Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III.: OF PECUNIARY INTEREST, CONSIDERED AS A GROUND OF UNTRUSTWORTHINESS IN TESTIMONY. * - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 7 (Rationale of Judicial Evidence Part 2)
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CHAPTER III.: OF PECUNIARY INTEREST, CONSIDERED AS A GROUND OF UNTRUSTWORTHINESS IN TESTIMONY. * - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 7 (Rationale of Judicial Evidence Part 2) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 7.
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OF PECUNIARY INTEREST, CONSIDERED AS A GROUND OF UNTRUSTWORTHINESS IN TESTIMONY.*
In estimating the force of a pecuniary interest in its action upon the testimony of a man whose character in respect of probity is not taken into consideration, two main points are to be considered:—
1. The value of the respective interests in themselves.
2. The pecuniary circumstances of the person.
In estimating the value of a pecuniary interest, four points are to be considered:—
1. The magnitude of the sum by which it is represented.
2. The value of it in respect of time; i. e. according as it is in possession or not in possession.
3. If not in possession, the value of it in respect of certainty, according as the interest is vested, or the possession depending for its commencement upon contingencies.
4. The duration of it: in respect of which (in so far as the interest is represented by a sum of money) perpetuity, unless anything be specified to the contrary, is supposed.
In whatsoever shape the property creative of the interest happens to be—where (for the purpose of comparison with another interest) any correct estimate is to be formed of it,—it must, if not already existing in the shape of a sum of money, be reduced to that shape.
The value, and consequently the mendacity-promoting force, of a pecuniary interest, the money not being in hand, is less and less, in proportion as the time at which it is to be in hand is more and more distant:
So (the time at which, if at all, it is to come in hand, being given,) in proportion as the event of its coming in hand is more or less uncertain; i. e. in the proportion between the number representative of the chances against its coming in hand, and the number representative of the chances in favour of its coming in hand.
In regard to uncertainty, a distinction must be noted between the case where the event depends merely upon physical causes, not depending in ordinary cases upon the will of man (such as the death of Titius before that of Sempronius;) and the case where it depends wholly or partly upon moral causes (such as the will of Titius or Sempronius.) In the former case, the interest will in general have a rateable value; and the force of it may be rated at the sum which, if sold, it would (as supposed) produce. In the other case, it cannot, generally speaking, have any rateable value; and yet the force of it, when acting upon testimony, may be little different from that which it would act with, were the receipt of the sum regarded as not subject to uncertainty.
Suppose a son, the only child of his father, the father a widower, and beyond the age at which it is usual for men to marry, or, if married, to beget children: the estate of the father at his own disposal, not assured to the son by law: of the disposition of the father, in respect of amity towards the son, nothing known, therefore amity to be presumed. At market, the interest of the son in the property in possession of the father (he not joining in the sale) would not be saleable. Yet, suppose the title of the father to the whole estate to be in dispute, and the son examined as a witness: the force with which the mendacity-promoting interest created by the value of the estate, acted upon his bosom, would not be in this case materially less than what it would be had the estate been assured to him by law,—viz. to be received by him after and upon his father’s decease.
In like manner (even setting aside whatever interest might in this case be constituted by the tie of sympathy,) the force with which their respective interests in the estate acted on their respective bosoms, would not, in the bosom of the son, he diminished by a sum so great as the sum representative of the value of the estate for and during the father’s life; inasmuch as, during the life of the father, the son is naturally a sharer in the advantages attached to the father’s property, notwithstanding the legal dependency of the quantum of that share upon the father’s pleasure.
In a rough way, and even in a way sufficiently adapted to divers other purposes, the state of a man’s circumstances may be expressed by the difference between the saleable value of his property in hand, and the sum of the debts (including pecuniary obligations of all sorts) to the discharge of which he stands bound.
But, for the purpose of estimating the seductive force with which a given mass of pecuniary interest may be considered as acting on a man’s testimony, several other circumstances will require to be taken into account, viz.—
1. The state of his pecuniary circumstances in respect of present exigency or the proportion between present need and present means: and this, whether the sum in question be needful for the purpose of procuring greater profit, or of saving him from greater loss. Remember, to this purpose, the story of Esau, who, under the pressure of hunger, sold his birth-right for a mess of pottage.
2. Proportion between his exigencies, in respect of domestic relations, and his pecuniary means; according as the effect of such relations is to charge him with pecuniary obligations, or to afford him pecuniary support. Whether the proposed witness be of the one sex or the other; be unmarried or married; be childless or have children, and in what number, and whether arrived or not arrived at a state of self-maintenance; whether they be respectively of that sex which has fewest wants and most resources, or of that which has most wants and fewest resources; with what other relations (if any) in any of the lines of natural relationship, descending, ascending, or collateral, the witness has any connexion, contributing, as above, to augment the sum of his resources on one hand, or that of his exigencies on the other.
3. Proportion between his pecuniary means (viz. the clear amount of them, after addition of the amount of domestic supplies, and deduction of the amount of domestic charges, as above,) between his pecuniary means thus explained, and his exigencies (if any) in respect of political station in life: since, of two persons with the same quantum of clear pecuniary means—one, low in rank, may be in a state of affluence—another, high in rank, in a state of indigence.
4. Habitual rate of expense is not in this respect altogether without its influence. Two men, in pecuniary circumstances in every respect equal—the one habitually spending his whole income, the other but the half of his,—a sum to a given amount, whether coming in, in the shape of extraordinary gain, or going out, in the shape of extraordinary loss, will be apt to find the testimony of the non-saving man more sensible to its influence than than that of the saving man.
For the guidance of the judge’s mind, in the formation of his estimate of the trustworthiness of the deponent’s testimony, it will in most cases not be worth while for him to subject either the deponent or himself (not to speak of extraneous witnesses) to the vexation attached to a chain of investigation thus particular and intricate. But there are cases in which it may: and since it will often happen that, of the above particulars, a number more or less considerable will come to light in the course of the cause, as it were of themselves, or without any trouble worth regarding,—on this account it seems desirable that the influence of them should be habitually present to the mind of the judge.
The sum in question—and a man’s sensibility to pecuniary induence, in so far as it can be collected from circumstances of an external nature (as above,)—being both given—the influence of the same sum will be greater—much greater, in the case of its going out of hand, in the shape of antecedently unexpected loss, than in the case of its coming into hand, in the shape of antecedently unexpected gain.
Value of a man’s property to-day, say £1000: sum at stake upon his testimony, £500. Let this sum be taken from him to-morrow,—the amount of his property to-day is twice as great as what it will be to-morrow. But let this same sum be given to him to-morrow,—the value of his property to-morrow will not be twice as great as it is to-day.
But suppose that it even were twice as great: the matter of wealth is of no value, but in proportion to its influence in respect of happiness. Multiply the sum of a man’s property by 2, by 10, by 100, by 1000, there is not the smallest reason for supposing that the sum of his happiness is increased in any such proportion, or in any one approaching to it: multiply his property by a thousand, it may still be a matter of doubt, whether, by that vast addition, you add as much to his happiness, as you take away from it by dividing his property by 2, by taking from him but the half of it.
In many instances there will be a difficulty in deciding, in the case of receipt of money, whether it be to be placed to the account of gain, or of exemption from loss: and, in like manner, in case of disbursement, whether to the account of loss, or of non-receipt of gain. Of this difficulty, when it occurs, it concerns the judge to be aware: but there are many instances in which it has no place.
[* ]If the slight sketch, in the way of instruction, here given, be of use with reference to the present purposes, so will it for the purpose of divers other operations performable on the field of judicature: as, for example:—