotworkwithouta "ruleof law"system thatsecurespeople's savings and earnedwages, therebyenablingpeople to plan theirlives,50 neithercan a but rule of law functionproperlyin the absenceof an ethos thatdeeply society's Part respectswhatpeople can do to be deserving.51 of ourjob as moralagents is to dojustice to opportunities embeddedin ourentitlements.It is in meeting that challenge that we make entitlementsystems work.

1. John Rawls, A Theoryof Justice (Cambridge: Belknap, 1971), 104. 2. Eric Rakowski, Equal Justice (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1991), 112. Samuel See Reactive Schefflerlikewise calls the passage "uncontroversial." Scheffler,"Responsibility, Attitudes,andLiberalismin PhilosophyandPolitics,"Philosophyand PublicAffairs21 (1992): 299-323, herep. 307. Indeed,F. A. Hayeksays, "Agood mindor a fine voice, a beautifulface or a of skillfulhand,anda readywit or an attractive personalityarein largemeasureas independent a or person'seffortsas the opportunities experienceshe has had."Hayekinsists it is neitherdesirable norpracticable ask basic structure distribute to to accordingto desert.See Hayek,The Con-



stitutionof Liberty(Chicago:Universityof ChicagoPress, 1960), 94. David Gauthiersays, "We may agreewith Rawlsthatno one deserveshernatural capacities.Being thepersonone is, is not a matter of desert," although Gauthierdoubts that this fact has normative implications. See Moral by Agreement(Oxford:OxfordUniversityPress, 1986), 220. Gauthier, but 3. Rawls's positive theoryof justice is meantto apply only to society's basic structure, his critiqueof desertis not similarlyconstrained cannotbe constrained and merelyby stipulating thatit is constrained.When Rawls says, "theconcept of desert seems not to apply"to any case where outcomes are influencedby naturaladvantages(or characters),he is makinga claim not aboutbasic structurebut about the largermoral universe.In particular, is claiming that the he largermoraluniversecontainsnothing(otherthanhis own firstprincipleof justice) to rein in the differenceprincipleas the test of basic structure's justness. 4. Scheffler,"Responsibility," 301. 5. Joel Feinbergcoins the termdesertbase to referto factorsthatgrounddesertclaims. The idea is thatevery well-formeddesertclaim is a three-placerelationof the form "P deservesX in virtueof featureE" See "Justiceand PersonalDesert,"in Doing and Deserving (Princeton,NJ: PrincetonUniversityPress, 1970), 58. I do not know whetherit is possible to producea complete catalog of all possible desert bases. Suffice it to say, the standardbases on which persons are effort,achievement,and(at least insofaras it is commonlysaid to be deservingincludecharacter, constructivelyexercised) talent. 6. See GeorgeSher,Desert (Princeton,NJ:PrincetonUniversityPress, 1987), 195. See also JanNarveson,"DeservingProfits,"in Profitsand Morality,ed. Robin Cowan and MarioRizzo (Chicago:Universityof Chicago Press, 1995), 48-97, esp. 50-51. 7. This idea would seem more awkwardif we were thinkingof what it means to deserve and Morris,"Punishment Loss of punishment,but it has a Kantianpedigree. See Christopher Moral Standing,"CanadianJournalof Philosophy 21 (1991): 53-79. 8. Is this Rawls's view? Perhaps.Rawls repeatedlystresses, and thus evidently thinks it matters,that, "Eventhe willingness to make an effort,to try,and so to be deservingin the ordinary sense is itself dependentuponhappyfamily and social circumstances" (Theoryof Justice, 74). In any case, many authorsendorse such a view, and many are inspiredto do so by Rawls. Most recently, Gillian Brock, "JustDeserts and Needs," SouthernJournal of Philosophy 37 (1999): 165-88. See her section on "How can we deserve anythingsince we don't deserve our asset bases?" Forbetteror worse, such a theorycannotsortpeople out. To Rawlsians,this is good. Wanting to say inequalitiesshouldbe arranged as maximallyto benefitthe least advantaged, so Rawlsians regardas unwelcome competition the idea that people deserve more-and therefore should receive more-if and when and because their talents and efforts contributemore to society. Rawls's critics haverespondedby rejectingthe premisethat,to be a desertmaker,an inputmust itself be deservedin turn.Forexample, see Narveson,"DeservingProfits," Sher,Desert, 24; 67; andAlan Zaitchik,"OnDeservingto Deserve,"Philosophyand PublicAffairs6 (1977): 370-88, at 373. That is roughly where thatdebate stands. MichaelWalzersays, "Advocatesof equalityhaveoften felt compelledto deny the realityof desert." a footnote,Walzersays he is thinkingin particular Rawls. Walzerportrays antiIn of the desert argumentas supposing the capacityto makean effortor to endurepain is, like all theirothercapacities,only the But for arbitrary of natureor nurture. this is an odd argument, while its purposeis to gift leave us with personsof equalentitlement,it is hardto see thatit leaves us with personsat all. How are we to conceive of these men and women once we have come to view their capacitiesand achievementsas accidentalaccessories,like hats and coats theyjust happen to be wearing?How, indeed, are they to conceive of themselves?



See Michael Walzer,Spheresof Justice (New York:Basic Books, 1983), 260. 9. If, on a given conceptionof desert,thereareno desertmakersat all-no inputswe could supply thatwould make us deserving-then thatconceptionis empty.On a nonemptyconception, thereis a realquestionaboutwhata persondoes or does not deserve;therewill be inputsthat a personcould supply,or fail to supply. 10. Withinthe contextof the free will debate,a compatibilistis someone who agreeswith the harddeterminist everyevent has a cause butthen notes, contrathe harddeterminist, this that that is compatiblewith the free-will thesis becausethatthesis says not thatour actions are uncaused but ratherthat our own choices are integralparts of the causal chains that culminate in our actions.I am notendorsingcompatibilismherebutsimplyborrowing structure the idea. of the 11. I borrowthe felicitous "owingsomething"locution from JamesRachels, "WhatPeople MD: RowmanandLittlefield,1997), 175-97, Deserve,"CanEthicsProvideAnswers?(Lanham, at 184. 12. Feinberg,"Justiceand PersonalDesert,"55. 13. JohnKleinig, "TheConceptof Desert," AmericanPhilosophical Quarterly8 (1971): 7178. 14. Rachels, "WhatPeople Deserve," 176. 15. David Miller, Social Justice (Oxford:OxfordUniversityPress, 1976), 93. 16. I speak interchangeably deservinga chance, being deservingof a chance, and being of worthyof it. Sometimes, it is more naturalto describe a person as being deservingof X rather thanas deservingX, especially when the questionconcernsopportunity ratherthanreward.But this is a verbalpoint. If a graduatestudentsaid, "No one deservesanything,yet thereis muchof which people are deserving,"we would thinkthe studentwas making some sort of joke. 17. Is this a sufficientcondition?No. If somethingis wrongwith the opportunity, when we as have a chance to use stolen property, then not wasting it does not suffice to show we deserve it. We could say the same of standard theoriesaboutdeservingrewards: when we know the reward is stolen property, qualifying for it does not suffice to show we deserve it. 18. A few writersat least hint in differentways at the idea thatdesert can have a forwardFredFeldmanarguesthata soldierwho volunteersfor a looking component.Most prominently, suicide mission can deserve a medal in advance.However,while I find much in Feldmanwith which I agree, and in particular theremay be reasonto awarda medal in advance,the case that does not fit my model. The medal is not an opportunity. is a reward.(Feldmandoes not argue It thatpeople can deserveopportunities thatpeople can deservethemin virtueof doingjustice to or of them.) See Feldman,"Desert:Reconsideration Some Received Wisdom,"Mind 104 (1995): 63-77, at 70-71. elements in Aristotle'sdiscussion of JeremyWaldronand FredMiller see forward-looking political offices. Aristotle (Politics, book III, chap. 12, 1282b, line meritocracyin distributing 30ff) says, Whena numberof fluteplayersareequalin theirart,thereis no reasonwhy those of them who are betterborn should have betterflutes given to them; for they will not play any betteron the flute, and the superiorinstrumentshould be reservedfor him who is the superiorartist. See FredD. Miller,"Sovereignty PoliticalRights," and AristotelesPolitik,ed. OtfriedHoffe Waldron (Berlin:AkademieVerlag,2001), 107-19. Intriguingly, suggests a school mightchoose the amongcandidatesby comparinghow meritorious school would be if it hiredone ratherthan "TheWisdomof the Multitude:Some Reflectionson Book 3, Chapter11 another.See Waldron, of Aristotle'sPolitics,"Political Theory23 (1995): 563-84 at 573. 19. Rachels, "WhatPeople Deserve," 176.



20. Ibid., 180. of 21. In light of this discussion, should we reassess our interpretation quotationsfrom Rachels andMiller with which this section began?Whenthey say thatwhatwe deservedepends on what we have done in the past, and neveron the future,should we suppose they meantonly and thatwhatwe deservedependson whatwe do? Shouldwe go even further supposethey were in in favorof the propositionthatwe can deservean opportunity virtueof whatwe will do with it? and To my knowledge,nothingthey say explicitly rulesout this reinterpretation, certainlyI hope they would acceptthe propositiontoday,butthe idea thatthey had this idea in mindat the time is baseless. At the time, they did not acceptthe propositionthatwe can deserveX in virtueof what we do after receiving X. Neither did they reject it. At the time they were writing, it had not of occurredto anyone to be for it, or againstit. The contribution this essay is not to defend the propositionagainstlegions of committedenemies butsimply to bringit to people's attentionas a possible position. 22. Rachels, "WhatPeople Deserve," 185. 23. Note: being wrongaboutwhatthe candidatedeservedin this sense does not imply thatwe were wrong aboutotherdesertbases as well. It may remaintruethat,say, the candidatehad the highestscore on the aptitudetest. It is no partof my view thatall desertbases (even those pertaining specifically to opportunities)stand or fall with, or are reducibleto, the promissorynotion introducedhere. 24. If the candidatetreatsthe job with contempt,then she has supplied neitherthe performancenoreven the good-faitheffortthatthe hiringcommitteeexpected.If insteadthe candidate if fails throughno fault of her own, then the committeecannothold it againsther.Furthermore, thereasonfor herfailureis not somethingthatthe committeecould haveforeseen-if it is simply a strokeof bad luck-then the committeecannotblame itself for havingchosen wronglyeither. They may correctlyjudge in retrospectthat althoughthe new employee failed, it was not her fault, and they were still right to believe she deserved a chance in the sense of element (b). that is because she did not really get the Although she failed to do justice to the opportunity, opportunitythat the committee intended.If she had really gotten the chance, she would have donejustice to it. (By analogy,supposewe decide to give salt a chanceto dissolve in water,and then throughno fault of ours, what we actuallyend up doing is giving it a chance to dissolve in olive oil. If the salt fails to dissolve, we still can insist the salt would have dissolved in water, given the chance.) 25. Recall David Miller'sclaim that"desert judgmentsarejustifiedon the basis of past and of I justification desertclaimsis presentfactsaboutindividuals."canagreethattheepistemological makersfor becausethatis wherethe information while stillholdingthattruth is, backward-looking some desertclaims can lie in the future.(We would say the same of predictionsin general.) 26. I thankGuido Pincione and MartinFarrellfor their insight on this point. 27. Jean Valjeanis a characterfrom VictorHugo, Les Miserables (Paris:Hetzel, 1888). 28. However,we mightdefend a version of FredFeldman'sthesis in this way. (See note 18.) The soldier,awardeda medalin advance,does not deserveit andhas not earnedit. (The medalis If an award,not an opportunity. it is deservedat all, it mustbe deservedquaaward,which is to say it mustbe deservedalong lines specifiedby the compensatory model.) Even so, it can makesense to honorthe soldiernow for whatthe soldieris aboutto do. Moreover,afterthe soldiermakesthe heroic sacrifice, it will then make perfect sense to speak of the soldier as having earned the medal. 29. As the storygoes, the reasonwhy High CommandordersRyan'srescuehas nothingto do with Ryan's worthiness.Ryan's three brothershave just died in battle. The point of rescuing Ryanis to avoidhavingto send a telegramto Ryan'smothersayingherentirefamilyhasjust been wiped out.



30. AbrahamLincoln's GettysburgAddress, one of the most moving speeches ever made, gains its rhetorical powerfromprecisely this point, speakingas it does of the unfinishedworkof those who died in battle,calling on us to makesuretheirlast full measureof devotionshall not be in vain. 31. It is worthnoting thatRyan's story is neutralwith regardto the relativesignificanceof alternative desertbases. Wherethe elderlyRyan's wife might say the relevantbasis is effortand thusthatRyan is deservingin virtueof havingdone all he could, Ryanhimself may see achievement as the relevantbasis, thus concluding that despite his efforts, he has not accomplished nearlyenough to make him worthyof all the lives that were sacrificedto save his. The problemis general.If sufficientlygreatsacrificeswere made so as to putus in a position to flourish,we have to wonderwhetherthereis anythingwe can do to be worthyof those sacrifices. Thereis one easy answer,namely,thatif we do all we can, then we have done all anyone could ask. Yet,if we arereflective,we cannothelp butthinkthis answeris too easy andthatthere is no guaranteethat "all we can" will truly be enough. 32. If the case were more like the kind of case covered by element (b), Miller conceivably mightsay Ryandeservesthe ticket. SupposeMillerneeds to select someone from a list of applicants and sees thatRyan would move mountainsto provehimself worthy.In thatcase, deeming Ryan choice worthy,on that basis, might be Miller's best-justifiedoption. Journal of 33. MargaretHolmgren, "JustifyingDesert Claims: Desert and Opportunity," ValueInquiry20 (1986): 265-78 at 274. 34. RichardW. Miller, "TooMuch Inequality," Social Philosophy and Policy 19 (2002): 275-313. 35. Holmgren,"JustifyingDesert Claims,"275. as 36. Unfortunately, naturallyslip into thinkingof bargainers choosing a ground-level we Rawls himself slips in this way when he says, plan for redistribution. Thereis a tendencyfor common sense to supposethat income and wealth, andthe good accordingto desert.... Now justice as fairthings in life generally,shouldbe distributed ness rejects this conception. Such a principlewould not be chosen in the originalposition. (A Theoryof Justice, p. 310) In a way, it is truethatsuch a principlewould not be chosen, butthe reasonis because distributionalprinciples are not on the menu. They are not even the kind of thing that bargainers choose are meta-levelprinciplesfor evaluatingthings like distribution choose. Whatbargainers accordingto desert. 37. By the lights of the differenceprinciple,it should matterthat it is the least advantaged who can least affordthe self-stiflingcynicism thatgoes with believing no one deservesanything; neithercan theyaffordthe license for repressionthatgoes with the moreadvantaged believing no one deserves anything. 38. Feinberg,"Justiceand PersonalDesert,"80. 39. Ibid., 6. 40. Rachels, "WhatPeople Deserve," 190. 41. Brock, "JustDeserts,"166. 42. To keep this in perspective,though,we shouldkeep in mindthatthe basic conceptof justice often is determinate enough thatwe can see what is just withoutneeding to appealto other goals andvalues. Forexample,we know it is unjustdeliberatelyto punishan innocentperson.It is is analyticthatpunishment not whatthe innocentaredue. Wedo not appealto consequencesto externalto the basic concept,such as condecide that.The only time we appealto considerations sequences,is when the basic conceptis not enoughto sortout competingclaims of rivalconceptions. That is all.



43. Feinberg,"Justiceand PersonalDesert,"56. 44. Rawls, A Theoryof Justice, 103. 45. This conclusion does not presuppose the promissory model. The possibility of preinstitutionaldesert is manifesteven within the compensatoryframework. 46. Forexample,if PrivateRyan is killed by a straybulletwithinminutesof havingbeen resto cued, then thereis no fact of the matteraboutwhetherhe didjustice to the opportunity live a Bad good life since as it happenshe did not actuallyhave any such opportunity. luck robbedhim of it. 47. I tryto fit this into a morecomprehensive theoryin TheElementsof Justice,in progress. 48. The infamousWilt Chamberlain examplecomes fromNozick's discussionof "HowLibRobert Nozick, Anarchy,State, and Utopia (New York:Basic Books, erty Upsets Patterns." 1974), 160-64. sake thatnatural positionaladvanand 49. I havefollowed Rawls in assumingfor argument's tages areon a par.I do not intendto be relyingon any such assumption,though.I am sympathetic to the idea thatit is a mistakeeven to ask whetherpeople deservetheirnaturalassets. People are not deserving;neitherare they undeserving.Instead,the real questions aboutnaturalassets are in questions of entitlement.Because we are separatepersons, our (unchosen!)representatives the Rawlsianoriginalposition have no rightto treatournaturalassets as commonpropertyto be tablehopingto allocatedon groundsof desertor anythingelse. Wedo notcome to the bargaining walk away with as big a piece of ourselves (andof others)as possible. If we cannotcome to the table as unquestionedself-owners,then we do not come to the table at all. Or at least, we do not come voluntarilybutareinsteadbroughtto the tableagainstourwill, as communityassets rather than as separatepersons. I thankPaul Dotson for especially helpful discussion of this point. LiberalTheory,"Ratio Juris 2 50. Jeremy Waldron,"The Rule of Law in Contemporary (1989): 79-96. 51. The promissorymodel obviously departsfromRawls-inspired skepticism.Likewise, the entitlementthepromissorymodel obviously departsfrom Nozick's historicaland unpatterned See State, ory.Althoughthe promissorymodel is historical,it also is patterned. Nozick, Anarchy, and Utopia, 157.

David Schmidtz (schmidtz@ a professorofphilosophy andjointprofessor of economicsat the Universityof Arizona.He is coauthorof Social WelfareandIndividualResponsibility(Cambridge,withRobertGoodin),authorof RationalChoice and Moral Agency (Princeton), coeditor of EnvironmentalEthics: What Really Matters, and WhatReally Works(Oxford,withElizabethWillott), editorof RobertNozick (Cambridge). His essay for this issue is part of a larger workon The Elementsof Justice.