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4— Pain and Compensation
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Quantifying Morality

And so, for all his disreputableness, then and now, Bentham would seem to be writing out of a broad intellectual tradition.[21] Even his painstaking (and, to us, seemingly demented) efforts, in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislations (1789), to work out the exact degrees and ratios of pleasures and pains, had a genealogy of sorts.[22] Indeed, even the momentous phrase itself, "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," turns out to have a previous user. As Robert Shackleton has shown in his valuable bit of detective work,[23] it was Francis Hutcheson who first used the phrase, in his Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725). That treatise, an attempt to measure morality by algebraic equations, offered advice that, like Bentham's more celebrated formula, might have been of interest to the nineteenth-century Laphams, stuck in their impasse:

In comparing the moral qualities of actions, in order to regulate our election among various actions proposed . . . we are led by our moral sense of virtue thus to judge: that in equal degrees of happiness expected to proceed from the action, the virtue is in proportion to the number of persons to whom the happiness shall extend . . . and in equal numbers, the virtue is as the quantity of the happiness or natural good; or that virtue is in a compound ratio of the quantity of good


and number of enjoyers. . . . So that, that action is best which accomplishes the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers.[24]

Except for the memorable phrase at the end, the statement is perhaps not overly striking. Still, it is worth pointing out (and not merely as a matter of antiquarian interest) that it was Hutcheson rather than Bentham who introduced the phrase, and who did so within the framework of a moral philosophy in which the numerical would figure centrally as the arbitrating ground. Unlike Bentham (whose influence in America was relatively negligible),[25] Hutcheson, as a major figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, had an intellectual legacy that was both extensive and well documented. That legacy became increasingly transatlantic in the course of the eighteenth century. Both in his own right and through his influence on David Hume, Adam Ferguson, Lord Kames, Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, and others, Hutcheson had every claim to being the founder of a tradition of moral philosophy in America. This moral philosophy, always priding itself on its numerical clarity, would soon gravitate (especially in the hands of Adam Smith) toward an intellectual as well as institutional alliance with the emerging discipline of economics.[26] Beginning with Hutcheson, then, we can map out a line of descent for a style of rationality characteristic of the Scottish Enlightenment, a rationality in which the moral and the economic would soon become commensurate: commensurate, because they were articulated out of a shared cognitive foundation, a shared assumption about the quantifiability of the world.

Terence Martin has alerted us to this Scottish tradition in American thought.[27] Henry May has characterized its powerful influence as the "conquest" of America.[28] More recently, as revisionist historians try to unseat Locke from his putative centrality in America, the philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment has emerged (along with classical republicanism) as a major contending force within the volatile intellectual climate that was the eighteenth century.[29] By the late eighteenth century, the Scots had scored a decisive victory in at least one area. Sober, pragmatic, and lucid, their moral philosophy was eminently readable and eminently teachable. The Common Sense popularizers—Thomas Reid, Lord Kames, James Beattie, and Dugald Stewart—all showed up in great numbers on booksellers' lists. To American colleges, charged with the education of a free and virtu-


ous people, this enlightened doctrine must have seemed a gift from heaven. Championed by Francis Alison and William Smith of the College of Philadelphia and by John Witherspoon of Princeton (all transplanted Scots), the Scottish moral philosophy quickly became the backbone of the American college curriculum. Madison studied it at Princeton, Jefferson studied it at William and Mary, and five future signers of the Declaration of Independence applied themselves to it at the College of Philadelphia. Even at the Anglican King's College (later Columbia), the Presbyterian Hutcheson would still claim the pride of place, his text taking up the last two years of study.[30]

The intellectual accessibility of moral philosophy was further enhanced by its disciplinary centrality within the Scottish organization of knowledge. In Scottish universities, moral philosophy had always been defined in the broadest of terms, as an umbrella discipline. Hutcheson, Ferguson, and Reid were all professors of moral philosophy. So was Adam Smith—who wrote not only The Wealth of Nations (1776) but also The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and who held the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow for twelve years, from 1752 to 1764, lecturing on political economy only as one of the fourfold divisions of moral philosophy.[31] Inspired by that tradition, American colleges during the first half of the nineteenth century also featured moral philosophy as the centerpiece of the curriculum. The entire senior year was devoted to it. Often taught by the college presidents themselves and using textbooks written by them, this core course provided the standard educational experience for generations of college graduates. Needless to say, moral philosophy so broadly defined was also broadly various in its subject matter. Like its Scottish kindred, it became at many points indistinguishable from political economy, the two being seen as adjacent (or overlapping) disciplines. Thus, the Reverend John McVickar at Columbia, appointed in 1818 to the first chair of political economy in the United States, had actually been appointed the year before as the professor of moral philosophy, rhetoric, and belles lettres. Similarly, Francis Wayland, the energetic president of Brown, not only began as a minister and not only wrote a "phenomenally successful" textbook, The Elements of Moral Science (1835), but also felt qualified, in the space of two years, to write another textbook, The Elements of Political Economy (1837).[32] As late as 1860, political economy at Harvard was taught by Francis Bowen, the Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Phi-


losophy, and Civil Polity.[33] This arrangement was not as outrageous as it might seem, for Bowen, like McVickar and Wayland, and like Richard Posner in the twentieth century, turned out to be an expert on both morality and economics. Just one year after he collected his Lowell Lectures into the popular Principles of Metaphysics and Ethical Science Applied to the Evidences of Religion (1855), he would publish an equally magisterial volume, The Principles of Political Economy Applied to the Conditions, Resources, and the Institutions of the American People (1856).

If figures like McVickar, Wayland, and Bowen seem to us unduly interdisciplinary, it is helpful to remind ourselves that what we now take to be clear-cut "disciplines" had not always been so perceived. As Francis Wayland said, "The Principles of Political Economy are so closely analogous to those of Moral Philosophy, that almost every question in one, may be argued on ground belonging to the other."[34] And there was every reason why the "analogy" between moral philosophy and political economy should be regularly enforced, for not only did they share a common foundation, a quantifying foundation, but as Albert O. Hirschman has shown, political economy had always been held up by its early advocates as a much-needed complement and corrective to the unstable field of morality. In David Hume and Adam Smith, and even in Montesquieu, economic "interests" were understood to have a sobering effect, useful in restraining and counteracting the dangerous "passions" afoot in the moral universe.[35] Far from being an enemy to morality (a reputation it later acquired), economics at the outset of its career was looked upon very much as the guardian of morality, as the expression of morality in its strictest and most rational form. It was this commensurability that prompted John McVickar to remark, in his Outlines of Political Economy (1825), that "the high principles which this science teaches entitle it to be regarded as the moral instructor of nations."[36]

The Reverend Sewell is in good company, then, when he urges upon the Laphams his moral instructor, his "economy of pain." Such equation of the moral and the economic echoes not only the teachings of Sewell's ecclesiastical forebears, the Reverend Wayland and the Reverend McVickar, it echoes as well the teachings of someone closer to home. Simon Nelson Patten, the Wharton School economist and a contemporary of Howells, was writing about pleasure and pain at almost exactly this time and, like the Reverend Sewell, was also


doing a kind of double bookkeeping on these sensory phenomena, counting them up, that is, on two registers at once commensurate and interchangeable: ethics on the one side, economics on the other. A popularizer of "marginal utility analysis"[37] and a pioneering advocate of modern consumerism, Patten gave the utilitarian calculus what amounted to a late-nineteenth-century facelift by turning it into a dual-purpose index, unifying and indeed equalizing both the economics and the morality of consumption. In a series of books published in the 1880s and 1890s, Patten made a case for something like an ethics of spending, arguing that consumer demand was directly translatable into the general well-being of the nation. The private splurges of the consumer led to the common good for all.[38] The effect of that, Patten went on to say (in language strikingly similar to the Reverend Sewell's), was that "we are now in the transition stage from this pain economy to a pleasure economy." "The development of human society has gradually eliminated from the environment the sources of pain," he said. "These changes make a pleasure economy possible and destroy the conditions which made the subjective environment of the old pain economy a necessity."[39]

The open advocacy of a "pleasure economy" by such an economist as Simon Nelson Patten and the confident counsel of an "economy of pain" in such a novel as The Rise of Silas Lapham suggest that the intellectual landscape of the late nineteenth century might be more complicated than we have hitherto assumed. Morton White, who has given us the most influential account of that landscape, has characterized it as a revolt against utilitarianism, a revolt against its "abstraction, deduction, mathematics, and mechanics." As White describes it:

When Dewey first published books on ethics, it was hedonism, and utilitarianism, which he most severely attacked; when Veblen criticized the foundations of classical economics, it was Bentham's calculus of pains and pleasures that he was undermining; when Holmes was advancing his own view of the law, it was the tradition of Bentham that he was fighting against.[40]

We might disagree with White about the three figures he specifically mentions.[41] We might further disagree with his account of a unified revolt—a revolt on one front against one enemy—which, to my mind, does not quite square with the rich brew of philosophical contradictions during this period. White's discretely periodizing model—


marked by the clear banishment of utilitarianism—should perhaps be qualified, then, by analytic concepts more fluid and more subtly evolving. My own candidates here are "uneven development" and "imperfect rationalization"—concepts that, especially in this case, would acknowledge both the persistence of certain cognitive categories and their semantic mutations and permutations over time. The evolution of the utilitarian calculus is especially interesting in this context, for the late-nineteenth-century language of pleasure and pain, as articulated by Patten and Howells, was as much a transformation as it was an inheritance from the language of their eighteenth-century precursors. After all, for all his faith in a future of abundance and for all his impatience with "sufferers who have made an art of wretchedness," Patten was deeply troubled by the psychological implications of a world without pain.[42] Noting that "individuals as well as nations show the deteriorating influence of pleasure as soon as they are freed from the restraints of a pain economy," he was almost consoled by the thought that even in a pleasure economy, pain would still remain—not as physical deprivation but as psychic anguish, brought about by the "defective relations which exist between men or between man and nature." Pain of this sort would always be with us, he predicted, for "no change in the ultimate forms of the universe or of man can alter" this salutary affliction .[43] The Reverend Sewell is not so adamant on this point, but even he, for all his sensible optimism, is strangely unconcerned with the greatest happiness of the greatest number. He speaks only of the economy of pain.

If happiness was the key word of the eighteenth century, pain might well be the key word of the nineteenth. Ideas about pain—about its provenance and consequence, its reality and calculability—have of course evolved throughout the course of history. In the nineteenth century, this "changing ethos of injury" was especially striking, as G. Edward White has noted.[44] That changing ethos, I would argue, had much to do with various emerging forms of nineteenth-century rationality, as they achieved various degrees of institutionalization. Earlier that century, a concern with objective adequation had led to an international venture in penal reform, which, rejecting torture as a corrective instrument, had insisted on applying no more than a "just measure of pain" to the criminal, proportional to the crime committed.[45] Further into the century, the same adequating rationality would manifest itself in a range of practices inspired by a


newborn utilitarianism, a utilitarianism modernized and reinvigorated.[46] These practices, revolving around the quantification, supervision, and utilization of pain, are most readily observable in three fields institutionalized in the nineteenth century: humanitarianism, modern tort law, and anesthetics. To their company, I would add a fourth field, adjacent to and in dialogue with the others, but, I would also argue, complexly at odds with them, complexly irreducible to them. I am thinking of the realist novel of the nineteenth century, a genre in which pain is documented both with judicious precision and with involuntary obsession, a genre committed to rational solutions but also haunted by their unsuccess.

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