The Rationale of Reward

Book III

Reward Applied to Art and Science

Chapter II

Art and Science---Advancement

Though discoveries in science may be the result of genius or accident, and though the most important discoveries may have been made by individuals without public assistance, the progress of such discoveries may at all times be materially accelerated by a proper application of public encouragement. The most simple and efficacious method of encouraging investigations of pure theory—the first step in the career of invention, consists in the appropriation of specific funds to the researches requisite in each particular science.

It may, at first sight, appear superfluous to recommend such a measure as this, since there are few states which have not sometimes made such appropriations, and since all governments, in proportion as they have become enlightened, have been more and more disposed to reckon such expenses necessary. The most efficacious methods of employing the large funds which ought thus to be appropriated, remain, however, to be examined.

It would be necessary that the funds applicable to a given science—chemistry, for example—should be confided to the students of chemistry themselves. They ought, however, to be bestowed in the shape of reward. Thus the chemist, who upon a given subject should have produced the best theoretic dissertation, might be put into possession of these funds, upon condition that he should employ them in making the experiments which he had pointed out. What more natural or useful reward could be conferred upon a philosopher, than thus to be enabled with honour to himself, to satisfy a taste or a passion which the insufficiency of his own fortune would have rendered rather a torment than a pleasure? His talents are rewarded by giving him new means of increasing them. Other rewards often have a contrary effect: they tend to distract his attention, and to give birth to opposite tastes.

If this method of encouraging theoretic researches has been neglected, it has been because the intimate connexion between the sciences and arts—between theory and practice—has only been well understood by philosophers themselves; the greater number of men recognise the utility of the sciences only at a moment when they are applied to immediate use. The ignorant are always desirous of humbling the wise; gratifying their self-love, by accusing the sciences of being more curious than useful. “All your books of natural history are very pretty ”, said a lady to a philosopher, “but you have never saved a single leaf of our trees from the teeth of the insects.” Such is the frivolous judgment of the ignorant. There are many discoveries which, though at first they might seem useless in themselves, have given birth to thousands of others of the greatest utility. It is in conducting the sciences to this point, that encouragements might thus be advantageously employed, instead of being bestowed in what are generally called rewards. When the discoveries of science can be practically employed in the increase of the mass of general wealth, they receive a reward naturally proportioned to their utility: it is therefore for such discoveries as are not thus immediately applicable, that reward is most necessary. Of this nature are most of the discoveries of chemistry Is a new earth discovered?—a new air—a new salt—-a new metal? The utility of the discovery is at first confined to the pleasure experienced by those interested in such researches. This ordinarily is all the benefit reaped by the discoverer: occupied in making further discoveries, he leaves it to others to reap their fruits. It is those who follow him, who apply them to the purposes of art, and levy contributions upon the individuals, who are desirous of enjoying the fruits of his labour. Ought the master workman who sees no particular individual upon whom he may levy a contribution, therefore to go without reward?

[RR, Book III, Chapter I] [RR, Book III, Chapter III]