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Philosophy of Merit and Desert Distribution Essay

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Updated: Nov 26th, 2021

At least once in his or her life everyone was occupied by the thought of whether something that happens in their life or other people’s lives is what they have deserved or not. It is a common problem nowadays that laborious and successful pupils do not get the scholarship to study at universities while children of rich and influential parents get their places without any hardship; or the way salary is distributed in large companies where top managers do not work but only get tremendous sums to live in luxury, and workers of lower levels work day and night to be able at least to provide for their living and family. Surely, there is much injustice in our world, and nobody will argue this fact, but the question is in what would be if everything were equal and all people got merit and desert according to their deeds. Who would be responsible for the distribution of merit and desert? What would be the measure of deeds that would signify the extent to which merit or desert would be given to a person?

Even in such a seemingly beneficial situation for all people who are worth something in their lives the ideal world that supposedly could exist is likely to cause many ethical and moral challenges under the situation of equality. The clear example is provided by Pojman (1999) when discussing the car accident with both drivers getting equal trauma – he states that in the ideal world:

“even if everyone has clear knowledge of the facts, it would be morally outrageous to give preferential treatment to the innocent victim. The right to equal treatment trumps desert” (p. 85).

Even under the equal conditions for everyone nobody has the right to cancel the institutional desert because it is a paradox in itself. On the one hand, it prescribes everyone to get what she or he deserves – what they have earned or what they have got according to their attempt. Nobody will argue this fact because it is the law of nature – everyone works to get something, and getting it is the natural right to which he or she is entitled. But on the other hand people are entitled to the right of heritage, and even the laziest and the silliest people will get the heritage of their parents or spouses – who can argue this right, and who will decide whether they are worth this heritage or not? There is hardly any authority in the world that would dare to take over such a responsibility.

The thought of Pojman (1999) is clear and straight – in the world that he offers everything should be done logically, and the procedure of distributing merit and desert seems absolutely reasonable:

“Rewarding good works encourages further good works and punishment deters bad actions. By recognizing and rewarding merit, we promote efficiency and welfare” (p. 89).

Thus, as we see, the key word and the key purpose is efficiency – but as Pojman (1999) shows further on, if merit is distributed ob the basis of utility, then punishment should also be distributed the same way, and in this case innocent people may be punished only because of the potential threat, which is totally unacceptable from the ethic and moral point of view.

As one can see from this ethical dilemma, it is extremely hard to decide how the ideal world should be structured and who should distribute merit and punishment accordingly to the human deeds. On the one hand, the striving for ideal has always distinguished the humankind, and it is absolutely logical. But in case the inequality is eliminated the situation will become even more complex, which has been shown on a set of examples in the present work. Looking at this dilemma, it becomes reasonable to wish there were more people like Bill Gates – the richest person in the world did not include his children or relatives in his will stating that they should become something in life without the help of his billions. This wish of his seems wise in the context of the present discussion – Gates’ children will know how to achieve their own welfare and will follow the example of their father, but not only enjoy the fruits of his labor.

References

Pojman, L. (1999). Merit: Why Do We Value It? Journal of Social Philosophy, No.30, pp. 83-102.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Philosophy of Merit and Desert Distribution'. 26 November.

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