What is the Appropriate Reward for Excellence?

A question that’s been kicking around my head for the past few days. This is just the start of a rough outline.

Determining what is excellent:

  1. Judgment based on history. The “time will tell” adage. What is good and beautiful is sieved by history and reveals itself over time. This is also the base for the quantitative approach that Charles Murray takes in “Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950”
  2. Judgment based on peers. The basic mode of scientific research. Good research is research that meets the criteria set by a group of peers.
  3. Judgment based on the market. Whatever sells is what is good. This is the dominant defense is discussions about contemporary culture. People who reject “coarse” elements of culture, especially entertainment such as video games or movies, are dismissed as being ignorant of how the market works. The “if people didn’t want this stuff, then they wouldn’t buy it.” No?
  4. Excellence is its own reward. The extreme result of the intrinsic reward viewpoint mentioned below. If people are more motivated by intrinsic rewards then why worry about external rewards. This view runs into some obvious problems when dealing with groups of people instead of individuals. Groups and societies influence how resources are distributed, and this distribution influences excellence.

Rewarding excellence:

  1. Intrinsic motivation is the key to sustained excellence. See the work of Alfre Kohn and Teresa Amabile.
  2. Extrinsic motivation is key. Market dogmatists, intellectual property law. Any system that talks about incentives or incentivizing for certain behavior.

Other questions:

  1. How should we reward the best cat burglar or bank robber? Why shouldn’t they be rewarded for their skill?
  2. Are there time limits for the effectiveness of rewards? What is the function of posthumous awards? The awardee seems unable to derive any benefit. Posthumous awards may help the judgment based on history through the creation and support of canons or classic works.