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Arts & Letters Daily


8d. Desert - Mr. Kennedy


Connection between classes of judgements


Duty. For the past three and a half years, Mr. Kennedy, a high school teacher in his early thirties, has experienced pain in his legs. Finally, he told his doctor about it who, upon examination, determined that he had transverse myelitis. When asked, the Doctor acknowledged that no effective cure currently exists for this condition.

Since Mr. Kennedy’s duties in the classroom required prolonged standing, he requested regular periods of sick leave to rest his legs and to engage in a physical therapy program. With the concurrence of his Doctor, Mr. Kennedy asserted that he could not work in the classroom without regular periods of rest and therapy even though his contract obligated him to be in the classroom every school day.

Rights. When senior management was reluctant to agree to the request for a series of ‘paid leaves’, Mr. Kennedy appealed the decision based on the protection of his human rights enshrined in the Canadian Bill of Rights. Reluctantly, management concurred with the appeal on the grounds Mr. Kennedy’s civil rights had been violated.

Motive. The District Superintendent was a scrupulous and principled person. His conscience told him that he had been less than principled in Mr. Kennedy’s case. He wondered how he could make amends.

Desert. The superintendent felt he should apologize to Mr. Kennedy. The reluctance to grant the ‘periodic leaves’ was not the action of a principled person. It gave the appearance that Mr. Kennedy was looking for an angle to get a few breaks from the classroom which implied a negative motive. Indeed, Mr. Kennedy deserved an apology.


  • Notice the close connection between ‘motive’ and ‘desert’. Can you establish a similarly close connection between ‘motive’ and ‘duty’?
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of the connection between ‘motive’ and ‘desert’.

  • Crooked thinking

There is an important and direct connection between judgements about ‘motives, duties, rights and desert’.

  • Straight thinking

The connection between judgements about ‘desert’ and judgements about ‘duty’ and ‘rights’ are less direct than with judgements about ‘motive’. In fact, the connection seems to be indirectly through judgements about ‘motive’. That does not make judgements about ‘duties’ and ‘rights’ inconsequential for judgements about ‘deserts’ since there is an important and direct connection between judgements about ‘motives’ and judgements about ‘desert’.

Moral principle value tests

An application of the moral principle value tests probably illustrates most clearly what is entailed in evaluative reasoning. They are:

It is important to emphasize that the moral-value principle tests are not designed to resolve issues (guarantee right answers!) but to assess the ‘justification’ for moral value decisions.

To view the Dilemma from the perspective of Duty, Rights, Motives, Desert and Justice, click on the following:

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