Types of Payment
I have mentioned earlier that the performance of a distant role such as a telephone operator’s is appropriately motivated by some external, most often monetary, inducement in a way that performing a proximate role such as a parent is not. But although parents are not ordinarily paid to perform their roles, professors, the bearers of the other nondetached role I have mentioned, are. And it would be foolhardy, not to mention self- defeating, to imply that there is anything untoward in this practice. To see why bearers of nondetached roles can be paid for discharging their roles consistently with the roles’ proximity, we must further consider the normative significance of payments. I can best make the point by drawing an analogy between payment and punishment. The two practices are similar in that both involve responding to some behavior by deliberately affecting the agent’s welfare, positively in the one case, negatively in the other. (We commonly refer to punishment as a payment, and speak of the wages of crime.) But since deprivations are more morally charged than rewards, it is no surprise that moral philosophers should have given more attention to punishment than to payment. One result of this attention is a fundamental distinction they have drawn between two contrasting accounts of punishment, as deterrence and as retribution: one is forward-looking, designed to affect future behavior, whereas the other is backward-looking, giving the agent her due. Extending this distinction to the case of payment, we can draw a similar distinction between two modalities: payment as remuneration, designed to provide an inducement to perform a role’s requirements, and payment as compensation, seen as a proper response to a performance rendered. Paying for the performance of a proximate role may accordingly be warranted for reasons other than providing an external inducement to perform the role, and so without impugning the internal motivation entailed by the role’s proximity.
The analogy between payment and punishment raises, however, a further complication. Even if we understand punishment in retributive terms, anticipating it will likely affect people’s decisions; retributive punishment is unlikely to remain motivationally inert. So also in the case of payment. Practically speaking, the two responsive modalities I have distinguished largely overlap. But here a second distinction, this one concerning remuneration, comes into play. Remuneration can serve as an inducement either to perform a role one already occupies or to assume a role in the first place. Continuing with the example of the role of professor, it is altogether appropriate for people to opt for an academic career in part because of the anticipated pay, even if their performance of the role, once assumed, should be internally motivated. The reason for this difference lies in the constructive significance of a proximate role. Part of what it means for a role to be proximate is that it provides its bearer with an internal motivation. But the role has this normative grip only over its bearers; antecedently to assuming the role, it has no claim on them. So no conflict arises between a role’s proximity and the availability of external inducements to assume it. Indeed, this point also applies to my other example, the parental role. Money can be a medium for encouraging people to form families, even if once the family is formed, discharging roles within it is no longer properly oriented toward monetary gains.