Computatio Universalis

“The path to happiness was an exhaustive and inventive method of accounting for time, which Foley elaborated in a series of definitions, postulates, axioms, propositions, and problems. He defined his project in terms of the amount of time fully within an individual subject’s control — that is, the number of uncommitted waking hours a fully rational man (for man it was) could expect to have at his disposal over the course of a normal life. Foley’s definitions of wealth and happiness referred back to this fundamental constraint: wealth, for instance, was what a man was ‘master of’ in this period, while happiness comprised ‘all the ease and satisfactions and pleasures’ he could voluntarily stuff into it. A man was wise or foolish in direct proportion to his resolution to maximize the happiness he could attain within the time allotted, given the resources at hand.

Benjamin Franklin might have stopped there, but Foley realised that concrete solutions required postulating ‘some determinate number of years’ as ‘the age of man’, and ‘some determinate sum of money’ as his estate. Here, the figures Foley supposed brought the intended audience for this moral science much more sharply into focus. First, Foley stipulated an average lifespan of 64. He then subtracted time not under the individual’s control: sleep (estimated at 18 years, 4 months); childhood before the age of reason (9 years); weekly and daily devotions (3 years, 8 months, 15 days and 13 hours); and illness (‘at least’ 11 months, 14 days and 11 hours). This left 32 years, or exactly half a life, as a man’s true ‘time’. As to estate, Foley imagined his evidently landed subject to enjoy ‘an estate of inheritance of £120 per annum’, or — subtracting the expenses of childhood, charity, sickness, food, lodging, and clothes — a total usable estate of £4940. These two figures determined the potential value of this man’s happiness; wisdom was the skill to realize that potential.”

Ted McCormick, Moral geometry in Restoration Ireland: Samuel Foley’s ‘Computatio universalis’ (1684) and the science of colonisation