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The Rationale of Reward

Jeremy Bentham

Unexpected tho' this might be, it is in this text that one will find the notorious passage about push-pin and poetry that is (charitably) misquoted by John Stuart Mill in his essay on Bentham. Mill quotes Bentham to the effect that ``quantity of pleasure being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry''---what Bentham wrote is ``Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry.'' Everyone can play the game, but only a few relish music and poetry, Bentham observes. Like Plato in the Republic, Bentham says here that poets are deceivers and falsifiers. The pleasures they provide may have negative consequences, but the pleasures of the game, thinks Bentham, are innocent.

Whatever might be the merits of Bentham's argument about poetry, here is one's chance to read what Bentham actually said (as opposed to what Mill said he said), along with his polemic against the arbiters of ``good taste'' as the heartless destroyers of innocent pleasures, and some sharp remarks about the superiority of the games of children over the ``games of princes''. That matter aside, there is, it should be said, a serious issue here: what's the use of good taste?

Some of the rest of the Rationale of Reward may leave one thinking that it was just as well this work has not appeared in print since the Bowring edition of Bentham in 1843. We have ceased torturing the young with Latin and Greek in the name of education, teaching hospitals have long been familiar, and so it is with other reforms Bentham advocated herein. Nonetheless there remain numerous points of interest---let me here offer a brief tour with pointers into the text.

Source of the Text

This text was digitized from Volume II of the 1843 Bowring edition of Bentham's works. As noted in the ``Advertisement'', the English version was based on Dumont's 1811 Théorie des Récompenses, as compared with the original Bentham manuscripts---upon which the Dumont work was based, the which manuscripts date from the mid 1770's.

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Last modified: Wed Feb 20 19:08:14 CST 2002