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To me, it honestly doesn't seem counter-intuitive at all. This just seems largely a result of the framing and perhaps heuristics bias.

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Which part?

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“Thus, if a person is guaranteed to suffer, it seems on its face that desert views imply that it would be better if they were morally worse”

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Nice post! A serious challenge to the seriousness of desert. A couple of thoughts:

> "if the most virtuous possible person and the most vicious possible person have already suffered an unfathomable amount, then the marginal badness of adding a bit of extra suffering tend towards being equal"

This seems defensible, by analogy to a criminal having "served their time" and now their slate is clean. Unfathomable suffering is already far more than anyone could really deserve, and so any extra suffering is strictly undeserved.

> "If there were lots of vicious happy people, that doesn’t seem like a terrible world, but it would be on this account."

fwiw, that seems like a bad world to me! Not sure if I'd endorse the verdict on reflection, but it at least isn't *obviously* wrong.

In general, I think the "better to be worse" result is avoided by thinking that virtue/vice is more axiologically significant than desert. But this leaves open how big of a deal virtue/vice is. It could be that (i) raw welfare almost always takes priority over (ii) greater virtue, which almost always takes priority over (iii) desert.

To sufficiently minimize the impact of desert, as you say, it probably needs to be capped. Which suggests that, to a first approximation, we can just ignore desert in practical ethics. Whether it's non-existent, or merely negligible, doesn't hugely matter (aside from sheer philosophical interest).

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//This seems defensible, by analogy to a criminal having "served their time" and now their slate is clean. Unfathomable suffering is already far more than anyone could really deserve, and so any extra suffering is strictly undeserved.//

Yeah, I think this is the best reply, but I think that it produces some other weird results. For one, if we believe in desert it just seems really weird that if both Ted Bundy and the best person ever have been tortured a lot then it doesn't matter much which one will torture more. This also relies on the idea that there's a specific, discrete amount that one deserves, which I argued against in the last post in the series, and you seemed to agree with. Now, you can adopt a capped view without thinking that, but it just seems like a big mark against desert.

It seems even weirder when we add cases of memory loss. Suppose you inflict an arbitrarily large amount of suffering on both Hitler and the best person ever (Tom) over the course of ten seconds. Then you erase their memories of the ordeal. It seems bizarre to think that this would make them equally deserving. If this were true, it would mean that if aliens inflicted lots of suffering in a short time before erasing our memories of it, then desert would stop mattering, which seems really odd.

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In that case, it's not that "desert would stop mattering", but that everyone has already suffered *more than they deserve*, so they don't deserve any worse going forward. Not sure why memory wipes should change that. (It's not like anyone thinks amnesiacs in prison should have to restart their sentence from scratch each day.)

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When I said desert would stop mattering, I meant something like, desert should stop influencing our future actions. But the scenario does seem odd when there's memory loss. If you're informed that 20 years ago, both Jeffrey Dahmer and the best person ever were tortured horrendously for 10 seconds, but neither remember, it seems odd to think that, going forward, it wouldn't really matter which of the two was benefitted, if Dahmer remains a psychopathic serial killer.

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Desert matters sometimes and cases like this just aren’t those times

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Which of the three parts of the impossibility theorem do you bite the bullet on?

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Or maybe sometimes they would be

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