Thomas Robert Malthus Analysis

Additional Reading

Appleman, Philip, ed. Thomas Robert Malthus: An Essay on the Principle of Population, Text Sources, and Background Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976. Contains selections from the writings of the Marquis de Condorcet and William Godwin and the first and second editions of An Essay on the Principle of Population, as well as responses, positive and negative, from critics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Dupaquier, Jacques, et al., eds. Malthus, Past and Present. New York: Academic Press, 1983. A selection of papers presented in 1980 at the International Conference on Historical Demography. Contains useful information on the influences on Malthus, the conditions of his time, and the neo-Malthusian movement.

Hollander, Samuel. The Economics of Thomas Robert Malthus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. This lengthy study is the definitive view of Malthus’s economic analysis.

James, Patricia. Population Malthus: His Life and Times. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979. An excellent biography.

Peterson, William. Malthus. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979. An intellectual biography that sets the work of Malthus in the context of early nineteenth century thought.

Turner, Michael, ed. Malthus and His Time. London: Macmillan, 1986. Further selections, somewhat more technical, from the 1980 international conference on historical demography.

Winch, Donald. Malthus. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Succinctly reviews Malthus’s economic ideas in just more than one hundred pages.

Wood, John Cunningham, ed. Thomas Robert Malthus: Critical Assessments. 4 vols. London: Croom Helm, 1986. The one hundred reprinted articles and excerpts give a sweeping overview of reactions to Malthus’s work.

Influence

Viciously attacked during his lifetime, Malthus and his ideas became even less popular in the second half of the nineteenth century. Marxists were particularly bitter in finding that Malthusian economics was merely a tool of the capitalist society to keep the poor oppressed. Humanitarians found the theory hard-hearted and mean-spirited and rejected it vigorously. More important, the mathematical analysis employed by Malthus simply did not withstand rigorous scrutiny. Food, critics observed, was organic, and thus it also increased geometrically. Additionally, technological advances made in agriculture seemed almost to eliminate hunger. By 1900, Malthus was generally dismissed as a pseudoscientist who had leaped to a gross generalization. The only school of thought that continued to embrace Malthus was that of some social Darwinists (Charles Darwin himself had been influenced by Malthus) who found the population theory acceptable in the light of their emphasis on the struggle for survival.

In the twentieth century, however, Malthus emerged as an important symbol in a concept known as neo-Malthusianism. Ironically, this movement advocated birth control, which Malthus opposed as immoral. Nevertheless, after World War II it became apparent that in many areas of the world, particularly in underdeveloped countries, population was growing at an alarming rate. As the prospect, and often the reality, of famine loomed in Africa and Asia, calls for government-sponsored birth control programs mounted. Some attempts to institute programs were made in India and China. The problem, however, continues, as does the image of Malthus in this important issue.

Whatever the flaws of his analysis, Malthus must be regarded as the father of demographic studies. In addition, he was an important and influential figure in the development of early nineteenth century economic thought. His influence on Darwin was of enormous importance, as was his work on the diminishing returns of agricultural production. The Malthusian legacy is most evident in the continued use and misuse of his name, which has become synonymous with population studies and the population problem.

Bibliography

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Additional Reading

Appleman, Philip, ed. Thomas Robert Malthus: An Essay on the Principle of Population, Text Sources, and Background Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976. Contains selections from the writings of the Marquis de Condorcet and William Godwin and the first and second editions of An Essay on the Principle of Population, as well as responses, positive and negative, from critics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Dupaquier, Jacques, et al., eds. Malthus, Past and Present. New York: Academic Press, 1983. A selection of papers presented in 1980 at the International Conference on Historical Demography. Contains useful information on the influences on Malthus, the conditions of his time, and the neo-Malthusian movement.

Hollander, Samuel. The Economics of Thomas Robert Malthus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. This lengthy study is the definitive view of Malthus’s economic analysis.

James, Patricia. Population Malthus: His Life and Times. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979. An excellent biography.

Peterson, William. Malthus. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979. An intellectual biography that sets the work of Malthus in the context of early nineteenth century thought.

Turner, Michael, ed. Malthus and His Time. London: Macmillan, 1986. Further selections, somewhat more technical, from the 1980 international conference on historical demography.

Winch, Donald. Malthus. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Succinctly reviews Malthus’s economic ideas in just more than one hundred pages.

Wood, John Cunningham, ed. Thomas Robert Malthus: Critical Assessments. 4 vols. London: Croom Helm, 1986. The one hundred reprinted articles and excerpts give a sweeping overview of reactions to Malthus’s work.