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

[Footnote 3: ‘Where the error must lie’–i. e. to furnish a sufficient answer ad hominem: otherwise it will be seen that I do not regard either of the two propositions as essential to Mr. Malthus’s theory: and therefore to overthrow those propositions is not to answer that theory. But still, if an author will insist on representing something as essential to his theory which is not so, and challenges opposition to it,–it is allowable to meet him on his own ground. ]

My answer to Mr. Hazlitt therefore is–that in substance I think his claim valid; and though it is most true that I was not aware of any claim prior to my own, I now formally forego any claim on my own part to the credit of whatsoever kind which shall ever arise from the two objections to Mr. Malthus’s logic in his Essay on Population. In saying this, however, and acknowledging therefore a coincidence with Mr. Hazlitt in those two arguments, I must be understood to mean a coincidence only in what really belongs to them; meantime Mr. Hazlitt has used two expressions in his letter to yourself which seem to connect with those propositions other opinions from which I dissent: that I may not therefore be supposed to extend my acquiescence in Mr. Hazlitt’s views to these points, I add two short notes upon them: which however I have detached from this letter–as forming no proper part of its business.–Believe me, my dear Sir, your faithful humble servant. X.Y.Z.

1. Mr. Hazlitt represents Mr. Malthus’s error in regard to the different ratios of progression as a mathematical error; but the other error he calls logical. This may seem to lead to nothing important: it is however not for any purpose of verbal cavil that I object to this distinction, and contend that both errors are logical. For a little consideration will convince the reader that he, who thinks the first error mathematical, will inevitably miss the true point where the error of Mr. Malthus arises; and the consequence of that will be–that he will never understand the Malthusians, nor ever make himself understood by them. Mr. Hazlitt says, ‘a bushel of wheat will sow a whole field: the produce of that will sow twenty fields.’ Yes: but this is not the point which Mr. Malthus denies: this he will willingly grant: neither will he deny that such a progression goes on by geometrical ratios. If he did, then it is true that his error would be a mathematical one. But all this he will concede. Where then lies his error? Simply in this–that he assumes (I do not mean in words, but it is manifestly latent in all that he says) that the wheat shall be continually resown on the same area of land: he will not allow of Mr. Hazlitt’s ‘twenty fields:’ keep to your original field, he will say. In this lies his error: and the nature of that error is–that he insists upon shaping the case for the wheat in a way which makes it no fair analogy to the case which he has shaped for man. That it is unfair is evident: for Mr. Malthus does not mean to contend that his men will go on by geometrical progression; or even by arithmetical, upon the same quantity of food: no! he will himself say the positive principle of increase must concur with the same sort of increase in the external (negative) condition, which is food. Upon what sort of logic therefore does he demand that his wheat shall be thrown upon the naked power of its positive principle, not concurring with the same sort of increase in the negative condition, which in this case is land? It is true that at length we shall come to the end of the land, because that is limited: but this has nothing to do with the race between man and his food, so long as the race is possible. The race is imagined for the sake of trying their several powers: and the terms of the match must be made equal. But there is no equality in the terms as they are supposed by Mr. Malthus. The amount therefore is–that the case which Mr. Malthus everywhere supposes and reasons upon, is a case of false analogy: that is, it is a logical error. But, setting aside the unfairness of the case, Mr. Malthus is perfectly right in his mathematics. If it were fair to demand that the wheat should be constantly confined to the same space of land, it is undeniable that it could never yield a produce advancing by a geometrical progression, but at the utmost by a very slow arithmetical progression. Consequently, taking the case as Mr. Malthus puts it, he is right in calling it a case of arithmetical progression: and his error is in putting that case as a logical counterpart to his other case.