Demystifying Desert

Gabriel Mendlow


In his penetrating book on the criminal culpability of children, Gideon Yaffe advances a novel theory of desert. According to the theory, the punishment you deserve for committing a given crime is the punishment the prospect of which would have led you to deliberate correctly about how to act, had that punishment been presented to you beforehand as an inevitable consequence of your committing the crime. Although fascinating and ambitious, Yaffe’s theory of desert struggles as an account of who deserves what, and it falls short of explaining why and how desert is normatively significant—why and how desert matters.