Desert plays a relatively minor role in philosophical discussions on distributive justice, whereas it plays a central role in philosophical discussions on retributive justice. At the same time, theorists of justice argue that separating both spheres is to some extent artificial. Quite a few political philosophers have claimed that this asymmetry of desert needs to be defended, and some have offered defenses.

I critically evaluate the last defense of the asymmetry that has not been challenged so far: Moriarty’s argument that an asymmetry in the costs of requiting desert between both spheres of justice (partially) vindicates the asymmetry of desert. It is my contention that his defense ultimately fails. The reason is that he does not specify a fairness threshold that systems setting out to reward desert need to live up to.

desert, retributive justice, Moriarty
Erasmus Student Journal of Philosophy (ESJP)
Erasmus Student Journal of Philosophy
ESJP Editie 8 (Juli 2015)
Erasmus School of Philosophy

Brouwer, H. (2015). What Does Desert Cost?. Erasmus Student Journal of Philosophy, 5(1), 40–48. Retrieved from