The concept of merit and desert as based on substantial assertions from A. W. H. Adkins, Immanuel Kant, and John Rawls, changes over time and depends on the social setting and culture. For instance, Adkin’s stance on merit and desert is based on Greek culture, or the system that the Homeric society sustains. Perhaps, the concept of merit and desert was different in other cultures during that time. Since then, however, it has evolved, and several philosophers have contributed their ideas and beliefs regarding the matter, such as inputs from Kant, Rawls, and Pojman himself.
At present, the definition of meritocracy may be classified as classical or contemporary. The classical meaning of meritocracy may be interpreted by Adkin’s view of merit and desert. Homeric culture values social ranks and achievements, such as winning in battles or being in power by gaining riches and possessions, etc., without considering personal purpose, opinion, and intention. For instance, monarchs who ruled kingdoms or dynasties, and future rulers who inherit these high ranks in society are highly regarded by their constituents because of their positions. In war or in battle, the dynasty or kingdom’s success is an indicator of respect that it shall be granted. Focusing on social status and success in terms of merit and desert was branded as strict meritocracy.
On the other hand, Kant and Rawl’s stand on meritocracy may be identified as contemporary views, as their statements reveal an open-minded take on merit and desert. Concrete dynamics of social status and structure is disregarded, as Kant pointed out the importance of intentions and good will in deserving credit or recognition, while Rawl stressed upon the incidences that contribute to the ability of every person to do good deeds or exhibit a moral character. In other words, genetics and the environmental condition where one grew up accounts for an individual’s character, therefore, overlooking the individual from being granted recognition.
Pojman, however, relates a more direct, sensible, and apparent view on meritocracy. According to him, the result of actions as driven by intention and will should be the most important bases in granting rewards or punishments to individuals. Although closely related with Kant’s opinion on meritocracy, Pojman’s idea simply criticizes the previously discussed views on meritocracy, especially Adkin and Rawl’s views. The system of reward and punishment sets up the foundation of “Pojman’s meritocracy.”
Citing an example, if a student sets his priorities straight and balances his time for studies and other activities because he simply wishes to gain high grades and a scholarship, he should be rewarded with his desires. This is because his actions and intentions were focused on achieving something he truly desired. This is illustrated by meritocracy as earning what one works for because he deserves it. Individuals who are righteous and benevolent deserve to be rewarded, while individuals who are brutal and deceitful should be punished parallel to the extent of their actions.
It is important to discuss the views of Adkin, Kant, Rawl, and Pojman, in order to set up a clear argument and basis of discussion of my opinion regarding meritocracy. I believe that Pojman’s view, although pleasant and desirable, is an ambitious proposal to resolve society’s view of meritocracy. If everyone believes that we deserve what we earn, and that rewards and punishments should be granted for good acts and bad acts respectively, then Pojman’s belief is proper and accurate when applied to society. This would greatly influence the nature of society, as it encourages individuals to do good works even more, due to rewards that they receive. The first problem I encountered with this stance is that, the system of reward and punishment is not universal, but rather idyllic.
At present, it is undeniable that people commend, especially those who belong to high society. Politicians, celebrities, artists, business magnates, are highly regarded because of their position and not because of the results of their actions, as it is influenced by their intentions and good will. Most people look up to them, and adapt the same quality of valuing social status. People value what individuals own, instead of their intentions and actions.
Our culture is driven by power, fame, and money, and most people who do good things are disregarded. This is highly evident in the extreme social conditions, based on comparisons between upper and lower classes of society. For instance, celebrities who commit criminal offenses are punished lightly, with decreased sentences and approval of house arrest, etc., while those who are underprivileged suffer the whole nine yards of punishment. Moreover, the main basis of social criticism is apparent by the understated fact that most people in the upper classes of society gained their positions through dishonesty and deceit, and become even more richer because of it, while those who do modest acts are not rewarded as much.
Although Pojman’s idea is agreeable, it is far-fetched, even with much struggle and determination, there will always be people influenced by Homeric culture, or any other. Moreover, one cannot discount Rawl’s belief on meritocracy, such that heredity and the environment are contributors to an individual’s character. This, I believe, should not be discounted, for an individual is not born with the wisdom to distinguish between good and bad. For instance, children who are brought up by parents without being disciplined or taught the difference between right and wrong, grow up to be offenders who lack respect and concern for others. In part, punishing them may be part of instilling moral values and lessons; however, the most punishment is not deserved by them, but by those who are responsible for bringing them up without a sense of moral duty and character.
In general, Pojman’s view of meritocracy is appropriate, and as I have said, idyllic. However, it is not completely applicable to the society that we live in, and merit and desert should not be based on it alone, for other views of meritocracy – such as Rawl’s – are pertinent and should not be entirely crossed out of the issue. It is a matter of looking at the current situation of society, thinking about what our society should be molded to be, and in the end, looking at the entirety of all things and considering all aspects of society in order to impact the change that we should become.