One common and unfortunate understanding among many people today, is that one does not merit praise. I read an article recently that criticized an individual for complimenting someone’s conservative attire. The assumption is that there is no inherent value in the thing being congratulated, or that complimenting one thing insults everything else. I think that this all comes from our unwillingness to recognize the reality of the world around us, over and against our personal assumptions. We are metaphysical realists. The objects and actions around us really happen, and they really have a real value. In recognizing this value we honor their worth by giving it the praise that it is due.
We approach praise, or merit, from the idea that actions deserve just rewards. St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Disputed Questions on Virtues, defines merit as “…nothing other than the performance of some action by which one justly acquires a reward for himself.” Virtuous actions deserve our praise because they really are good.
There are two reasons why we should be sure to praise virtuous actions, despite any stigma that may be attached with asserting positive judgements. The first is that it is what the action has merited. The second is that it encourages further right action. Praising a man for acting like a man encourages him to further act like a man. The same logic follows for other situations.
Cicero states that religion is a natural virtue under justice. It is what is due to that which is greater. The praise of God falls under justice since He is greater and deserves our praise. The virtue of justice orders our actions with all other beings. It determines how we should act and interact with others. Giving other praise for their right actions is a necessary function of the virtuous life, and must be encouraged.