Date of Award

Fall 2009

Project Type


Program or Major

Justice Studies

Degree Name

Master of Arts

First Advisor

Ruth Sample


This thesis argues against the asymmetry of desert observed across theories of distribution and retribution. While distributive theories have downplayed the significance of desert, retributive theories have outwardly embraced the role of desert in punishment. At the heart of this imbalance rests an unresolved tension between determinism and freedom. In the interest of bringing symmetry to theories of justice, this thesis reconciles determinism and freedom as two compatible notions of human actions and traits.

Additionally, this thesis argues for an increase in opportunities afforded to the least advantaged in order to balance punishments and benefits. This position stems from an acknowledgment of the empirical realities of crime and punishment in capitalist societies. Foremost among the empirical concerns of this thesis is the reality that criminality in capitalist societies is highly concentrated among those residing on the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic hierarchy. The compatibility of determinism and freedom and the rejection of the asymmetry of desert are utilized in making a case for the desert of opportunity as a priority of just societies.