Campbell, Tim | 2022
Campbell, T. Axiological Retributivism and the Desert Neutrality Paradox. Philosophies 2022, 7, 80. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies7040080
Abstract: According to axiological retributivism, people can deserve what is bad for them and
an outcome in which someone gets what she deserves, even if it is bad for her, can thereby have
intrinsic positive value. A question seldom asked is how axiological retributivism should deal with
comparisons of outcomes that differ with respect to the number and identities of deserving agents.
Attempting to answer this question exposes a problem for axiological retributivism that parallels a
well-known problem in population axiology introduced by John Broome. The problem for axiological
retributivism is that it supports the existence of a range of negative wellbeing levels such that if a
deserving person comes into existence at any of these levels, the resulting outcome is neither better
nor worse with respect to desert. However, the existence of such a range is inconsistent with a set
of very plausible axiological claims. I call this the desert neutrality paradox. After introducing the
paradox, I consider several possible responses to it. I suggest that one reasonable response, though
perhaps not the only one, is to reject axiological retributivism.
Keywords: retributivism; axiology; desert; intuition of neutrality; desert-neutrality paradox; population
ethics; John Broome; Shelly Kagan; Larry Temkin