Desert claims are common enough in our moral and political discourse. But do people really deserve things? If so, what do they deserve, and in virtue of what? Is desert part of the right or the good, a primarily normative or evaluative concept? How strong a consideration is desert in determining who should have what? Should our political institutions (which to a large extent determine who gets what) pay any attention to desert?

Before I read this book, these were the questions that I assumed that any book on moral desert would have to tackle. Yet Shelly Kagan sweeps these central questions aside through a mixture of stipulation, tacit and explicit assumption, neutrality, and neglect. Kagan puts these more familiar questions to one side in order to expose and explore some less familiar ones. And exploration really is the right term here. Kagan sets...

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