In the case of demerit there is a direct antipathy to the feelings of the misdoer, but the chief sentiment excited is sympathy with those injured by the misdeed.
Price further follows Butler in distinguishing the perception of merit and demerit in agents as another accompaniment of the perception of right and wrong in actions; the former being, however, only a peculiar species of the latter, since, to perceive merit in any one is to perceive that it is right to reward him.
Every act of every person has not only a moral value producing merit or demerit, but also an inherent power which works out its fitting reward or punishment.
It is even at times a very burdensome tax, falling upon a family when its sources of income are otherwise diminished, while it has the demerit of striking a small number annually instead of being diffused equally.
Our direct sympathy with the agent in the circumstances in which he is placed gives rise, according to this view, to our notion of the propriety of his action, whilst our indirect sympathy with those whom his actions have benefited or injured gives rise to our notions of merit and demerit in the agent himself.
These two exist in many forms more or less grotesque, and after death the soul passes to one of them and there receives its due; but that existence too is marked by desire and action, and is therefore productive of merit or demerit, and as the soul is thus still entangled in the meshes of karma it must again assume an earthly garb and continue the strife.
Both thinkers hold that this perception of right and wrong in actions is accompanied by a perception of merit and demerit in agents, and also by a specific emotion; but whereas Price conceives this emotion chiefly as pleasure or pain, analogous to that produced in the mind by physical beauty or deformity, Reid regards it chiefly as benevolent affection, esteem and sympathy (or their opposites), for the virtuous (or vicious) agent.