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Louis Pojman Theory of Merit and Demerit


It has been argued over the years, whether to judge people based on their deeds, irrespective of their intentions. When this is done, they are subjected to judgments based on their actions, without considering if they are responsible. It is quite easy to note that people have different reasons for their actions, even though some are inborn and come from within their genes like behavioral tendencies, examples are those born with internal peace and dislike violence at all cost and the ones who cannot do without violence. In this context, the people are considered irresponsible of their acts, however, since they have done them, they are judged based on success or failure (Pojman, 1999, pp. 83-102). An example is the Homeric King, whose followers ,according to Pojman, judge based on their performances in battles, if they keep succeeding, they are termed as arêtes, meaning virtuous and when they fail irrespective of their competency, they are considered aischron, meaning shameful. This does not lie in evaluating their strength against the opponents; they must win at all costs to be considered successful. This paper will seek to assess critically, Pojman’s argument that people should strive to make a world in which the arêtes are rewarded while aischons are punished according to the level of their offence (Adkins, 1960, p. 32).

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Merit is defined as the things resulting from good deeds, according to most sources. It also refers to those things that result from good thoughts as well as behavior. They are considered to have the capability of contributing towards, one’s liberation and overall personal growth (Goodin, 1985, pp. 575-598). Moreover, Merit is considered transferable to a deceased to lessen his/her sufferings in a new life and this is according to the Shitro practice. Pojman’s concept of merit lies based on positive attributions like praise, rewards while demerit is a feature of negative attributions, and brings with it penalties as well as other kinds of punishments. He also argues that people do not work to gain the societal advantages they find, for example, Kings are born, and find themselves in the royal family; they do nothing to earn it and therefore call these non-deserved merits. These merits are associated with physical endowments, color of skin, type of skin, type of personality, the basic intelligence a person possesses and other features like good looks (Adkins, 1960, p. 32).

Pojman’s Argument

Having categorized merits and demerits as shown above on whether they are deserved and undeserved. Pojman argued that people should therefore strive to make a world in which those who are virtuous are rewarded while the vicious are punished for their deeds on their proportions. This has raised vigorous debate on his stance (Pojman, 1999, pp. 83-102).


First, it is quite important to relate his views on the subject, he specifies merit in two categories, those that are deserved and those that are not. Again, he categorizes demerits in the same way, the deserved and undeserved. It is clear from this point that some people’s undeserved demerits hand them disapprobation while on the other hand, those with merits get noticed and even rewarded (Pojman, 1999, pp. 83-102). An example is in rewarding the most handsome or beautiful, the ugly, who in this case convey an undeserved demerit, will be disapproved, for nothing out of their choice, but natural. This is unfair, because when one is brought into this world, he has no chance of choosing where to be born or how, as well as his features. Unfortunately, this is the trend in this world, Kings are born in royal homes, and the beautiful captivates the world for reward while, those with misfortunes of demerits get pushed aside and risks further shame if they try to complain.

People should not be punished for what they do not deserve it is very unfair. On the other hand, there are Merits that are deserved and are earned by each and everyone who tries; examples of these are behavioral changes, from bad to good, despite having undeserved demerits, people can change their ways of thinking and behaviors, to earn merits, rather than demerits. This is very crucial for their development and determines how they respond to the world. This then should follow Pojman’s stance, because these are merits and demerits people are able to control and even change. Therefore, they should be rewarded and punished accordingly to help build a better world. Pojman’s argument should therefore apply to those features that can be controlled (Pojman, 1999, pp. 83-102).


Pojman’s stance on rewards or gifts for demerits and punishments or disapprobation for demerits is a reflection of what is observed in reality. But I am partially convinced by it implications, those who have nothing to do with demerits associated with them should be embraced and instead strengthened, it is quite unfair and cruel to punish someone for what he/she is not responsible (Adkins, 1960, p. 32). However, this should apply only to those with demerits that are automatic and cannot be controlled. For those that can be earned, like respect, obedience, among others, those who ignores them should be punished, to help make better world. This way, everyone will rejoice in his natural features, as he/she will be embraced, while at the same time they will be building a better world by pursuing merits, thus making the world a better place to live in.

Reference List

  1. Pojman, L. (1999). Journal of Social Philosophy. Blackwell Publishers. Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 83-102.
  2. Adkins, A. W. H. (1960). Merit and Responsibility: A study in Greek Ethics. Chicago. University of Chicago, p. 32.
  3. Goodin, R. (1985). Negating Positive Desert Claims. Political Theory. Vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 575-598.

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