Desert and Dissociation

In this talk, I ask why desert counts as a justifying reason. I argue against the idea of ‘basic desert’ and claim that the supposed normative force of desert considerations is better understood in terms of the need for dissociation. The normative force of desert considerations, on my interpretation, stems from the idea that giving wrongdoers what they deserve is necessary in order not to become complicit in the wrongdoing. I argue that this is better understood as revealing the importance of dissociation, and that it is this notion, rather than that of desert, that is explanatorily basic. To back up the claim that the normative force of dissociation does not need to be explained in terms of desert, I draw on some of my recent work to claim that dissociation is an expressive action. I claim that expressive actions are actions that have expressive properties that relate to the salient features of some extraordinary situation, and through which we attempt to do justice to the significance of that situation. Dissociation from wrongdoing – expressed as distancing – is an attempt to do justice to the significance of wrongdoing.