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4d. Desert - Community Volunteer

Desert

Judgements about whether a person deserves something

Dilemma

Duty. A community volunteer, Jim, at Semple high school looked at the duty roster for volunteers in the Physical Education Department. He recognized some of the mundane duties from his days in high school … clean up the equipment, store the equipment just to mention a few. Then he spotted a new ‘duty’ on the roster … assist the basketball coach in home games. He said to himself, ‘That’s not a duty … I’d love to do that! Basketball is my favourite game.

Rights. Jim’s first reaction to the position of assisting the coach in home games was, ‘On what authority can I tell a player to do anything?’ The students will regard only the coach as someone who is knowledgeable about basketball strategies. No student will regard me as someone who has the right to tell them anything. So, how can I be an assistant coach?

Motive. Of course Jim would do his duty as an assistant coach. He does not want to be an assistant coach from a sense of duty. He wants to do it because he loves the game!

Desert. Jim felt he deserved this volunteer position because he had been a star basketball player in high school. When he approached the Coach to apply for the position of assistant coach, the Coach immediately recognized Jim from his days in high school where he had been a star basketball player. Jim got the position.

Discussion

  • How would you apply the formula: ‘A (moral agent) deserves X on account of Y’ to Jim?
  • Does this formula apply to objects of disinterest as well? Explain.
  • Discuss other situations where people deserve an object of interest.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of ‘judgement about desert’

  • Crooked thinking

The logical subject must also be the grammatical subject of a sentence.

  • Straight thinking

Judgements about whether a person deserves something usually take the following form:

A (moral agent) deserves X on account of Y.

A is the logical subject even though it is not always the grammatical subject. Sentences in which A is not the grammatical subject, like “The boy’s action deserves blame because some of his playmates could have been hurt”, can be restated so that the logical subject also becomes the grammatical subject (without changing the meaning of the sentence). The above example can be restated as follows: “A boy, who plays in a manner which could injure his playmates, deserves blame”.

X is an object of interest or disinterest. In the example cited above, X is an object of disinterest, namely, blame. When X is an object of disinterest, it is an expression of disapproval or punishment which is inflicted by some agent. When X is an object of interest, it is an expression of approval or a reward which is bestowed by someone. In the example of the boy who deserved blame, it was claimed that he deserved the blame because his action could have been the cause of injury to his playmates. In the example cited above, X is an object of disinterest, namely, blame. When X is an object of disinterest, it is an expression of disapproval or punishment which is inflicted by some agent. When X is an object of interest, it is an expression of approval or reward which is bestowed by someone.

Y provides the reasons for stating that A deserves an object of interest. In the example of the boy who deserved blame, it was claimed that he deserved  the blame because his action could have been the cause of injury to his playmates. When a person claims that a certain person deserves punishment or reward but does not offer a reason for the judgement, people usually retort by saying “Why?”. This kind of typical response suggests that a person is expected to offer reasons, implicitly or explicitly, for making the claim that ‘someone deserves a punishment or reward. People frequently take issue with the reasons offered. If A disagrees with the reasons offered by B for stating that C deserves a particular punishment (or reward), then A might also disagree with B as to whether C deserves any punishment at all. On the other hand, A might agree with B that C deserves punishment but might maintain that the punishment should be different (i.e., different form of punishment, less severe, or more severe). In short, Y is an important aspect of determining whether X deserves punishment or reward and what form it should take.

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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