Standard Article


  1. Geoffrey Cupit

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee720

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Cupit, G. 2013. Desert. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Popular discussions of justice and fairness are often couched in the language of desert: those who commit crimes are said to deserve punishment; those who work hard are said to deserve success; those in need are often categorized as the deserving or undeserving poor. Justice, it may be said, is happiness according to virtue, with each getting his or her deserts (see Justice). Given the frequency with which desert is invoked in popular discussions, it might be expected that philosophical debate about justice and fairness would also focus on desert. But in recent times, this has often not been so. Indeed, in the mid-twentieth century, Brian Barry was able to write of a “revolt against desert,” and describe desert as “a concept which is already in decline and may eventually disappear” (Barry 1965: 112).


  • ethics;
  • legal and political;
  • politics;
  • inequality;
  • justice;
  • punishment;
  • respect;
  • retribution;
  • virtue