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The Methodology of Desert

18 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2010  

Mary Sigler

Arizona State University - College of Law

Date Written: July 29, 2010


In a series of books and articles Paul Robinson (along with various coauthors) builds a case for “empirical desert” as a basis for deciding who should be punished under the criminal law and how much. Robinson’s case is unconvincing in several respects. First, his attempt to discredit the leading rival, deontological desert, is based on a misconception of the prevailing methodology in deontological ethics. Additionally, by dismissing as practically irrelevant the grounds for justified punishment, Robinson’s analysis fails to take account of the dynamic interplay between social and political values on the one hand and the meaning and justification of punishment on the other. Finally, because Robinson’s pragmatic conception of desert is untethered from our political morality, it provides neither the occasion to reflect critically on our punitive institutions and practices nor the normative resources to reform them.

Keywords: punishment, criminal, desert, empirical, deontology, reflective equilibrium

Suggested Citation

Sigler, Mary, The Methodology of Desert (July 29, 2010). Arizona State Law Journal, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Mary Sigler (Contact Author)

Arizona State University - College of Law ( email )

Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States

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