The Rationale of Reward

Book I

Of Rewards in General

Chapter VI


In the preceding chapter it was stated, that in accordance with the principle of utility, the costly matter of reward ought only to be employed in the production of service; and that, in accordance with that principle, a reward can only consist of a portion of the matter of reward, employed as a motive for the production of service. This would seem to exclude everything which can be called liberality---every act by which a reward may be bestowed upon any service to which it has not been promised beforehand.

Such may appear the consequence at first sight. A reward, it may be said, ought only to be bestowed upon the performance of the service to which it has been promised; since it is only where it has been foreseen, that it can have operated as a motive. Why then bestow it upon a service, how useful and important soever, to which it has not been promised? The service you would have been willing to purchase, at the expense of a certain reward, has been happily rendered without any engagement on your part to bear the expense. Why, therefore, should any reward be bestowed? why pretend to employ reward in the production of an effect which has been produced without it? Is not this a useless employment of reward?---is not this an expenditure in pure waste?

Certainly such an expense cannot be justified as a means of producing an effect, which has by the supposition already been produced; but it may be justified as serving to give birth to other effects of a like nature, as likely to cause future services to be rendered, which will agree with those that are past---at least in this, that they are services. A reward which thus follows the service may be styled an ex post facto, or unpromised reward. The Society of Arts has recognised and employed this distinction. A reward bestowed in fulfilment of a promise, upon the performance of a specified service, is called a premium. A reward bestowed without previous promise, is called a bounty.

To make it a rule never to grant a reward which has not been promised, is to tie up the hands of true liberality, and to renounce all chance of receiving any new kind of service. There is only one supposition which can justify this parsimony: it is, that every service has been foreseen and endowed beforehand. Whether legislation will ever attain this perfection, I pretend not to know. It has not attained it as yet; and till it be attained, sovereigns may reckon liberality amongst the number of their virtues.

Rewards which in this manner are the fruits of liberality, possess a great advantage over those which are awarded in virtue of a promise. These, confined to one object, operate only upon the individual service specified. The genial influence of the others extends over the whole theatre of meritorious actions. These are useful in determining researches to a particular point; the others present an irritation to extend them to everything which the human mind can grasp. These are like the water which the hand of a gardener directs to a particular flower; the others are like the dew which is distilled over the whole surface of the earth.

A promised reward, bestowed upon one who has not deserved it, is entirely lost. An unpromised retard, thus improperly bestowed, is not necessarily lost. The hand of liberality has been deceived, but the utility of the reward is not altogether thrown away, whilst opportunity is left for a better application of it in future. Had Alexander lavished upon the man who, to obtain his bounty, exhibited his skill in darting grains of millet through the eye of a needle the rewards he bestowed upon Aristotle, it would have been a proof of prodigality and folly, whose effect would have been to multiply the race of mountebanks and jugglers. In rewarding Aristotle, he, without doubt, rewarded much jargon, of no greater value than this man's sleight of hand in darting millet; but since, in the midst of this jargon, a certain quantity of useful, and at that time new, truth was found, the rewards which this celebrated philosopher received may justly be placed to the account of useful liberality: their tendency was to multiply the precious race of instructors of mankind---the race of philosophers.

In fact, certain acts of liberality, which could not be justified, if considered as promised rewards, may deserve more or less indulgence, may possess a sort of utility of the same kind as that which belongs to rewards not promised. Even the act regarded as service may not strictly deserve to be connected with reward; but the disposition displayed by the distributing hand in awarding a recompense, may give birth to the expectation of similar rewards for really meritorious service.

Rewards bestowed in pursuance of a promise, may be considered as conferred according to a law belonging to the class of written laws; whilst unpromised rewards, though not productive of similar evils may be considered as establishing a kind of law, or rather tacit rule, analogous to that established by means of punishment, in what is called unwritten law. It would be fortunate, indeed, if the penal law might remain unwritten with as little inconvenience as remuneratory law. In the penal, and even the commonly called civil branches, these unwritten laws develope themselves by a train of hardships, not to say of injuries; whilst the worst which can happen in the remuneratory branch of unwritten law is this, that, by reason of its being unknown, it may become a tissue of useless bounty.

Catherine II. did not allow the remuneratory branch of her laws to be exposed even to this danger, from which there is so little to be feared. Had the hand of liberality been expanded---was the dew of reward poured out upon the head of merit---immediately inserted in the Gazette, the notification of the reward connected with the name of the individual, and the service which had deserved it, was resounded throughout the most distant and unfrequented parts of her vast empire. It would have been altogether glorious, had she hastened to give the same character of publicity and certainty to those other branches of unwritten law, in which it is required with so much greater urgency, and had she never conferred favours which she would have blushed to see gazetted.

In England, a noble example of reward, ex post facto, was exhibited in connexion with the first establishment of mail-coaches. The manager of a provincial theatre having, proposed to the minister this plan for the better conveyance of letters, the plan was received, and having been tried in one part of the kingdom, it was afterwards extended to the whole: and this service being in consequence performed with a celerity and economy of which formerly there was no idea,---as a reward, the inventor was appointed Comptroller-General of the post-office, with a salary of £1500 per annum, besides a proportion of the savings. A reward thus judicious and equitable. transports us to the year 2440. It is equivalent to a proclamation to this effect: ``Men of genius and industry, employ your talents for the service of your country; exert yourselves to the utmost; produce your plans; their reception shall depend alone upon the opinion formed of their utility; your country will not grudge the labour necessary for their examination. Good intentions shall not be treated with contempt; you shall not be nicknamed projectors by the idle and the incapable. Your plans shall not be disregarded because of their authors; they shall not be thrown aside because they are extraordinary, provided they be useful. Impartiality shall preside at their examination, and their utility shall be the measure of your reward.''

There may appear at first sight a discrepancy between this and the immediately preceding chapter, but it is only in appearance. I say here, no less than heretofore, that the upright dispenser of public treasures gives nothing. He buys or be sells. With promised rewards he purchases bespoken, clearly defined, and limited services; with unpromised rewards he purchases services unbespoken, indeterminate, and infinite. The difficulty in both cases consists in making a proper choice of the action to be rewarded. This choice will form the subject of subsequent consideration.

[RR, Book I, Chapter V] [RR, Book I, Chapter VII]