Saturday, August 15, 2020

Outline of Malthus

I'm about to start rereading Malthus' First Essay as a preamble to reading Darwin's Origin of Species in its entirety. I had last year a more limited project in the context of better reading, and thought well to go back to my original notes which I intend to expand. In the meantime, I thought to post them here. As with the last post, Pavlov, this is more of an outline than anything else. The following questions are the ones that I had in mind at the outset.
  1. Does it really match my own conception?
  2. What is to be done about charity, if true?
  3. What relationship does it have to Japan's current population woes?
  4. What's its influence on Darwin?
  5. How is it organized & how does it help and reading in general?
  6. Can some of the perfectibility still be achieved?


(If you wish a more extended treatment, here is my second outline)




The problem:

Either the future holds

Unlimited human improvement or

Swings between happiness & misery


Those holding opposing views do not have a frank exchange of ideas

Malthus' ideas have not been adequately explained by others (Smith, Condorcet, Godwin) and he's aware of the burden of proof. Hence he postulates:


  1. Food is necessary to the existence of man
  2. The passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state

It, being extinguished (Godwin)-not happening


"Unphilosophical to infer, merely from the existence of an exception, that the exception would become the rule and the rule the exception"



There’s a strong operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence or

The power population is greater than the power of Earth to sustain it

Arithmetical vs geometrical


This results in:

  • Misery (necessarily) and vice (probably+) [however, XVIII & XIX offer a way out]
  • That these will fall on some part of society (II, IV)



Perfectibility is not possible


 II- Reason


The difference in rates of increase

  • No state has hitherto existed that has had
    • Pure and simple manners
    • Abundant means of subsistence
    • No check to early marriages
    • Or to higher classes out of fear of loss of status


The US, however, is close


  • The rate of growth of cultivation (England) can scarcely be imagined to keep up a fast rate (with known techniques)


  • The urge for population increase

(The nature of checks on animals and plants and humans)

Causes distress in the lower classes &

Prevents any permanent amelioration of their condition

  • Disparity of population versus subsistence
    1. Initial scarcity

Makes poor much worse

Some with severe distress

  1. More laborers results in lower wages

Labor is their only possession (V)

  1. More inflation


  1. Checks the rise of population, yet sows improvement in cultivation repeating the cycle

A reason why this hasn't been evident before is that we only have the history of the higher classes

There is an imperfect labor market through rich conspiracies


III-States of mankind


Savage/hunter state

The struggle for existence

Thin population through scarcity. Increments result in misery (check). The American Indian



Large population due to mobility and food resources

Expansion up to a point the misery and vice. The Scythians.


IV-Progress of population in civilized nations


Increase as compared to former times: industry of the people


The case of China


The case of Europe: Check to population #1: Preventive foresight (higher classes) (II)


"Can a man consent to place the object of his affection in a situation so discordant, probably, to her tastes and inclinations?" Cf. Walden II


The case of England


V- Check #2: Distress of the lower classes. Poor laws (welfare)


These spread the misery even when they benefit the odd individual


The sums and length of time have been to no avail


The increase of payouts results in

  • Scarcity and inflation

(primary goods, substitutes and basic inputs such as corn)

  • A reduction of productivity

Through leisure

The means of production are another matter though

If the wealth of resources are not directed to productivity

Some benefit, but the rest are harmed as their share of produce is diminished (II)

  • Foments  marriages with no prospects of productive independence since the parish serves as a backup


The nonexistence of such gives rise to industry, sobriety, foresight, thriftiness, virtue, happiness


So, (the existence of such laws)

  • Weakens the individual morally in his resolve 
  • Increases the population without an increase of the means of its support


Call for abolition

Stimulus for land productivity

Workhouses for those in distress


General checks: unwholesome food & habitation, hard labor,pestilence, war, others


VI- New colonies



Increases the population due to an existing reservoir





Natural and necessary consequence of population growth

Crowded living spaces

Unwholesome food

Insufficient food


The only criterion of real and permanent increase of population is the increase of the means of subsistence


Temporal shocks appear to be weathered by lower subsistence i.e. meaner food


Happiness is equated to the match between growth rates


VIII- Theses by others



The problem is still far off



There is a march towards perfection

Endgame matches Malthus'


"When the increase the number of men surpassing their means of subsistence, the necessary result must be either a continual diminution of happiness and population… Or a kind of oscillation between good & evil"


Here too the problem is still far off





The future extension of human life

Confusion between "indefinite" & "unlimited"

Ad continuum fallacy


Biological perfectibility




Godwin's (X-XV) view:

"Population perpetually kept down to the level of subsistence"


A set utopia fails to population growth (cf. Walden II)


Morally (q.v. I, II)


Which? – Misery


XI- Passion between the sexes


XII- Immortality, progress to

“… it is an idea that will be found consistent, equally with a natural phenomena around us, with that various events of human life, and with the success of revelations of God to man, to suppose that the world is a mighty process for the creation information of mind.”


XIII- Intellectuality of men


XIV- Injustice of political institutions

Chain of deduction



Poor man's only possession: his physical strength


Share among all equally



Diminution of land produce


The miser/frugal as enemies



An increased stock benefits the many?


XVII- Unproductiveness of wealth and trade to the state


XVIII-XIX- Population as an evil to spur on greater good through mind and heart


XVIII- Formation of mind


Principle of population tells that

No substantial perfectibility can be attained in this earth


One must reason for an explanation from nature to God as the contrary is futile

What actually is (apparent?) in nature


There appears to be a process

A trial… it is not, but a formation of mind, out from and away from original sin, through general laws towards superior enjoyment


Awakeners of mind (problems to be solved; avoid evil & pursue good)

Wants of the body


Were produce is abundant:

Few remarkable intellects

(as opposed to temperate zones)


Variety (cf. Darwin)


These result in intellect and action


Spurs mankind to avoid evil & pursue good

Mind is the result of the exertions towards that end


The increase of population is a further stimulus

While there is much partial evil, it is more counterbalanced by the good

Middle classes are best positioned to benefit

Call for their relative increase

Disparagement of leisure


XVIII- take 2


Since perfectibility can't be achieved, due to the principle and associated pressures and distresses, it appears this world is but "a trial and school of virtue preparatory to a superior state of happiness"


For the improvement of the mind, it is much more fruitful to reason from what's already here, than from the Creator down.


The process of formation of mind may require a certain passage of time. So instead of a trial the present state is more geared to this process which would elevate matter into spirit. To that purpose God moves man from torpor to the capacity of superior enjoyment.


Malthus identifies the original sin as the torpor or corruption of the [original] chaotic matter.

Mind forms in parallel to the development of the body


The phenomenon appears to be calculated to spur man into the process


At the vanguard, the wants of the body

Man would not awaken from indolence if this was not so, much like the savage

Comparison of the nature of men in different countries regarding their ease of life and their mind

 Malthus reasons that the removal of the stimulants as a whole would sink man


Locke's viewpoint, in which man would rather avoid pain than achieve pleasure, further supports the idea about the necessity of evil to generate exertion and that, mind


Food procurement is paramount in this regard

"The processes of ploughing and clearing the ground, of collecting and sowing seeds, are not surely forthe assistance of God in his creation, but are made previously necessary to the enjoyment of the blessings of life, in order to rouse man into action, and form his mind to reason."


The principle of population is thus established to this effect- keep man on its toes


"The constancy of the laws of nature and of effects and causes is the foundation of all human knowledge, though far be it from me to say that the same power which framed and executes the laws of nature may not change them all in a moment…"


Due to man's inert state, the power [and constancy] of the principle  makes the peopleling the world happen and forestalls its wipeout by war, plague or similar disasters


Notwithstanding, the temperate zones appear to be the most apt for the formation of mind




XIX- Mind and heart


Sorrows & distresses

Necessary for the most part to humanize the heart and bring out Christian virtues

Christian virtues

Misapplied talents


Evil and death

The will of God


Moral evil appears to be necessary for the production of moral excellence and it is doled out in measure according to divine plan


Nudge into goodnesses


Life is a blessing

Constant exertion

Population is part of the means of the development of mind and heart

(Me: Malthus supposes that God wills evil for the generation of good)



XIX- take 2


Sorrows and distresses seem necessary to humanize the heart, awaken social sympathy, generate all Christian virtues and allow for the ample exertion of benevolence


Moral evil excites moral excellence and thus, the former appears necessary


After the passions and ones of the body awakens the intellect, the world's variety keeps it going. Ditto for metaphysical subjects


Musing about eternal reward and punishment from the result of the formation of mind


"The partial pain, therefore, that is inflicted by the supreme Creator, while he is forming numberless beings to a capacity of the highest enjoyments, is but as the dust of the balance in comparison of the happiness that is communicated, and we have every reason to think that there is no more evil in the world than what is absolutely necessary as one of the ingredients in the mighty process."




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