When is praise deserved?

This question came up in conversation with a friend from school. It seems clear that praise is deserved when one goes above and beyond the call of duty (performs a superogatory act). The question is whether one deserves praise simply for fulfilling one's duty. In other words, if one does exactly what is required, do they deserve praise?

On the one hand it seems not. After all, they are just doing what they are supposed to do.
On the other hand, doing what you are supposed to do is no easy task or it is not a task that is accomplished by many, thus one does deserve praise for so doing.

I would appreciate feedback. I am pulled toward thinking that one deserves praise simply for fulfilling a duty but I am not super confident and I don't know what the common intuition is.


danny boy said...

Hey there,
It looks like I share your intuitions about praise. I too think it can be very appropriate to praise both obligatory and superogatory acts. Maybe I'd try and link praise to some concept of what is good, excellent or admirable. Praise ultimately seems to me to be a response to that which is good. It would seem an easy case that to fulfill one's duty is good, and so I'd argue that it's worthy of praise.

Cliff said...

I agree that both actions are worthy of praise, but I would suggest that there are varying degrees of praise. The more your actions are beyond your duty, the more praise you should receive.

jon said...

I definitely think you are right about the varying degrees of praise. That seems exactly right.
I am glad that you and dan share my intuitions. How would you respond to the individual who criticizes this position by saying, 'you only did what you were supposed to do, that is not worthy of praise.'?
Dan, perhaps you are on to something with praising what is good. I think the case is a lot harder with admirable and excellent since one might think those terms only apply to actions beyond the call of duty. For that matter, one could take a hard line and say the same applies to good as well. I think the latter would be hard to maintain however.