The Rationale of Reward

Book I

Of Rewards in General

Chapter I


Reward, in the most general and extensive sense ever given to the word, may be defined to be---a portion of the matter of good, which, in consideration of some service supposed or expected to be done, is bestowed on some one, in the intent that he may be benefited thereby. {Alternative Definition}

When employed under the direction of the principle of utility, it operates as a motive for the performance of actions useful to society in the same manner as, under the same guidance, punishment operates in the prevention of actions to which we ascribe an injurious tendency.

The services, in the production of which this precious matter may be employed, may be distinguished into ordinary and extraordinary.

Ordinary services may he subdivided into regularly recurring or routine, and occasional. By routine services, I mean those which, in all the various departments of government, the public functionaries are bound to perform in virtue of their respective offices.

By occasional services, I mean those required by the government at the hands of persons not in its employ. They belong almost entirely to the administration of justice, and that branch of the police which is connected with it---as denouncing and prosecuting criminals, giving judicial evidence, and seizing persons accused, &c. To the same head may be referred services rendered to individuals in case of fires, inundations, and shipwrecks: in as much as the government is interested in the preservation of every individual in the community, these services may be considered as rendered to it.

To the head of extraordinary services, may be referred---

  1. Services rendered to the whole community by new inventions, giving to the operations of government, in any of its different branches, an increased degree of perfection: such as important improvements in military or naval tactics, fortification or shipbuilding, &c.; in the mode of administering justice, regulating the police or the finances, or in any other part of the field of legislation.
  2. Services rendered in time of war, by the seizure or destruction of objects contributing to the power of the enemy, or by the preservation of such as belong to one's own country.
  3. Services rendered by persons exercising the office of foreign ministers, consisting in the prevention or termination of the calamities of war, or in the bringing about useful alliances.
  4. Discoveries of great importance to the augmentation of the national wealth; new methods of abridging labour; the introduction of new branches of industry &c.
  5. Discoveries in science, which are not susceptible of immediate application to the arts.
  6. Noble actions, and distinguished instances of virtue: in considering which, not only the immediate benefit should be rewarded, but their influence as examples upon the cultivation of similar excellencies.

Such is the field of services; such, therefore, is the field of reward.

With regard to rewards, the most important division is into occasional and permanent, the first are applied, according to times and circumstances, to a single individual, or to a number of individuals, in virtue of some insulated and specific service. The others are charged upon some general fund provided for an indefinite number of persons, and for a succession of services.

In consequence of the extent and permanence of their effects, it is principally with regard to the latter class of rewards that it will be found of importance to establish the true principles which ought to regulate their distribution. Occasional rewards being confined within narrower limits, and their effects more transitory, erroneous views respecting them are comparatively of trifling consequence.

The most extensive use of the matter of reward takes place in transactions between individuals. In the case of personal services which are performed in virtue of contract, the pay given to him by whom they are rendered, is his reward. In buying and selling, reciprocal delivery is the reward for the mutual transfer. But the public, that is to say, the government on account of the public, has a demand for a variety of services and goods exactly similar to those of which an individual stands in need: and it is thus that the most advantageous mode of employing the matter of reward, even in the ordinary course of business, enters into the sphere of politics, and claims the attention of the legislator.

[RR, Preliminary Observations] [RR, Book I, Chapter II]