I have been thinking for many years about the theory of justice that I present in this book. Many friends, colleagues, and students have offered helpful criticism and suggestions. Perhaps my greatest debt of gratitude is owed to Owen McLeod. I had the pleasure of working closely with McLeod as he wrote his dissertation on this topic back in 1995. In succeeding years we have talked frequently about desert and distributive justice. As I worked out the views I defend in this book, I made extensive use of McLeod’s dissertation as well as of his published work. I believe I have learned more about this topic from McLeod than from any other person. I am tremendously grateful to him not only for his criticism and suggestions, but also for his steady friendship and emotional support.
I am also in debt to Kristian Olsen. He provided important critical and editorial help in connection with the production of a paper from which the book emerged. Pete Graham, Casey Knight, Miles Tucker, and others who participated in a seminar I taught during the Spring of 2012 have also been generous and helpful. Knight sent me a remarkably helpful series of emails in which he raised an important question about my characterization of political economic deserts and bases. He forced me to develop a much more complete version of my view. I am also very grateful to Alex Sarch who gave me a detailed critical commentary on an earlier draft of the book together with a number of very helpful suggestions. Although I have not discussed justice with her in several years, I am also grateful to Serena Olsaretti. Her written work has been a steady source of insight and valuable information.
A paper containing the core of the thesis of this book was presented in December of 2012 at the Princeton Workshop in Normative Philosophy, which was sponsored in part by the Princeton University Center for Human Values. I received valuable comments from several participants at that workshop. I especially want to thank Eden Lin, Daniel Wodak, Chris Heathwood, and Melinda Roberts. Although I have not accepted every last suggestion offered by these friends and colleagues, I have been moved to revise and reconsider quite a lot of what I say here in light of discussions with them. I am grateful to all of them for their suggestions and encouragement.
A group of philosophers at New Mexico State University had heard that I was working on a book about justice. They wanted to use the book in their summer reading group. I was delighted and promptly sent them a copy of the manuscript. (p.viii) Each week during the summer of 2014 members of the group would read a chapter or two; then they would meet for discussion. One member would work up some sort of presentation; the others would come with questions and comments. As I understand it, their meetings would sometimes carry on for a couple of hours. After each meeting, a member would write up a detailed report summarizing the main points of their discussion. That report would then be sent to me. In many cases I responded to the report and there was further follow up. This same procedure carried on until the end of the summer. I received very helpful detailed comments on nearly every section of the book.
Many of the New Mexican suggestions seemed to me to be perceptive. In light of these suggestions, I made a lot of changes in the manuscript. (One of the members of that group is evidently a stickler for proper spelling, grammar, and word choice. He gave me long lists of blunders that he found in the manuscript. Most of those suggestions were accepted and revisions were made in accord with the suggestions. I learned a lot about the proper placement of commas.) The New Mexican group raised many objections concerning content and made many substantive suggestions for improvement. For all their careful and very helpful attention to the manuscript, I thank the New Mexicans: Jean-Paul Vessel, Mark Walker, and Danny Scoccia.
My friend and former colleague Brad Skow has written extensively on the concept of desert. In several cases he has generously offered to untangle some confused things that I was struggling to say. He has extraordinarily keen insight into the mathematical details of some theories about desert. I am very grateful to him for his friendship, encouragement, and patience. Brad and I co-authored an article on “Desert” that appears in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I am grateful to the editors (especially Ed Zalta) for help with respect to that article, and for permission to make use of some material in that article that overlaps with some passages in this book.
In the midst of a discussion of prioritarianism, a friend encouraged me to get in touch with Theron Pummer. I wrote to Pummer and he generously explained some recent work of which I had been unaware. He also allowed me to see some of his own then-unpublished work. All of my interactions with Pummer turned out to be helpful. I am grateful to him.
I am very grateful to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for awarding me a Samuel I. Conti Faculty Research Fellowship for the academic year of 2013/2014. The fellowship gave me a full year off from teaching to focus my attention on the writing of this book. I knew and respected Sam Conti; it is a great pleasure to have received the fellowship named in his honor. I am grateful to Shelly Kagan, Peter Vallentyne, Roger Crisp, Brad Skow, and Gustaf Arrhenius for the help and encouragement they provided.
(p.ix) Peter Momtchiloff steadily and efficiently shepherded this book through reviews and revisions. I appreciate his encouragement and helpful suggestions. I am also grateful to several anonymous readers for a multitude of interesting comments. I reply to many of these comments at appropriate places in the text.
Throughout all the years during which I have been working on this book, my wife Lois has been a steady source of support and encouragement. Although she never seemed to have much interest in the details of my work, Lois quietly did an extraordinary job of making sure that our home would be a peaceful place in which I could focus on that work without interruption. I fear that I have not said it often enough, or with enough emphasis; so I will say it now: I am tremendously grateful to Lois. Without her and without our daughter Elizabeth, neither this book nor anything else I have ever written would have been possible.