Louis Pojman argued in his essay, “Merit, Why Do We Value It?” that we should live in a world that “the virtuous are rewarded and the vicious punished in proportion to their relative deserts.” (Pojman, 1999) At first glance this seems like a great concept. Good people get rewarded for the good they do. Evil doers receive a punishment that fits their crime. However in reality this concept would not be able to be fully executed in our society. In this paper I will show you several different difficulties that would be faced if we tried to implement Pojman’s ideas into the real world we live in.
The Law Of Just Desserts
The first problem with Pojman’s theory is who would be the one to pass judgement on what is right and wrong? Pojman references the bible several times in his essay. He quotes a verse from the new testament. “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2nd Corinthians, 9:6) Pojman also makes reference to heaven and hell. Those who are good will be rewarded for their efforts with an eternity in heaven. Those who are evil will spend eternity in hell. He uses this logic to justify his theory of just desserts. (Pojman, 1999) However, Pojman fails to mention another important verse in the bible. “Judge not that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) In a later verse it says, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7:3) In these verses the bible spells out very clearly that it is not ok to judge another. We are all human and we all make mistakes. Therefore, why would we judge another person? Later in the bible this is spelled out for mankind yet again. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) It is not up to man to judge his fellow human being. How are we supposed to decide what one deserves based off a crime they committed. If someone murders another human being does that mean they deserve to die themselves? Do the circumstances matter? What if the actions they took were pre meditated? Maybe they were not premeditated at all. Maybe they were not under the right mental state when they committed the horrible crime. The only people that would ever truly know is the perpetrator and the victim. Therefore we would not know the extenuating circumstances to adequately judge the accused.
The death penalty is the closest thing we have to Pojman’s theory of just desserts. In most states the death penalty is legal. If you take another person’s life you are going to give your own life in return. A lot of people agree with the death sentence. This is especially true for a victim’s family who is seeking to lash out against the perpetrator of the crime. However the death penalty has its price. Ruben Cantu was 17 years old when he was accused of murder. The young boy maintained his innocence until he was executed on August 24, 1993. After his execution it was proven that this young boy was actually innocent. He had not committed a crime. (Olsen, 2006) This is just a taste of what could happen if we tried to follow the “law of just desserts.” In this case the state has the blood of an innocent young boy on their hands. That makes them no better than the perpetrators of the original crime that this young boy was wrongfully convicted of.
Another important factor to consider is that different cultures have varying laws, systems, and beliefs. In one culture it is illegal as well as immoral for a man to have more than one wife. In another culture a man may be allowed to take on many wives and have no legal or moral charges to answer to. In order to truly follow Pojman’s theory of just desserts we would have to have one law system that is universal. Why should one person be punished for doing something that is ok to do in another part of the world? There will never be a universal law system as long as there are so many cultures and diversity in the world. Cultures and diversity is what makes our word interesting. This would be a boring world if everyone believed in the exact same thing and we all lived in the exact same way.
The final reason that a law of just desserts would not be feasible in today’s society is because our laws are forever changing. There a few examples where laws have changed in our nation over the years. It was once legal for white Americans to legally “own” black Americans. This is no longer true today. Black Americans are entitled to the same rights that are endowed upon the white American. Just because it was once legal for white Americans to own Black Americans does not mean it was ever ethical. Yet the fact still remains that is was perfectly legal. Another example of a changing law is women not having the right to vote. Today it is illegal for a woman to be refuses the right to vote based purely upon her sex. Actually a woman has equal right to everything a man gets. If she performs the same job a man performs a woman is expected to receive the exact same pay. These examples have shown that our laws are always changing and would make it difficult to incorporate Pojman’s Just Desserts.
Though Pojman’s theory of just desserts may seem appealing it is simply not practical in today’s society. The fact that it is not up to society to judge, the variety of cultures in our world, and ever changing laws are a few reasons this would not be practical. Just Desserts is simply a theory written on paper that would never work in real life practical application.
Olsen, L. (2006). The Cantu Case: Death and Doubt. Retrieved October 25, 2010 from http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/3472872.html
Pojman, L. (1999) Merit: Why Do We Value It? Journal of Social Philosophy, 30:82-100.