**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Letter In Reply To Hazlitt Concerning The Malthusian Doctrine Of Population
by [?]

[Footnote 1:
This was the heading under which correspondence appeared in The London Magazine at that date.–H. ]

[Footnote 2:
What other interpretation? An interpretation which makes Mr. Hazlitt’s argument coincide with one frequently urged against Mr. Malthus–viz. ‘that in fact he himself relies practically upon moral restraint as one great check to Population, though denying that any great revolution in the moral nature of man is practicable.’ But so long as Mr. Malthus means, by a great revolution, a revolution in the sense which he imputes to Mr. Godwin–to Condorcet, etc. viz. a revolution amounting to absolute perfection, so long there is no logical error in all this: Mr. Malthus may consistently rely upon moral restraint for getting rid, suppose, of ninety cases out of every hundred which at present tend to produce an excessive population, and yet maintain that even this tenth of the former excess would be sufficient, at a certain stage of population, to reproduce famines, etc., i. e. to reproduce as much misery and vice as had been got rid of. Here there is an absolute increase of moral restraint, but still insufficient for the purpose of preventing misery, etc. For, as soon as the maximum of population is attained, even one single birth in excess (i. e. which does more than replace the existing numbers)–a fortiori, then, one-tenth of the present excess (though implying that the other nine-tenths had been got rid of by moral restraint) would yet be sufficient to prevent the attainment of a state of perfection. And, if Mr. Malthus had so shaped his argument, whether wrong or right–he would not have offended in point of logic: his logical error lies in supposing a state of perfection already existing and yet as brought to nothing by this excess of births: whereas it is clear that such an excess may operate to prevent, but cannot operate to destroy a state of perfection; because in such a state no excess could ever arise; for, though an excess may co-exist with a vast increase of moral restraint, it cannot co-exist with entire and perfect moral restraint; and nothing less than that is involved in the term ‘perfection.’ A perfect state, which allows the possibility of the excess here spoken of, is already an imperfect state. Now, if Mr. Hazlitt says that this is exactly what he means, I answer that I believe it is; because I can in no other way explain his sixth sentence–from the words ‘but it is shifting the question’ to the end of that sentence. Yet again the seventh sentence (the last) is so expressed as to be unintelligible to me. And all that precedes the sixth sentence, though very intelligible, yet seems the precise objection which I have stated above, and which I think untenable. Nay, it is still less tenable in Mr. Hazlitt’s way of putting it than as usually put: for to represent Mr. Malthus as saying that, ‘if reason should ever get the mastery over all our actions, we shall then be governed entirely by our physical appetites’ (which are Mr. Hazlitt’s words), would be objected to even by an opponent of Mr. Malthus: why ‘entirely?‘ why more than we are at present? The utmost amount of the objection is this:–That, relying so much upon moral restraint practically, Mr. Malthus was bound to have allowed it more weight speculatively, but it is unreasonable to say that in his ideal case of perfection Mr. Malthus has allowed no weight at all to moral restraint: even he, who supposes an increased force to be inconsistent with Mr. Malthus’s theory, has no reason to insist upon his meaning a diminished force. ]

Finally, Mr. Hazlitt calls the coincidence of my objections with his own ‘striking:’ and thus (though unintentionally, I dare say) throws the reader’s attention upon it as a very surprising case. Now in this there is a misconception which, apart from any personal question between Mr. Hazlitt and myself, is worth a few words on its own account for the sake of placing it in a proper light. I affirm then that, considering its nature, the coincidence is not a striking one, if by ‘striking’ be meant surprising: and I affirm also that it would not have been the more striking if, instead of two, it had extended to two hundred similar cases. Supposing that a thousand persons were required severally to propose a riddle, no conditions or limitations being expressed as to the terms of the riddle, it would be surprising if any two in the whole thousand should agree: suppose again that the same thousand persons were required to solve a riddle, it would now be surprising if any two in the whole thousand should differ. Why? Because, in the first case, the act of the mind is an act of synthesis; and there we may readily conceive a thousand different roads for any one mind; but, in the second case, it is an analytic act; and there we cannot conceive of more than one road for a thousand minds. In the case between Mr. Hazlitt and myself there was a double ground of coincidence for any possible number of writers: first the object was given; i. e. we were not left to an unlimited choice of the propositions we were to attack; but Mr. Malthus had himself, by insisting on two in particular (however erroneously) as the capital propositions of his system, determined our attention to these two as the assailable points: secondly, not only was the object given–i. e. not only was it predetermined for us where[3] the error must lie, if there were an error; but the nature of that error, which happened to be logical, predetermined for us the nature of the solution. Errors which are such materialiter, i. e. which offend against our knowing, may admit of many answers–involving more and less of truth. But errors, which are such logically, i. e. which offend against the form (or internal law) of our thinking, admit of only one answer. Except by failing of any answer at all, Mr. Hazlitt and I could not but coincide: as long as we had the same propositions to examine (which were not of our own choice, but pointed out to us ab extra), and as long as we understood those propositions in the same sense, no variety was possible except in the expression and manner of our answers; and to that extent a variety exists. Any other must have arisen from our understanding that proposition in a different sense.