Document Type




Publication Date

Winter 2013


It is common for philosophers to invoke the idea that someone deserves an emotion like anger because she has done something morally wrong. While appeals to this notion of desert are common in the literature, such references aren’t thoroughly examined. For example, what do we mean when we say that someone deserves anger because she wronged us? This question is important because it is common for one philosopher to claim that someone deserves anger for a moral wrong while another denies it. Without an account of desert claims it is difficult to evaluate which position is more plausible.

We can make headway if we expand upon a claim I have defended in other work: emotions serve three interrelated psychological functions. Emotions function to appraise the conduct of others, to communicate that appraisal to their targets, and to sanction or reward their targets for acting well or ill. In the paper I hope to complete with Reassigned Time support, I will argue that these psychological functions underwrite three different ways in which emotions like anger can be deserved. They can be deserved as accurate appraisals, tenable communications, and credible sanctions. I will demonstrate the differences between these functions and apply them to shed light on the considerations that impact someone’s deservingness.

The upshot of the piece is a new theory of emotional desert that explicates a notion that many thought intractable and enlightens our practices of holding each other responsible—as well as the considerations relevant to forgiving each other.