Monthly Archives: January 2019

Circumstances, Agency, and Just Deserts

What is a fair distribution of aid and reward? Although any actual distribution may be driven by pragmatic realities, their underlying justification and general direction rest on an answer to a question: what is a fair measure of individual accomplishment? There are ultimately no nice answers to this question although there are nice-sounding ones. Every answer necessarily exonerates or praises someone. And every exoneration or praise necessary insults someone else.

At the heart of the evaluation is another question: what is a fair weighing of contributions from circumstances and agency to outcomes? Although sophisticated philosophical positions exist denying influence of circumstances or existence of agency, they rarely cohere with everyday actions of even their proponents. The de facto reality is that both matter, but how much each contributed to any specific outcome is up for debate.

Disagreements hang on the difficulty of measurement. Circumstances and agency interact with enough recursion that influence of either can be claimed all the way to debates on free will. Furthermore, circumstances come bundled in complex, interacting packages. Some ease accomplishment while others complicate it. Often, their impact can be interpreted either way: overabundance of helpful circumstances encourages detrimental entitlement, complacency, or false confidence while challenging circumstances foster useful insights, abilities, or motivations. Continue reading Circumstances, Agency, and Just Deserts