Desert as a Criterion of Justice. Against Unfair Equality

WP-LPF 5/14

WP-LPF 2014
Centro Einaudi
Articolo completo/Full text


The aim of this paper is to analyze the possible role of desert as a criterion of justice. I argue that most of the skeptical positions against it are largely erroneous and underestimate its efficiency as a tool for the realization of justice. The paper is focused on the political meaning of desert, and particularly on its relationship with equal opportunities and access to social and working positions. The main issue explored is whether social and political institutions should recognize desert’s relevance to justice or rather reject it, as a source of privilege. In the first part, I single out some characteristics of individuality which I call facts of the individual, which represent a sum of the fundamental assets of the person and also the bases of desert. In the second part, I defend desert as the crucial tool of fairness with regard to the previously defined facts of the individual and I subsequently develop a critique of the identification of desert with privilege, showing how desert is indeed the most realistic criterion one can apply against privilege and its unfairness. I argue that, at the moment, desert represents the most credible and practicable criterion to protect social mobility and equal opportunities. I will also show that rejection of desert brings about an unacceptable and catastrophic amount of consequences for the development of individuality as well as for social progress. In the third part, I take a critical stance against the rising of forms of extreme egalitarianism, which run the risk of promoting a kind of unfair equality, a concept which will be defined in the last paragraphs.