The Rationale of Reward

Appendix (B)

To Book I, Chapter VIII
Mischievousness of Reward latent---Exemplifications

When a reward is groundless, it may be so either simply groundless, or positively mischievous: the act, which it is employed to produce, may be either simply useless, or pernicious.

It would be a nugatory lesson to say, that reward should not be applied to produce any act, of which the tendency is acknowledged to be pernicious; and this whether such act have been aggregated to the number of offences or not. The only cases which it can be of any use, in this point of view, to mention, are those in which the mischievousness of the act, or the tendency of the reward to produce it, is apt to lie concealed.

To begin with the cases which come under the former of these descriptions---those in which the mischievousness of the act is apt to lie concealed. One great class of public services, for which rewards have been or might be offered, are those which consist in the extension of knowledge, or, according to the more common, though obscure and imposing phrase, the discovery and propagation of truth. Now there is one way in which rewards offered for the propagation of truth (that is of what is looked upon, or professed to be looked upon, as truth) cannot but have a pernicious tendency; and that of whatever nature be the proposed truth. A point being proposed, concerning which men in general are thought to he ignorant or divided, if a man sincerely desired that the truth relative to that point should be ascertained, and in consequence of that desire is content to furnish the expense of a reward, the natural course is---to invite men to the inquiry. ``How stands the matter? Which of the two contradictory propositions is the true one?'' To a question of some such form as this, he requires an answer. The service, then, to which he annexes his reward, is the giving an answer to a question---such an answer as upon examination shall appear to be a true one, or to come nearest to the truth. The tendency of a reward thus offered, to produce the discovery of the truth, is obvious: the tendency of it will at least be to produce the discovery of what to him, who puts in for the reward, shall appear to be truth. What else should it tend to produce? My aim being to establish what to you shall appear to be the truth, what other means have I of doing this, but by advancing what appears to me to be so? Accordingly, thus to apply the reward, is to promote a sincere and impartial inquiry, and to pursue the best, and indeed the only course that by means of artificial reward can be pursued for promoting real knowledge.

Another course, which has been sometimes taken, is_to assume the truth of the one of two contradictory propositions that may be framed concerning any object of inquiry,---and to make the demonstration of the truth of that proposition the condition of the reward. In this course, the tendency of the reward is pernicious. The habit of veracity is one of the great supports of human society---a virtue which in point of utility ought to be, and in point of fact is, enforced in the highest degree by the moral sanction. To undermine that habit, is to undermine one of the principal supports of human society. The tendency of a reward thus offered is to undermine this virtuous habit, and to introduce the opposite vicious one. The tendency of it may he to produce what is called logical truth, or not, as may happen; but it is, at any rate, to produce ethical falsehood: it may tend to promote knowledge or error, as it may happen; but it tends, at any rate, to promote mendacity. The proposition either is true or it is false: and, be that as it may, men are either agreed about its being true, or they are not. In as far as they are agreed, the reward is useless; in as far as they are not, it tends to make them act as if they were, and is pernicious.

It may be said---No; all that it tends to do, at least all that it is designed to do, is to call forth such, and such only, whose opinion is really in favour of the proposition, and to put them upon giving their reasons for it: it is not to corrupt their veracity, but to overcome their indolence. But whatever may be the design, the former is in fact its tendency. On the one side, they have reward to urge them; on the other, they have impunity to permit them. For, when a man declares that his opinions on a given subject are so and so, who can say that they are otherwise?---who can say with certainty, what are a man's private opinions? And if the effect be bad, what signifies the intention? Or how indeed can the intention be pure if it be seen that the effect is likely to be a bad one?

Thus would it stand, were it doubtful whether there are any persons or no, whose unbiassed opinions are on the opposite side to that on which the demonstration is sought to be procured. But the case always is, that it is clear there are such persons; that it is the very persuasion of there being such, that is the cause of offering the reward; and that the more numerous they are, the more likely it is to be offered, and the greater it is likely to be. Such, then, is the danger of promoting mendacity: to avoid which danger, it may be laid down in short terms, as a general rule, that reward should be given---not for demonstration, but for inquiry.

More than this, a reward thus applied tends always, in a certain degree, to frustrate its own purpose; and is so far, not only inefficacious, but efficacious on the other side. It does as good as tell mankind, that, in the opinion of him at least by whom the reward is offered, the probability is that men's opinions are most likely on the opposite side; and in so far gives them reason to think that the truth is also on the opposite side. ``People in general'', a man will naturally say to himself, ``are not of this way of thinking: if they were, what need of all this pains to make them so?'' This, then, affords another reason why reward should he given---not for demonstration, but for inquiry.

Such, accordingly, has been the course pursued in relation to almost every branch of science, or supposed science. The science, or supposed science of divinity, furnishes exceptions, which are perhaps the only ones. What should we say to a man who should seek to promote physical knowledge by such devices? What should we say to a man, who instead of setting men honestly and fairly to inquire whether, in regard to living powers, for example, the momentum were in the simple or in the duplicate proportion of the velocity---whether heat were a substance, or only a quality of other substances---whether blunt or pointed conductors of electricity were the safest,---should pay them for endeavouring to prove, that in living forces the momentum is in the simple proportion only, that heat is only a quality, and that blunt conductors are the safest?

In divinity however, examples of this method of applying reward are frequent.

It may be said, that an exception ought to be made from the rule, in the cases wherein, on whichever side the truth may be, the utility is clearly on the side thus favoured. Thus there is use, for instance, in the people's believing in the being and attributes of a God: and that even in a political view, since upon that depends all the assistance which the political can derive from the religious sanction: and that there can be no use in their disbelieving it. That there is use again, in the people's believing in the truth of the Jewish prophecies; since upon that depends one argument in favour of the truth of that history, the truth of which is one main ground of men's expectation of the rewards and punishments belonging to that sanction. This observation certainly deserves great attention. It exhibits a reason which there may be for making an exception to the rule. It does not, however, invalidate the arguments adduced as above, in favour of it: it does not disprove the probability of the mischiefs on the apprehension of which it is grounded. What it does, is to exhibit a benefit to act in balance against these inconveniences. If, then, the interests of religion be at variance with those of virtue, and it be necessary to endanger the one in order to promote the efficacy of the other,---so then it must be.

It is to be observed, that all the advantage which can accrue to the cause from this man\oe uvre is composed of the difference between what it may derive from these hireling advocates, and what, were there no such artificial encouragement given, it would derive from volunteers. On this head it may be worth considering, whether the calling forth of the one does not contribute to prevent the enlistment of the other. ``What need is there for me, a stranger, to give myself the trouble, when there are so many others whose particular business it is, and who are so well paid for it?'' Of this sort is the language which a man will very naturally hold with himself on such occasions.

A strange circumstance it would be indeed,---and one which would afford no very favourable presumption either of the truth or of the utility of the cause which it is meant to favour,---if all the unbiassed suffrages of any considerable majority in number or value of the thinking men should, if left to themselves, be on the opposite side. Great, indeed, must be the penury of unbought advocates, that can make it advantageous,---I do not say merely to the cause of truth, but to any cause, however wide of the truth,---to apply to mercenaries for assistance. Of how little weight the suffrages of the latter are in comparison of those of the former, let any one judge, who has observed the superior eclât with which the word of a layman is received, when it happen to be on the side of orthodoxy.

But however the matter may stand with regard to questions of political importance in which utility is clearly on one side---whatever reason there be for violating the law of impartiality in this case, it ceases altogether when applied to the merely speculative points which form the matter of those articles of faith, to which on a variety of occasions subscriptions or other testimonies of acceptation are required. These will serve as one set of instances of the other branch of the cases, where the mischievous effects of reward are apt to lie concealed; viz.~where, in the case of a line of conduct produced by a reward, apparent or no, the tendency of the reward to produce it is apt not to be apparent at first glance---inasmuch as it may escape observation, that the advantage held forth acts to this purpose in the capacity of a reward.

For an emolument to operate in the capacity of a reward, so as to give birth to action of any kind, it is not necessary that it should be designed so to do. Whenever any such connection is established between emolument on the one part, and a man's conduct on the other, that by acting in any manner he sees that he acquires an emolument or chance of emolument, which without acting in such manner he could not have,---the view of such emolument will operate on him in the capacity of a reward. It matters not whether it be the sole act which is to entitle him to the reward, or only one act amongst many. It matters not whether it be the act to which the reward is professedly annexed, or any other act of which no mention is made. It may not be held up to view in that character: it may even be not held up to view at all. In this unconspicuous way an emolument may operate, and in a thousand instances does operate, in the capacity of a reward, on a long and indefinite course of action---in short, on the business of a whole life. Whenever, on the part of the same person, two acts are so connected, that the performance of the one is necessary to his having it in his power to perform the other, a reward annexed to the latter operates eventually as if annexed to the former; and, whether designedly or not, it promotes the production of the one act as much as of the other. In this case, the having performed the prior act is said to be a qualification for the being permitted to perform the posterior. The emolument annexed to the act professedly rewarded, is therefore, in this case as much a reward for assuming the qualificat;on, as a reward for performing the act, for the performance of which a man is required to qualify himself by the performance of the other.

In England (for I will go no farther) the subscribing a declaration of this sort is made a qualification for many of the principal emoluments to which a man can aspire: for every preferment in the church---for the liberty of engaging in the instruction of youth---for admission to the benefits of that mode of education which is looked upon as most liberal and advantageous, and thereby to the enjoyment, or the chance of the enjoyment of any one of that ample stock of emoluments which have been provided in the view of inducing young persons to put themselves in the way of that favourite mode of education. The articles, or propositions, to which this subscription is required, are termed Articles of Religion. By subscribing to these articles, a man declares that he believes the truth of certain facts which they aver. Among these facts there are many, which, whether true or not (a point which is nothing to the present purpose) are plainly, in a political view, of no sort of importance whatsoever. I say of no importance; since they contribute nothing to the furnishing either of any motive to prompt to action, or of any rule or precept to direct it. Be they true, or be they false---nothing is to be done in consequence---nothing to be abstained from.

The mischievous tendency, which the giving a reward has in this case, is much more palpable than what it has in the other because the probability of its giving birth to falsehood is the greater.

1. In the case of demonstrative lectures, all that it is absolutely necessary a man should do is---simply to state the arguments in favour of the proposition in question: he does not necessarily assert his own belief of the truth of it. ``Such are the reasons'', he may say, ``which induce other people, and which if attended to, may perhaps induce you to believe it: whether they are conclusive or not, it lies upon you to judge: as to myself whether I myself believe it or no, is another matter. I do not tell you---I am not bound to tell you.'' In the case of subscription he directly, plainly, and solemnly says---I believe it.

2. In the next place, the probability of falsehood is much greater in this case than in the other. In the case of demonstrative lectures, men are reasoned with, lest otherwise they should not believe: in the case of subscriptions, men are rewarded for subscribing because it is known many do not believe. Had men never disbelieved or doubted, they never would have been called upon to subscribe: it would have been useless and needless; nor would any one have thought of it.

Those who are inclined to place in the most favourable point of view the political efficacy of subscriptions to such articles, have called them articles of peace, as if there were nothing more in saying, I believe this proposition, than in saying, I engage not to say anything that tends to express a disbelief of it.

They would have been much better named had they been termed articles of war.

In regard to speculative opinions, there are but two cases in which men can be said to be at peace: when they think about it, and are of the same opinion, and when they think nothing about the matter: unless we reckon as a third that of their thinking about it, and differing about it, and not caring about the difference. That the expedient in question has no tendency to promote peace of the first kind, has been already been shown: it is equally clear, that it has none to produce peace of either of the two other kinds. The tendency of it is just the contrary. If left to himself there is not one person in a hundred who would ever trouble himself about the matter. Of this we may be pretty certain. What motive should he have?---what should lead him to it?---what pleasure or what profit is there to be got by it? If left, then, to themselves, the bulk of mankind,---or, to speak more properly, the bulk of those whom it is proposed thus to discipline,---would think nothing about the matter. They would therefore be in a state of the profoundest and most lasting peace. If this should not be granted, at least it will be granted, that it would be possible for them to be so. Subscriptions render it impossible. For making peace between men, subscriptions are just the same sort of recipe that it would be for making peace between two mastiffs, to set a bone before them, and then tie them to the same stake.

When both parties are at liberty, both parties are at their ease, and there is peace between them. But when the stronger party says to the weaker,---``Stand forth and lie in the sight of God, or give up the choicest advantages of society, that we may engross them to ourselves'', what sort of peace is it that can subsist between them? Just that sort of peace which subsists between the housebreaker and the householder, when the one has bound the other hand and foot, and gagged him. It is not to be denied but that there may be some sort of uneasiness between them in the first mentioned state of things; to wit, where, neither of them being sacrificed, they are both at liberty, and both of them protected. But what sort of uneasiness is this? Just that sort of uneasiness which may perhaps subsist between two neighbours at the thought that neither of them can break into the other's house. Against this sort of uneasiness, peace, it must be confessed, affords no remedy: but, from the possibility of there subsisting this sort of uneasiness between two neighbours, or two nations, whoever thought of speaking of them as not being at peace?

If this method of insuring peace were good in one case, how should it be otherwise in any other? Religion, or rather the nonsense which has been grafted on it---(for the part that is capable of being made useful is not thus exposed to controversy)---religion, I say, is not the only topic which has given rise to controversy. So long as there is any man whose knowledge falls short of omniscience, and whose faculties are liable to error, men ill bare their differences: they will differ about matters of judgment, and about matters of taste---about the sciences, about the arts, about the ordinary occurrences of life; in short, about everything which has a name. It would then be making peace among the lovers of music to make them swear before God, that they think the Italian style, or that they think the French style, of music is the more pleasing; among the lovers of heroic poetry, that they think it best in blank verse, or that they think it best in rhyme; among the lovers of dramatic poetry, that the unities of time and place may be dispensed with, or that they must be observed. It would be making peace between an affectionate pair, to question them about every possible point of domestic management, till some slight diversity were found in their opinions, and then force one of them to swear, before God, that he was convinced his own opinion was the wrong one. It would be making peace---But surely by this time, the pacific tendency of this policy must be sufficiently understood.

Another mischievous effect of this policy is the tendency it has to vitiate the understanding. Over a man's genuine opinion, such forms, it has been shown, can have no influence: either his veracity must give way, or his understanding, or both: he must deceive either himself or others. A deceit of some kind or other he must put on somebody; either on himself or others. There is one thing which a man cannot do; that is, destroy the force of arguments which are actually present to his mind. There is another thing which he is enabled to do in a great measure, that is, keep them from getting there. This, accordingly, is what, if the consciousness of falsehood sit uneasy on him, he will labour to do with all his might. To believe, is not in his power: for, when all the arguments that have ever been urged, or can be devised, in favour of the proposition, are collected and applied to his mind, and make no impression, what help is there? What may perhaps be in his power is, not to disbelieve: and that, if possible, he will do. But thus to shut the right eye, if one may so say, of the understanding, and keep open only the left, is not the work of a minute nor of an hour. He must make many ineffectual attacks, and return as often to the charge: he must wage war against the stubbornness of the understanding---he must bring it under the dominion of the affections---he must debilitate its powers---he must render it incapable of placing, in a clear light, the difference between right and wrong: in a word, he must instill into his mind a settled habit of partiality and bad reasoning---a habit of embracing falsehood with facility, and regarding truth, not with indifference merely, but with suspicion, in the apprehension of being brought by it into trouble.

One might imagine, that it could not have both these bad effects at once; that if it have the one, it cannot have the other: if a man disbelieve, his understanding---if he believe, his morals,---are yet safe. But whoever thinks thus, is led away by words: he does not understand aright the workings of the human mind. He supposes the mind fixed as between two rocks; whereas it is perpetually shaken and tossed about, as by a thousand waves. He supposes a man at all times perfectly conscious of the state of his own mind, aware of the momenta and directions of the incessantly fluctuating forces that are operating on him. But this is not the case with one man in a million, in any the least degree; nor perhaps with any man in perfection. Thus it is also with hypocrisy and fanaticism: it might naturally be imagined, that the one excludes the other; but repeated experience, and long continued observation, have at length opened the eyes of most men upon that head: and it seems now to be pretty generally understood that these two seemingly incompatible bad qualities are found frequently in the same receptacle.

[RR, Appendix (A)]