Louis Pojman suggests of a world where “the virtuous are rewarded and the vicious punished in proportion to their relative deserts”. Merit and desert are the two different fundamental ethical principles that are focused on in his statement. Merit is the reward or punishment due to a person while desert means deserving. This theory therefore implies that people should be rewarded or punished based on not only their natural traits, but also the extent of goodness or badness of their actions. I would agree with Pojman that we deserve what we earn; however looking at the reality on the ground it is undeniable that this is not the case. Furthermore, due to the different laws and cultures in our world, it would be seemingly impossible to uphold such a rule (Waller 2008) According to Pojman, “the idea of rewarding the good and punishing the bad is the normal of evolving of culture”. To dictate what constitutes good or bad is quite subjective, but the question is how one should determine the degree of goodness or badness.
The impact or repercussions of an individual’s deeds could be one measure that could be used in this instance. Pojman observes that a good deed done half-heartedly should be rewarded differently from an action done whole heartedly. An individual should therefore be compensated on the basis of his efforts or how well he has performed his tasks, but empirically there’s no way of determining his or her input into the task. A person could be good at something, based on a natural attribute, which would make him give the same value of output as another person who works harder in the same task since the second person doesn’t share the same attribute.
Following the theory, the two individuals should be compensated based on their input, which would be unfair because they both produced the same output. A person could perform good deeds because they have an obligation to do so. A police officer has a duty to stop and prevent a crime, a fire fighter has a duty to put out fires but these classes of people should not be rewarded extraordinarily for performing their duties.
The law does not allow a police officer to sue for a reward for finding a missing person even though there was a clause or offer from the missing person’s family, so in this case the theory fails. Another instance could be found in our work places. Many CEOs work half day and enjoy the rest of the day playing a round of golf as their employees slave all day, yet the CEOs take the bigger pay simply because of their positions.
Despite the fallbacks of this theory on the concept of good, it has a more positive impact in the case of evil. Individuals are and should be punished based on the level of the bad they do. As is the case with our modern society, criminals serve different punishments depending on their crime. A murderer should be withdrawn from society, possibly for the rest of his or her life. A petty thief will serve shorter sentence than an individual on a robbery with violence charge, even though the two criminals may have stolen the same value of items. This theory therefore discourages evil, since individuals will avoid doing serious crimes for fear of retribution. Without this fear of getting punished, criminals and terrorists would roam free while world gets stuck in chaos. However, the theory upholds law and order, a major victory for justice (Waller, 2008).
Due to our different backgrounds, cultures and religions, each and every individual is unique from each other. These differences influence our judgments thus explaining our differences in opinion regarding certain topics. Most western countries permit abortion, while other countries especially in the developing world consider it a crime. Differences in opinion mean that there’s no agreeable value of the deeds we perform. There’s no way of measuring a person’s goodness or badness.
There’s also no stated best way of rewarding or punishing a person. Both rewards and punishments could take various forms, and their impact or influence could be dissimilar for two different people. A monetary reward could have little significance for an individual with a wealthy background while the same figure could greatly influence a person from a humble background. A person who has never been in jail before will think twice before repeating an offence while a seasoned criminal who did the same offence will have little in his way in case they get similar punishments. In this case, rewards and punishments may not have the desired outcomes if applied to different people. In conclusion if such a world existed, a place where which “the virtuous are rewarded and the vicious punished in proportion to their relative deserts,” people would strive to perform good deeds which would never go by unnoticed. Its common nature to love oneself, and if a reward is the only way to influence a good act, then so be it.
An employee cannot be expected to work harder if he knows that there is nothing that will commend him for his efforts. Despite the problems discussed earlier, the theory would still have significant impact on behavior. Pojman was right to assume that we should anticipate rewards for doing good deeds and expect punishment for bad deeds.
Waller, B. N.
(2008). Consider ethics: Theory, readings, and contemporary issues (2nd ed.) New York, NY: Pearson/Longman.