Parfit on Free Will, Desert, and the Fairness of Punishment

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In his recent monumental book On What Matters, Derek Parfit argues for a hard determinist view that rejects free will-based moral responsibility and desert. This rejection of desert is necessary for his main aim in the book, the overall reconciliation of normative ethics. In Appendix E of his book, however, Parfit claims that it is possible to mete out fair punishment. Parfit’s position on punishment here seems to be inconsistent with his hard determinism. I argue that Parfit is mistaken here, in a way that leads him to unjustified optimism about the possibility of fair penalization. Insofar as we take the free will problem seriously, we cannot reconcile a belief in the absence of desert with a belief in the fairness of penalization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-148
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Ethics
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Desert
  • Fairness
  • Free will
  • Moral responsibility
  • Parfit, Derek
  • Punishment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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