Population Cassandras from antiquity to Malthus

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Population Cassandras from antiquity to Malthus
Romans, Claudia Shannon
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v, 74 leaves : ; 29 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Population ( lcsh )
Human ecology ( lcsh )
Population in literature ( lcsh )
Human ecology ( fast )
Population ( fast )
Population in literature ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 68-74).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Social Science.
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Claudia Shannon Romans.

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Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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Full Text
Claudia Shannon Romans
B.A., Metropolitan State College of Denver, 1991
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science

This thesis for the Master of Social Science
degree by
Claudia Shannon Romans
has been approved
s' /177

Romans, Claudia Shannon (M.S.S.)
Population Cassandras from Antiquity to Malthus
Thesis directed by Professor Frederick S. Allen
From as early as 1600 B.C. there is written evidence
of concern about human population growth and density in
relation to resources. This thesis surveys those
writings from antiquity to Thomas Robert Malthus7 1798
essay on population increase and the mechanisms that
limit population growth. Because demography was not a
study in its own right during this period, information
has been gathered from works on philosophy, history,
political economy, utopian tracts and political
arithmetic (statistics). The featured authors were the
voice of caution about human population growth and
density from antiquity to the late eighteenth century.
Their recorded thoughts began the formulation of an
understanding of the political, economic, biological, and
cultural complexity of human population issues. This

thesis concludes that comments on population in works on
a variety of topics and, beginning with Malthus, in works
dedicated to population issues, demonstrate that
population growth and density has been a documented
intellectual concern since antiquity. Malthus and his
predecessors attempted to increase public awareness about
a driving force of critical importance to human well-
being they thought largely unappreciated or unrecognized.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.

1. INTRODUCTION.........................................1
2. FROM EPIC POEMS TO ENUMERATION.......................4
Population Pressure in Antiquity..................4
Stable Population and the Greek City-State.......11
The Early Christian Centuries....................19
Early Modern Writers.............................23
3. MALTHUS' PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION....................33
Arguments Against Progress and Equality
Poor Relief and the Deceitful Garb of
Manfacturing and the Maintenance of Labor........51
The Principle, A Necessary and Mighty
4. CONCLUSION..........................................59

Concern about human population growth and density has
produced a long and complex dialogue. It is a
discussion, and often a debate, about security,
economics, health, resources, and moral obligations. A
large and growing population is favored when security,
defense, and fulfilling religious obligations are the
focus of concern, but when health, wages and finite
resources are considered, too rapid or unlimited growth,
can place social and individual well-being at odds. The
relationships between these issues and the benefits and
difficulties that are the result of population growth,
were recognized and written about centuries and possibly
millennia before the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus
initiated the modern population debate with the
publication of his 1798 An Essay on the Principle of
Population. often referred to as the "First Essay".
Malthus and His Work, a study of Malthus7
population and economic theory, by James Bonar, was first
published in 1885.1 Bonar's introduction to the work
mentions that there were others before Malthus who

recognized the dilemma posed by growing human numbers in
relation to resources. He called these individuals
"Cassandras before Malthus" and mentioned a few, who like
Malthus, wrote during the eighteenth century. Bonar
compared those who raised a voice of caution about
population growth to Cassandra, the prophetess of Greek
mythology, because he felt that Malthus and his
predecessors, like Cassandra, could foresee tragic
events, but their warnings were largely ignored or
This survey of early writings on population from
antiquity to Malthus begins with the observations of some
of the Cassandras before Malthus. They were political
philosophers, clerics, utopian writers, historians,
Enlightenment philosophes and the developers of Political
Arithmetic. Their comments, found in epic poems, works
on political philosophy, and in utopian tracts that
described the ideal society, were the beginnings of a
critical examination of population growth and of the
continuing dialogue about the importance of balancing
human numbers with resources. Following the comments of
Malthus' predecessors is Malthus' statement of his
principle of population and his arguments against the

equity, scientific progress and economic solutions to the
population dilemma proposed by his contemporaries.
Authors contributing to the early population debate
were a voice from their own time of particular social,
economic, technological and political conditions and
challenges. Our current population challenges are not
identical to theirs, nor are they completely novel.
Social, political and economic behavior, continues to
affect population growth and density. We look to our
governments, social institutions, technology and
individual responsibility in the struggle to balance
human numbers with resources just as Malthus and his
predecessors did. Knowledge of the foundation and course
of the debate is of historical interest because it is
part of the story of the human experience. But it is
more than an intellectual exercise in looking back.
Awareness of the insights, points of contention and
contradictions the debate has produced are a tool in hand
for anyone concerned about future population growth and
density and human well-being.

Before the 17th century, writing on population was
fragmented and population was usually not the author's
primary focus. Nevertheless, population was mentioned in
writings on a variety of topics demonstrating a
realization that human numbers affected human well-
being. These earliest known comments on population
appear in recorded thoughts about governing a city-state,
trade, wealth, religious obligations and the cause of
war, poverty, famine, and crime. They are reflections on
the events of human history and the role that human
population growth and density plays in shaping those
Population Pressure in Antiquity
The earliest recorded instance in western
civilization of a society struggling to balance human
numbers with resources may be the 1245 line Babylonian
epic poem known as the "Atrahasis Epic." University of

California assyriologist Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, feels
that overpopulation is clearly the theme of this work.2
The poem was written on three clay tablets, by a junior
scribe. It is from the Old Babylonian period, shortly
before 1600 B.C.
The poem is a Babylonian "History of Mankind." It
describes the creation of man for the purpose of taking
over the work of building the shrines and maintaining the
canal banks. The lesser gods had performed these tasks
day and night for forty years. Overwhelmed with the
labor, they called a general strike and appealed to the
higher gods for assistance and in response to their
appeal, man was created. But after little more than a
millennium, man with his tools, cities and temples,
became a problem for the gods. Tablet I of the poem,
lines 352-360, presents the problem:
Twelve hundred years had not yet passed
When the land extended and the people multiplied.
The land was bellowing like a bull,
The god got disturbed with their uproar.
Enlil heard their noise
And addressed the great gods:
"The noise of mankind has become too much for me,
With their noise I am deprived of sleep.
Let there be a pestilence (upon mankind)."
It is the end of the poem that Kilmer finds most
important as evidence that the "noise" of mankind refers

to his numbers rather than to previous interpretations of
"noise" as man's rebelliousness or offence to the gods.
As the poem continues, Tablet II describes a series of
famines and plagues during the second through the sixth
year of the crisis as the gods attempt to reduce the
human population:
When the second year arrived they suffered the itch.
When the third year arrived
The people's features were distorted by hunger.
When the fourth year arrived their long legs became
Their broad shoulders became narrow,
They walked hunched in the street.
When the fifth year arrived daughter watched the
mother going in,
But the mother would not open her door to the
When the sixth year arrived
They served up the daughter for dinner,
They served up the son for food
One house consumed another.3
The people suffered terribly but their numbers did not
decrease, in fact they continued to grow. After imposing
seven years of hardship, the gods resorted to sending a
great flood. The god Enlil commanded a tremendous rain,
but there were survivors. Enlil was determined to
eliminate the survivors, but the Lady of Birth (Nintu)
made a bargain with him, a plan to prevent future
overpopulation.4 The bargain was an agreement of shared
responsibility. The gods and nature would exert control

over the growth of human numbers, but women were also
given responsibility for limiting human fertility.
The Atrahasis Epic has similarities to the Old
Testament book of Genesis. The Garden of Eden, the
creation of Adam and Eve, and the story of Noah and the
Ark are the common themes. There are also great
differences between the two stories. In the Old
Testament, man's offence to God, rather than his numbers
is the reason for the flood and the subsequent
destruction of all but Noah and his family. Kilmer
suggests that the covenant between God and Noah is a
reflection of the bargain made on man's behalf with the
god Enlil. The great difference between the two writings
is that the Babylonian epic ends with a plan to avoid
population growth that, in the future, presses
dangerously upon resources, and the Old Testament version
ends with God's command to "Be fruitful and multiply".
Kilmer's explanation of the story's opposing conclusions
is that the Old Testament writers may have simply
exercised a "conscious reaction to Mesopotamian ways."5
Overpopulation in antiquity seems unlikely. It is
difficult to imagine that in 1600 B.C. human numbers
could have been large enough to threaten a society's

well-being. But a change in the relationship of
population to resources, can in a short period, the
length of a growing season, move a community from health
and stability to famine and hardship. Kilmer does not
offer evidence from the text of the Atrahasis Epic of
poor harvests or others events that caused a shift in the
balance of population and resources. Sustained steady
growth may have simply outpaced food production. The
population of the alluvial plain at the time is thought
to have been about one million inhabitants. Kilmer
emphasizes that the cities of Ur and Uruk were well
established. Archeological evidence of serious "urban
renewal" in these cities also suggests that it became
necessary to expand or remodel parts of the city to
accommodate more people.6
A second story describing population pressure at
crisis proportions in antiquity is from the Avesta, the
sacred writings of the Zoroastrian religion. A colleague
of Kilmer's brought this story to her attention to offer
further support of her contention that overpopulation was
an intellectual and a practical concern in antiquity.
The Avestan story finds Yama, the first man and ruler of
the earth, after only three hundred years, faced with the

problem that "...there was no space left on the earth for
the living beings..."7 Yama, three times, at three
hundred year intervals makes the earth expand her
surfaces by one third, each time population pressure is
temporarily relieved. Presumably population growth
continues because Ahuramazda and the other gods later
decide they must send a harsh winter to decrease the
population. Yama was told to build a special structure
and to shelter himself and a select sample of other
beings. Yama and his company, like Noah, was spared.8
The story of Yama does not conclude with a bargain or
a covenant to prevent future overpopulation. The notable
message of this writing may be that it presents the
cyclical nature of population pressure. Three times, at
three hundred year intervals, a solution to the problem
was sought. When the earth could not continue to expand,
the population had to be decreased to restore a balance
with resources.
Later in antiquity the gods may have once again found
it necessary to intervene to decrease the human
population. An interpretation of the cause of the Theban
and the Trojan war in the twelfth century B.C., places
population growth at the center of another calamitous

event. Classical mythology provides the explanation. An
interpretation of a fragment of the lost Post-Homeric
Epic, Cypria describes Zeus' decision to send the Theban
war, and later the Trojan War, after the earth,
"...weighted down by an excess of men..." asked that her
burden be relieved. A translation from the text
attributed to Stasinos described the situation:
There was a time when the countless tribes of men,
though wide-dispersed, oppressed the surface of the
deep-bosomed earth, and Zeus saw it and had pity and
in his wise heart resolved to relieve the all-
nurturing earth of men by causing the great struggle
of the Ilian war, that the load of death might empty
the world. And so the heroes were slain in Troy, and
the plan of Zeus came to pass.9
These earliest recountings of population pressure are
not attempts to analyze the economic, social, political
and environmental interrelationships that affect
population growth and density. They offer only an
indication of the extent, and the frequency of concern
about population pressure in antiquity. But they are
telling observations of the recurring consequences of
population growth beyond the limits of resources,
particularly food and perhaps fertile land. These
observations demonstrate some recognition in ancient
societies of famine, disease, and war as checks to
population growth, and that human action to limit

fertility might prevent the harsher checks to population
imposed by nature or the gods. Dr. Richard Harrow Feen
of the Hayek Foundation, a researcher and author on
Greco-Roman medicine, believes that although writings
such as the Atrahasis Epic demonstrate that ancient
societies understood that their land could support a
limited number of people, they were only passively
concerned about population.10 It was the Classical
Greek writers who first expressed an active concern about
present and future human numbers.
Stable Population and the Greek Citv-State
The known epic poems and sacred writings on population
from antiquity appear sporadically and they seem to
describe acute and recurring instances of severe pressure
on resources. The laws and customs of the Greek city-
state may indicate a more constant concern about
population size and growth. A realization of the
importance of balancing population growth with resources
is demonstrated by Greek laws that encouraged procreation
coexisting with practices that limited population growth.
E. P. Hutchinson, a historian of the population

debate and Charles Stangeland, a historian of economic
theory, agree that Greek laws and customs, in
combination, were intended to provide the city-state
with the right number of inhabitants.11 The laws and
customs of Classical Athens and Sparta spoke directly to
population growth. Marriage and procreation were
encouraged in both city-states, more strongly in Sparta,
where frequent wars created a demand for soldiers.
Celibacy was outlawed in Sparta and bachelors were
subject to financial and political disadvantages.
Special rewards and tax exemptions were given to fathers
of large families in Sparta.12
In Athens similar incentives to marriage and
procreation existed but citizens were less obligated to
marry and produce large families than in Sparta.
Exposure of infants was legal in both city-states, but
because it is uncertain how often and under what
circumstances infants were exposed, what effect this
practice had on population growth is difficult to
determine. The use of a number of plant products as
contraceptives and abortifacients by Athenian women may
have had a significant effect on population growth.
Among a number of other plants, silphion, a member of

the genus Ferula, a giant fennel, is mentioned in
Classical literature by the Greek botanist Theophrastus
and by Aristophanes in his play The Kniahts. Silphion is
thought to have been available from its discovery in the
seventh century B.C., in the coastal city of Cyrene,
until it disappeared from over harvesting in the third or
fourth century A.D. Knowledge of these products and their
proper preparation and dosages is thought to have been
common among women. Silphion was exported throughout the
region and is said to have "... made some of the Greek
colonists of Cyrene wealthy, and all of them famous."13
When contraception and other practices did not prevent
population from pressing on resources, Athens and Sparta
established new colonies to relieve the pressure. After
the Peloponesian war, according to Hutchinson, starting
new colonies became more difficult' simply because many
colonizable sites in the region had already been
filled.14 Increasing trade competition combined with
decreasing opportunities for migration after the war made
the Greek city-states more conscious of population
growth. Plato and Aristotle's writings on population may
have been a reflection of this combination of

Plato's Republic and his later work Laws contain
specific comments about population size. In the Republic
Plato envisioned marriages under the control of the
...that they may as far as possible keep the
population at the same level, having regard to wars
and disease and all such ravages, and also taking
care to the best of their power that our city neither
become great or small.15
Plato associated preventing the city-state from
becoming to large with avoiding war with one's neighbors.
To accomplish this he planned a simple life for the
citizens of his ideal city-state. Life should be modest,
without the luxuries of comfortable furniture, fine food,
servants, arts and entertainment, because providing
these luxuries required a larger population. When
Socrates companions objected to such a basic existence he
explained that if these luxuries were included:
...even the land that was sufficient to support
the first population will be now insufficient and too
small?...Then if we are to have enough for pasture
and plow land we must take a slice from our neighbors
territory... Then we shall go to war.16
Population growth was not seen as a direct cause of
war, it is the desire for luxuries that makes population
growth necessary and possible, and that leads neighboring
city-states into conflict. Plato realized that a larger

population demanded additional resources leading to the
expansion of the boarders of the city-state, likely
resulting in war over territory.
In his Laws Plato specified the number of households
for the ideal size city-state. He set the number of
households at 5040, a number easily divisible for tax
purposes and other adjustments. A city-state limited to
5040 households was also important because a sense of
unity and familiarity could be preserved in a community
of moderate size.17 If each of the 5040 households
consisted of approximately ten people, including slaves,
the city-state would contain about 50,000.18
Interpretations of the importance Plato placed on the
size of a city-state's population vary. The composition
of the population also receives attention in the Republic
and in the Laws. Plato had definite ideas about who
should be joined in marriage and at what age. How the
children of these sanctioned unions should be raised was
also addressed. In a discussion of the value issues
raised by the comments of Plato and Aristotle on
population, Martin P. and Naomi H. Golding argue that it
may have been that "...the human material of which the
polis is composed" was the primary demographic

consideration, "...even more important than that of
optimum size."19
In disagreement with Stangeland, and the Golding's
assessment, John J. Mulhern interprets Plato's comments
on regulating population as part of a broader set of
guidelines for achieving individual virtue, and not at
all related to concern about growth or density.20 He
offers evidence that Athens in the later fifth century
was not overpopulated, concluding that density was not
the motivation for Plato's comments on limiting the size
of the city-state. Mulhern explains that the plague of
430-429 B.C. and 426-425 B.C., in combination with losses
from battle from 411-403 B.C., took a significant toll on
population and resulted in further decline because these
out breaks of disease and war effected a lower birth rate
between 431-423 B.C.21
Contesting Mulhern's position, Feen lists a different
set of conditions in Classical Greece indicating that an
awareness of the need to balance population and resources
was at the foundation of Plato's ideal city-state.22 He
sites a tripling of population in Greece between 1000 and
400 B.C., the beginning of large migrations to new
colonies in the eighth century, pressure to divide the

old estates of the aristocracy, and a change from a meat
based to a cereal based diet as evidence of severe
population pressure.
Size, composition, limited resources, individual
virtue and the cause of war have been offered as
explanations for Plato's attention to the size of the
city-state. Aristotle expressed similar concerns,
specifically the need to limit numbers to avoid poverty
and civil unrest. In his Politics, Aristotle emphasized
that limiting population was particularly necessary in a
community such as Plato's ideal city-state, where
property was to be equally divided. Aristotle reasoned
It is absurd to render property equal, and not to
provide for the increasing number of
is more necessary than even to regulate property, to
take care that the increase of the people should not
exceed a certain number; and in determining that, to
take into consideration those children who will die,
and also those women who will be barren; and to
neglect this as is done in several cities, is to
bring certain poverty on the citizens, and poverty
is the cause of sedition and evil.23
Unlike Plato, Aristotle did not set a specific
number of citizens as a guideline for the size of the
city-state. Order, self-sufficiency and the ability of
the governors and the governed to perform their functions
were his criteria for determining the proper size.24

Aristotle's interest in biology, particularly in
comparative anatomy and reproduction, may be reflected in
his comment about the function and form of the city-
state. His observations of the size and health of animal
populations, recorded in the Historia Animalium. indicate
an appreciation of fertility or reproductive potential
and the consequences of unlimited population growth.25
Trying to determine the source of Plato or
Aristotle's concern about population perhaps overshadows
the importance of a realization that population is
intricately connected with many human activities. They
understood that peace, unity, adequate resources,
virtue, and community size were interdependent and that
the social or political problems of their time could not
be analyzed or remedied without considering population
growth and density.
Following Plato and Aristotles's writings there are
very few known comments on population pressure until the
early modern period. It is doubtful that population did
not continue to occasionally press on resources in some
locations, but it is possible that for a combination of
reasons, concern about human numbers was less acute from
the final two centuries B.C., through the fifteenth

century A.D. Christianity, human migration to
participate in trade and war, improving agricultural
production and outbreaks of infectious diseases may have
temporarily muted the voice of the population Cassandras.
The Early Christian Centuries
Joseph Spengler, an economic historian who studied
French pre Malthusian wage and population theory,
described the early Christian attitude about population
growth as a view that generally:
...looked upon population growth as a sign of
God's favor, and subscribed to doctrines and
practices conducive to such growth; for they held
human life to be sacred, and marriage to be a
In contrast with this positive view of population
growth Stangeland finds in the Christian "ideal of
celibacy", continuity of concern about population
growth. The practice of celibacy was idealized in the
early centuries of the Christian church and through the
middle ages, and there were extreme negative views of
marriage as unclean or evil. Stangeland acknowledges
that Medieval celibacy was "too often rather immoral than
moral" and that chastity and celibacy were encouraged to
attain spiritual perfection, but he is convinced that

chastity and celibacy were a mechanism for regulating
population growth:
... it seems that there can be no doubt that the
restraint of desire always inculcated was closely
allied to a more worldly prudence and forethought,
and that this phase of the teachings of the Church
is at least partly to be regarded as a method in
which the broad natural forces tending to restrain
population expressed themselves.27
Although the exact date of the writing is uncertain,
a work from this period supports Stangeland's perception
that celibacy served as a counterbalance to population
growth. The Sonqe du Veraier. probably written by Raoul
des Presles, (1514-1583) a French cleric, contains a
discussion between a cleric and a soldier, in which the
cleric defends celibacy arguing that:
Humanity is today of sufficient numbers to make
social life symmetrical, and the abstention of
some from procreation cannot imperil its future.
Virtue consists in the golden mean and in
determining according to reason what this may be
under given circumstances. When the race was in
its infancy sound reason counselled against
celibacy, and, by the same token, when the race
had so increased that the earth could not well
nourish more, reason and nature counselled
This excerpt may represent only one of several
reasons the cleric or the author defends celibacy. The
significance of the argument lies in its historical view
of population growth, and the importance it placed on

using human reason to regulate population growth and
avoid exceeding existing resources.
In addition to the role that the Christian practice of
celibacy may have played in limiting population growth
during this period, economic and political activity that
facilitated the spread of infectious disease may have had
a significant effect on human numbers. Historian William
McNeill contends that during the early Christian
centuries, "...Europe and China were in an
epidemiological position analogous to that of the
Amerindians in the later age."29 The period from 500
B.C. to 1200 A.D. was, according to McNeill, one of
recurring epidemics in China and Europe, with the
Mediterranean populations particularly hard hit. Between
2000 and 500 B.C. infectious diseases were fairly stable
within their respective regions. People moving between
different regions in the early Christian centuries upset
the stability of existing disease pools when they came
into contact during military conquests or to conduct
trade. This contact between people of previously
separate and fairly stable disease pools introduced
smallpox, measles, tuberculosis and bubonic plague into
communities that had no immunity to these organisms.

Instability between microparasites and macroparasites
(humans), according to McNeill, continued into the tenth
century, with outbreaks such as the sixth and seventh
century plagues in the Mediterranean that parallelled the
depopulating effects of the fourteenth century Black
Death.30 The convergence of the disease pools of EurAsia
eventually led to a restabilization of the relationship
between microparasites and macroparasites within a
reformed and larger disease pool. Organisms that had
once produced epidemics resulting in high death tolls
became survivable childhood infections as the population
developed partial immunity to these organisms.
It is possible that epidemic disease and celibacy
helped keep population and resources closely enough in
balance during the early Christian centuries to preclude
much writing on the subject. When epidemic disease
subsided in Europe during the later Middle Ages, improved
agricultural methods and climate change may have had a
similar effect. Increasing use of the open-field system
that allowed some fields to lie fallow every other year,
crop rotation, and increased use of fertilizers produced
a richer harvest on medieval farms. Iron production
increased in the twelfth century providing shoes for

horses which were more efficient draft animals than oxen.
Wooden plows were fitted with iron moldboards to better
lift and turn the soil.31 The weather was also
favorable to farming during this period, particularly in
England, France and Germany. A slow and gradual retreat
of the polar icecaps brought mild winters and dry
summers.32 As the frequency of epidemics decreased and
disease pools restabilized, adequate food production made
possible by improved agricultural methods and climate
change, may have kept population and resources in balance
for several centuries. But this same set of conditions
eventually made accelerated population growth possible
and by the early modern period, concern about growing
human numbers reappeared in the literature.
Early Modern Writers
If the voice of caution about rapid population
growth was mute during the early Christian centuries, it
did not remain so during the early modern period. With
the revival of classical learning in the early modern
period came a renewed interest in the benefits and
consequences of population growth. Hutchinson considers

the Arab historian and social scientist Ibn Khaldun "a
pioneer" among the early modern thinkers who addressed
themselves to population matters.33 Written c. 1380,
Khaldun's Prolegomena is significant for its discussion
of cycles of growth and decline of economic prosperity
and of fertility as a state matures. A chapter of the
work is devoted to population. Khaldun observed the
relationship between the size of a community and its
economic prosperity. He championed the economic benefits
of a growing population, one that provided opportunity
for craftsman in a variety of occupations. Even those
who begged in the streets Khaldun explained, were more
fortunate in a large than in a small community where an
abundance of wealth could provide crumbs of charity for
their subsistence.34
Khaldun described growth and decline of the state as
a cycle that economic prosperity could not interrupt.
When the state approached the end of its "natural age"
marked by "maximum size and rate of population growth" a
period of decline began. Famine, disease, decreased
agricultural production and depopulation were components
of the downward spiral, a contrast to the upward spiral
of prosperity made possible and reinforced by a growing

population. Epidemics, Khaldun noted were particularly
severe and more likely to occur in densely populated
cities. He attributed this to "corruption and moisture"
in the air where large groups of people gathered in built
up areas, with poor ventilation.35
Khaldun saw "misrule and oppression" as the cause of
the decline of the city, leading to disease, murder,
famine, decreased agricultural production, and eventually
depopulation. He did not suggest that population density
and pressure on resources led to misrule and oppression,
nor did he suggest an optimum city size. But the cycle
he described does achieve a population limit and a
stability of sorts over time.
Several sixteenth century writers did bring the issue
of balancing growth with resources back into the
discussion, and they revived the idea of optimum
population noted in classical writings. Sir Thomas More's
Utopia. published in 1516, argued that when a population
grew to be "above measure", it was necessary to relieve
population pressure by starting new colonies, by force if
necessary.36 More, like Plato set a firm number for
optimum community size. His figure, only slightly higher
than Plato's, was six thousand families. More also

specified that families should have between ten and
sixteen children, and those who were not able to have
children should be given children to raise from more
fertile unions. It is very likely that More was
influenced by Plato and Aristotles comments on
population. Perhaps as he planned his utopian community
he anticipated the population growth trap for which
Malthus would later harshly criticize the utopias of
Robert Wallace and William Godwin. A community of common
property, such as More's, with modest but adequate
resources, and leisure time was a community without fear
of want and a community at risk for reproducing beyond
it's means of subsistence.
Emigration was More's solution to the problem of
population pressure. Two years after the publication of
his Utopia, Franciscus Patricius, Bishop of Siena spoke
to the opposite side of the migration solution. His De
Institutione Republicae, 1518, cautioned that immigration
should be discouraged and that the number of foreigners
in a city should be limited to a very few.37 Patricius
equated large populations with ignorant masses that could
cause disturbances. Geography, resources and commerce
were also of concern to Patricius. He advised that cities

be located in fertile areas with good water supply to
promote trade and agriculture.
Two other sixteenth century Italian authors
contributed to the population discussion in their
political writings. Niccolo Machiavelli's Discourse on
the First Decade of Livy, written 1512-1517, but not
published until after The Prince. brought to the
discussion what Malthus would later label among the
"positive checks" to population.38 Machiavelli noted the
direct relationship between excess population, limited
resources and the inevitable controls to over-abundant
population, namely poverty, famine and disease.
Machiavelli realized that checks to population were
constantly in operation, and he had a vision of a future
when it would no longer be possible to relieve population
pressure by establishing new colonies:
...when every province of the world so teems
with inhabitants that they can neither subsist where
they are nor remove elsewhere, every region being
equally crowded and over-peopled, and when human
craft and wickedness have reached their highest
pitch, it must needs come about that the world will
purge itself in one or another of these three ways
(floods, plagues, or famines).39
From the close of the sixteenth century comes another
political writing by an Italian cleric, Giovani Botero,
(1540-1617). Botero taught philosophy and rhetoric in

Jesuit schools and served as secretary to the Archbishop
of Milan. A nonconformist whose views conflicted with
church authorities, Botero was not permitted to take his
final vows although he spent most of his life in the
service of the church. His The Greatness of Cities. 1588
is a discussion of geography, location, population and
other topics important to the viability of cities.40
Botero's comments on population include many topics
addressed by other authors. He discussed the connection
between epidemics and crowding in the cities and between
war, civil disputes and growing human numbers. He
stressed, as Malthus would two hundred years later, that
although famine, plague and war are checks to population,
the primary check was the continuous struggle for the
means of subsistence and fear of poverty. Botero
anticipated Malthus7 "principle of population" when he
described the power of population as a force in
opposition to the means of subsistence.41
Seventeenth century writers began to support existing
common sense observations on population with statistics
and demographic analysis, which they called Political
Arithmetic. The works of two British authors published in
1662 brought the use of numerical data to the debate.

Their figures provided evidence of population growth and
migration. John Graunt, (1620-1674) an English
businessman, statistician and social scientist, collected
christening and burial records for his Natural and
Political Observations upon the Bills of Mortality. He
found that population decline in the cities due to
disease is quickly replenished by migration from the
countryside. Graunt also compared the doubling time of
population in the city and the countryside, noting that
in London population doubled in one third the time, (64
years), required for doubling in the countryside.42
From this 64 year figure for doubling time, Graunt
realized that checks to population growth must be present
because by his calculation, if Adam and Eve doubled
themselves every 64 years for the 5610 years since the
creation, the world would be far more peopled than it
presently was. In addition to the necessity of checks to
population, Graunt's attention to doubling time addresses
an important point that Malthus would later emphasize,
the potential for population to grow "geometrically".
Graunt also related the growth of the city to its
"unhealthful atmosphere of fumes, steams and stenches"
and attributed the lower fertility rate of the city,

compared to the countryside to its greater immorality,
explaining that "adulteries and fornication, supposed
more freguent in London than elsewhere do certainly
hinder breeding."'13
The second important application of political
arithmetic to population study in 1662 was Sir William
Petty's A Treatise of Taxes and Contributions.44 William
Petty, (1623-1687) a physician, professor of anatomy at
Oxford, surveyor, inventor and among the founders of the
Royal Society, was generally optimistic about population
growth. He emphasized that population density made
possible the expansion of arts and a diverse society.
In 1682 Petty turned his attention to the city of
London as his friend Graunt had done earlier. At that
time he published another work, Essay Concerning the
Growth of the City of London.45 Although Petty generally
attended to "practical and theoretical" population
concerns, the relationship between population and the
national interest, he too was interested in the doubling
rate and future possibilities. He reasoned that
...if the people doubled in 360 years, that the
present 320 Millions computed by some learned be now upon the Face of the Earth, will
within the next 2000 Years, so increase, as to give
one Head for every two Acres of Land in the
habitable Part of the Earth. And then, according to

the Predictions of the Scriptures, there must be
Wars and great Slaughter, &c.4S
Graunt and Petty introduced the use of numerical data
to the population discussion. They were interested in
population as a social phenomenon and their works
preceded the first census taken in England in 1801 by 150
years. Political Arithmetic became a tool used by those
who viewed population growth as beneficial to society and
by those who cautioned that care should be taken to
prevent growth from exceeding resources.
These comments about population from antiquity to
Malthus represent what has been called the "pessimistic
view", held by those who saw population pressure as a
current or imminent problem causing poverty and other
checks to population to function. This view stands in
opposition to what Hutchinson called "...the common-sense
recognition that population is labor force, military
manpower, and national strength" and an "implicit
assumption of constant or increasing returns" from
continued growth.47
Hutchinson credits Aristotle with the first "direct
reason" for taking a pessimistic position on population
growth, because Aristotle noted a relationship between
poverty and excessive population growth.48 For

Stangeland the split between optimists and pessimists did
not occur until modern times. He characterized the
opposing views as "two leading tendencies, which may be
regarded as broadly typical", that are "exemplified by
the optimistic fatalism of Luther on the one hand, and by
the rational pessimism of Malthus on the other."49
Malthus writings mark the beginning of the debate for
Stangeland, but for Hutchinson the optimistic and
pessimistic positions formed in the classical period and
were well established by the seventeenth century when
"...both sides acknowledged the relationship between food
supply and numbers, that limits existed", the difference
between them was that the seventeenth century optimists
saw problems that resulted from population growth as
remote and if problems should arise, emigration and
foreign trade were available remedies.50 A century
later, Malthus 1798 "First Essay", An Essay on the
Principle of Population, was a formal challenge to the
optimistic view and the common-sense notion that
population growth was an unconditional good, and that
progress, science and institutional reform could remedy
or eliminate human suffering that occurred when human
numbers pressed upon existing resources.

Writers from antiquity to the early modern period
commented on the significance of population size and the
benefits and disadvantages of growth. They acknowledged
the role of population in the strength and health of a
city-state, in trade and commerce or in religious
obligations to procreation, and they recognized the
relationship between population, subsistence and human
suffering. Collectively they stated many of the elements
of Thomas Robert Malthus' principle of population
centuries before the "First Essay" was published in 1798.
Malthus did not claim that the basic points of his
principle of population were novel ideas. He credited
the works of David Hume, Robert Wallace, and Adam Smith,
among others, as sources of information for the "First
Essay".51 Before publishing the second edition of the
essay in 1803, Malthus had the opportunity to travel and
research his topic extensively. He was amazed at how
much had been previously written on the subject which he
was not aware of when he began the "First Essay". During

the course of writing the six editions of the essay
between 1798 and 1826, The Malthus Library Catalog lists
130 works used as reference material.52
Malthus contributed to the discussion about a subject
that fascinated him and that he felt was overlooked in
the atmosphere of expectation and optimism about human
perfectibility and progress surrounding the revolution in
France. The content of the essay, a clear and forceful
writing style and the timing of his argument made the
"First Essay" a popular work, more noticed than any of
the later more thoroughly researched editions of the
essay or his works on Political Economy.
Malthus described the "First Essay in his preface as
an attempt to state his thoughts to a friend upon paper
in a clearer manner than he thought he could do in
conversation. His desire for insight into the social,
political and economic complexity of the workings of
human population became a twenty-eight year project,
demonstrating his dedication to the subject and the
interest it captured within, but not limited to, the
intellectual community.
An Essay on the Principle of Population as it
Affects the Future Improvement of Society with Remarks on

the Speculations of Mr. Godwin. M. Condorcet and Other
Writers r was published anonymously in England in 1798.
The pamphlet became know as the "First Essay". It was a
statement of Malthus theory of the principle of
population, historical and empirical evidence to support
the principle, and a refutation of William Godwin, the
Marquis de Condorcet and other writers views on
population. The final two chapters were an attempt to
explain the principle of population as a "necessary
partial evil" and to reconcile the principle of
population with the designs of a beneficent deity.
Malthus began his statement of the principle with two
postulates. First, that food is necessary to the
existence of man, and second, that the passion between
the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its
present state. Convinced of no existing evidence of
change over time in the operation of these two "fixed
laws of nature", Malthus presented five points that
followed from his postulates: (1) that the power of
population is infinitely greater than the power in the
earth to produce subsistence for man, (2) population,
when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio,
subsistence only in an arithmetical ratio (3), simple

comparison demonstrates that the increase of an unchecked
population is greatly superior to the increase of the
means of subsistence, (4) because food is necessary to
human subsistence, strong and constantly operating checks
to population must exist, and (5) the checks to
population must be severely felt by a large portion of
Having stated his principle of population, Malthus
presented examples to support each of his points. To
demonstrate the power of human population growth Malthus
examined population trends of the late eighteenth century
United States. Although his source of information is not
revealed, Malthus found evidence of the immense power of
population growth in the actual experience of U.S.
population having doubled during twenty-five year
periods. Taking immigration into consideration, he
concluded that this example, which was actually short of
the full potential of unchecked increase, demonstrated
that population could grow geometrically.
To demonstrate that the means of subsistence could be
increased much more slowly, only arithmetically, Malthus
chose England as his example. He allowed that in twenty-
five years, with the strongest possible encouragements to

agriculture, bringing as much land into cultivation as
possible, food production could be doubled. But a second
doubling in the next twenty-five years he thought nearly
Using these examples to demonstrate the geometric and
arithmetic ratios proved problematic, and Malthus
received much criticism about the accuracy of the ratios.
The arithmetic ratio and his contention that the means of
subsistence would lag seriously behind unchecked
population growth was a particular target. If population
grew so rapidly and subsistence so slowly, why was there
not continuous, visible famine and conflict over the
means of subsistence? Appreciating geometric population
growth as an unrealized potential is key to resolving
confusion about the ratios.
To clarify his statement about the ratios, Malthus
suggested that taking the whole earth as example, with
the means of subsistence increasing arithmetically (l, 2,
3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and population growing geometrically (1,
2, 4, 8, 16, 32), that in just over two centuries the
ratio of population to subsistence would be 512 to 12.
He did not insist that the production of the earth had
some absolute limit. The point he wished to make was

that population was the superior power and that it must,
by some mechanism, be kept down to the level of
subsistence available at any given time.54
After stating his principle Malthus turned his
attention to the checks to population. Investigating the
mechanisms, past and present, that prevent population
growth from attaining its potential, because human
numbers must be kept down to the available level of
subsistence, was Malthus7 focus. The checks to
population would demonstrate the accuracy of his
principle. He classified the checks to population as
positive and preventive. The positive checks, by which
he meant checks to an existing population, included
famine, disease, and war. The preventive checks he
considered to be vice and misery. He cited the high
incidence of war and famine among the natives of North
America and high infant mortality and epidemic disease
among the poor as evidence of the checks on population at
work. Using tables from J.P. Suessmilch Die Gottlich
Ordnuna. published in 1765 he presented examples of
epidemics or sickly seasons that occurred regularly after
periods when births significantly exceeded burials for a
number of years.55 The most significant check, operating

in all social classes and throughout history, he
emphasized, was the preventive check or the fear of want
and misery, of not being able to provide for one's family
or of compromising one's position in society. These
checks to population, he pointed out, had and would
continue to exist in spite of agricultural and
manufacturing improvements. 56
A fairly common misinterpretation of Malthus' theory
was that his intention was to warn of a future disaster.
He saw the checks to population: war, famine, disease and
vice as ongoing, and unavoidable. This point is
essential to appreciating Malthus' fundamental reason for
challenging Godwin and Condorcet's vision of the
perfectibility of man, of happiness and plenty for all.
Given the principle of population as he defined it, at
the time Malthus wrote the "First Essay", he saw no
alternative to periodic misery in the form of disease,
famine and war for a significant percentage of the
population. Periodic misery caused by population
pressure or "oscillations" as Malthus called them were
difficult to recognize because the cycles were irregular,
with many interdependent variables. The most painful
checks to population, he emphasized, had always fallen on

the laboring poor, a little appreciated fact because
"the histories of mankind that we possess are histories
only of the higher classes."57
Malthus realized that "improvements" that he could
not begin to imagine would increase food production
dramatically. Innovative methods and new farm equipment
would produce increasingly larger crops. But the
potential for geometric increase in population, and the
actual tendency of population to constantly press upon
the limits of subsistence, challenged his most optimistic
estimates of food production and would require that
checks to population continue to function.58
Discussion of contraception as a means to ease
population pressure is not absent from the "First Essay",
but it is brief. "Artificial" means of preventing
conception were unnatural in Malthus view. Along with
abortion and extramarital relations, he considered
preventing conception a vicious behavior, although it
certainly was a recognized preventive check to
population. Delayed marriage or "prudential restraint"
was the only preventative check to population growth that
Malthus found consistent with virtue and with reason.
After presenting the principle of population and

discussing the checks on population, Malthus devoted
eight of the nineteen chapters of the "First Essay" to
Godwin and Condorcet's views and how those views
conflicted with or ignored the principle of population.
Arguments Against Progress and Equality Solutions
In discussing Condorcet's comments on population,
Malthus referred to chapter ten of Condorcet's Sketch for
a Historical Perspective on the Progress of the Human
Mind titled "The Tenth Stage The Future Progress of the
Human Mind". Condorcet acknowledged that population
would be held in check, if it became to large, by the
same forms of misery that Malthus discussed. He also
realized that his vision of a future society, of
considerable social equality, with a generous system of
public assistance for those in need, could encourage
population growth beyond the means of subsistence.
Condorcet in his optimism reasoned that:
There is doubtless no-one who does not think
that such a time is still very far from us; but will
it ever arrive? It is impossible to pronounce about
the likelihood of an event that will occur only when
the human species will have necessarily acquired a
degree of knowledge of which we can have no
inkling.. .59

Malthus argued that human population had always
periodically exceeded its7 means of subsistence. There
existed a "necessary oscillation" between adequate
supplies and scarcity. Infant mortality, malnutrition
and abject poverty were evidence of the principle of
population in operation. War, occasional famine and
disease outbreaks were further testimony to the pressure
of population.
Should overpopulation become a problem in the future,
Condorcet believed that human reason would provide
But even if we agree that the limit will one day
arrive, nothing follows from it that is in the least
alarming as far as either the happiness of the human
race or its indefinite perfectibility is concerned;
if we consider that, before all this comes to pass,
the progress of reason will have kept pace with that
of the sciences,... and that by then men will know
that, if they have a duty toward those who are not
yet born, that duty is not to give them existence but
to give them happiness... 60
Malthus interpreted this statement as an allusion
"either to a promiscuous concubinage, which would prevent
breeding, or something else unnatural" and he criticized
the idea as a violation of the very "virtue and purity of
manner, which the advocates of equality, and of the
perfectibility of man, profess to be the end and object
of their views". 61

Had Condorcet lived to have the opportunity to read
Malthus "First Essay" and to respond to it, it seems
quite possible that he would not have disagreed with
Malthus fundamental principle. On the solution to and
the immediacy of the problem however, they disagreed.
Where Malthus saw a natural law at work, the harshness of
which could be eased only by moral restraint, Condorcet
saw only a potential problem. Technical progress,
education and elimination of superstition (primarily
imposed by the church) would enable men and women to
avoid the misery that would accompany overpopulation,
should it occur in the future.
Godwin, like Condorcet, envisioned a greatly improved
future for man and Malthus challenged many of the ideas
expressed in Godwin's Enquirer of 1797. Godwin realized
that the perfect society he envisioned could be faced
with the problem of overpopulation. He had read Robert
Wallace's Various Prospects of Mankind. Nature and
Providence, 1761, a utopia based on common ownership.62
Wallace envisioned a system of "perfect government" but
realized that this system had the potential to encourage
tremendous population growth and that his egalitarian
society would destroy itself under the weight of such a

large population. Wallace realized that a return to the
very conditions he wished to eliminate would be the
result of the political and social changes he advocated.
Godwin believed government not based on true merit
would eventually be eliminated, that inequality between
rich and poor would disappear and that "mutual
benevolence would replace more possessive forms of
property,...including the institution of marriage".63
Eliminating inequality would eliminate artificial wants
reducing the need for labor and if the remaining needed
labor were divided equally, each man would need to work
only a few hours per day. There would be time to pursue
communal interests and social conditions would improve.
Godwin thought that a combination of delayed marriage,
abortion, infanticide and celibacy would check
population, avoiding growth that would exceed resources
and the conditions that destroyed Wallace's utopia.
Agricultural improvements and the fact that much of the
earth was still uninhabited gave Godwin further
confidence that population would not exceed existing
Malthus saw the same fate for Godwin's ideal society
that Robert Wallace realized would destroy his own

utopian vision. If people found themselves in a state of
abundance, with considerable leisure and unrestrained by
monogamy, population would grow rapidly. Soon all the
land would be under cultivation, benevolence and
cooperation would not prevail when unrestricted
population growth caught up with and surpassed the
available food and housing supply. Malthus urged that in
Godwin's egalitarian society:
The mighty law of self preservation would re-
assert itself with a vengeance...The division of
land and private property would have to be
invented...This outcome would not be the result of
depravity but of inevitable laws of nature, and the
end result would be a return to the fundamental
features of existing society...65
Another idea presented by Godwin, as a solution to
population pressure and an obsession according to
Malthus' biographer Patricia James, was his belief that
"in an ideal world mind would triumph over body."66
Godwin believed that the passion between the sexes would
gradually become extinct, and that intellectual pleasure
would replace sensual pleasure. Malthus responded to
Godwin's prediction of decreasing passion between the
sexes with eloquence. This passage demonstrates the
force of a writing style that contributed to the success
of the "First Essay". He defends the passion of love as

being consistent with reason and with virtue:
No move towards the extinction of the passion
between the sexes has taken place in the five or six
thousand years that the world has existed. Men in
the decline of life have in all ages declaimed
against a passion which they have ceased to feel...
Those who from coldness of constitutional temperament
have never felt what love is, will surely be allowed
to be very incompetent judges with regard to the
power of this passion...the pleasures of pure love
will bear contemplation of the most improved reason,
and the most exalted virtue...The superiority of
intellectual pleasure to sensual pleasures consists
rather in their filling up more time, in their having
a larger range, and in their being less liable to
satiety, than in their being more real and
essential...In the pursuit of every enjoyment,
whether sensual or intellectual, reason, that faculty
which enables us to calculate consequences, is the
proper corrective and guide. It is probable
therefore that improved reason will always tend to
prevent the abuse of sensual pleasures, though it by
no means follows that it will extinguish them. 67
Malthus insisted that both rationality and passion
were necessary and fundamental to human nature. He
considered the Enlightenment emphasis on rationality
excessive and the idea that it would eventually triumph
over passion to eliminate social ills an impossibility.
Godwin and Condorcet based their expectations for the
perfectibility of man on intellectual enlightenment,
technical progress and the reform or elimination of
dysfunctional human institutions. Malthus agreed that
some of the changes they advocated had considerable

potential for improving social conditions, but he felt
that they ignored or conflicted with natural laws, human
needs and past and present human conditions.
He saw vice and misery, the evils associated with
population pressure as among the natural laws established
by God, and ultimately designed to promote human welfare.
The two concluding chaptesr of the "First Essay", chapter
eighteen and nineteen, are a lengthy discussion of this
reasoning. He explained that without the motivation
induced by want and misery, no progress or industry was
possible. The pressure of population provided the
stimulus that made a transition from the savage to the
civilized state possible. Vice and misery that resulted
from population growth that periodically exceeded the
means of subsistence would continue to exist; they were
unavoidable but they could be minimized. Prudential
restraint, by which Malthus meant marrying only if and
when one could provide for a family, was the responsible
and ethical option for preventing the harsher checks to
population growth.
Malthus shared with Godwin and Condorcet an
expectation of progress and improved social conditions
for the masses, but his view was not the linear,

unlimited progress that Godwin and Condorcet envisioned.
He commented only briefly on the French Revolution
comparing it to "...a blazing comet" that "seems destined
to inspire with fresh life and vigor, or to scorch up and
destroy the shrinking inhabitants of the earth" in "a
period big with the most important changes". 68
Although he criticized the ideas about unlimited
progress and perfectibility surrounding the French
Revolution and saw population pressure as the primary
obstacle to their realization, Malthus did not directly
cite population pressure as a cause of the revolution.
His perception of population growth in Europe during his
lifetime was surprisingly not one of acceleration. His
observation at the time was that:
In examining the principle states of modern
Europe, we shall find that they have increased very
considerably in population since they were nations of
shepherds, yet that at present their progress is but
slow, and instead of doubling their numbers in every
twenty-five years they require three or four hundred
years, or more for that purpose. Some indeed may be
absolutely stationary, and others even
A connection between population pressure and the
French Revolution has been made by University of Chicago
historian William H. McNeill. In his Population and
Politics since 1750. McNeill explained that the surge in

population that began in 1750 could not be relieved by
simple aggression as it had been in the past. Population
pressure was the driving force that led to the French
Revolution, the French "...recipe for solving the rural
crunch of the late eighteenth century.. .1,70.
Malthus' perception that the English population was
growing quite slowly at the time the "First Essay" was
published increased rather than eased his concern.
Poverty and dependence on parish relief were growing and
reform of the poor laws was under discussion in
Parliament. A bill drafted by Prime Minister, William
Pitt (1759-1806), proposed an increase in poor relief of
a shilling a week to every laborer for each child he has
above three. Malthus' comments in the "First Essay" on
the parish system of poor relief were partly a response
to Mr. Pitt's bill and proved to be among the most
controversial statements contained in the essay.
Poor Relief-The Deceitful Garb of Benevolence
Malthus acknowledged that the original intention of
the English poor laws was to relieve distress and that
largely the system did serve those in need. His

objection to increasing poor relief was that it would
tend to increase population without increasing the means
for its support. Rather than increase the amount of
assistance to poor families, Malthus called for abolition
of the parish system because it bound families to the
parish making it impossible to accept employment outside
the parish when work was available. Malthus favored
substituting a national system of collection and
distribution of poor relief for the existing parish
system. He was also critical of those who earned a wage
for their labor. He cited their lack of forethought to
save a bit of their earnings when their wages were
adequate to help them through times of scarcity. But he
was also critical of rulers and of the wealthy who
encouraged population growth to serve their own
interests. Population growth lowered the price of labor
and consequently the cost of armies, fleets, and
manufactures for foreign sale. These practices he
condemned as vicious, cruel and tyrannical and in
combination with the existing poor laws, amounted to a
broken contract with the laboring poor who submitted to
the regulations of the system, but continued to live in
misery and sacrificed their liberty and self-sufficiency

in the bargain.71 Encouraging population growth without
increasing the means of subsistence was Malthus concern
about Godwin's ideal society, Condorcet's vision of the
future and the revision of the poor laws under
consideration at the time he wrote the "First Essay".
Imbalance of human numbers and resources was also the
foundation of his criticism of Adam Smith's assessment of
the social and economic benefits of manufacturing.
Manufacturing and the Maintenance of Labor
In his 1776 An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of
the Wealth of Nations. Smith like Godwin and Condorcet
took population growth into consideration. In his
discussion of The Wages of Labor, chapter VIII, Smith
stated that:
Every species of animals naturally multiplies in
proportion to the means of their subsistence, and no
species can ever multiply beyond it. But in
civilized society it is only among the inferior
ranks of people that the scantiness of subsistence
can set limits to the further multiplication of the
human species; and it can do so in no other way than
by destroying a great part of the children which
their fruitful marriages produce.72
Smith realized that poverty discouraged and checked
population and that improving rewards for the laboring

poor could encourage population growth. He believed
that manufacturing employment, although not without its
disadvantages, enabled the laboring poor to better
provide for their families.
Malthus' objected to Smith's view of manufacturing
employment as an opportunity for the poor to improve
their situation because:
...he seems to consider every increase in the
revenue or stock of a society as an increase for the
funds of the maintenance of labour, and consequently
as tending always to ameliorate the condition of the
Malthus cautioned that encouraging manufacturing over
agriculture stimulated population growth among the
laboring classes, decreased the value of labor and
increased the price of provisions. His assessment of the
economic status of the country and the condition of the
laboring poor as industrialization proceeded was that in
England, since the Revolution:
The exchangeable value in the market of Europe
of the annual produce of land and labour has,
without a doubt, increased very considerably. But
upon examination, it will be found that the increase
has been chiefly in the produce of labor and not in
the produce of land, and therefore, though the
wealth of the nation has been advancing with a quick
pace, the effectual funds for the maintenance of
labour have been increasing very slowly, and the
result...the increasing wealth of the nation has had

little or no tendency to better the conditions of
the labouring poor...and a much greater proportion
of them is employed in manufactures and crowded
together in close and unwholesome rooms.74
Malthus later modified his opinion of the social and
economic role and value of manufacturing, but when he
wrote the "First Essay" he agreed with the French
economists, although for different reasons, that all
labor employed in manufactures, was unproductive.75
The Principle. A Necessary and Miahty Process
Malthus did not deny that the statement of his
principle and the arguments he presented against other
views added up to a grim interpretation of the human
experience. Bonar summarized what opponents said of him:
Here was a man who defended small-pox, slavery
and child murder; who denounced soup kitchens,
early marriage and parish allowances; who had the
impudence to marry after preaching against the
evils of a family...who in short took all the
romance out of life...76
The two final chapters of "The Essay" were Malthus'
explanation of the purpose of the principle of
population. He found the principle a process by which
God created mind out of matter. The struggle for
existence necessitated by the principle of population,
provided the stimulus for the development of human

intellect and was therefore necessary and beneficial.
Malthus, like Godwin and Condorcet saw the human
experience as a progression. Malthus scholar Donald
Winch in Malthus, 1987, finds Malthus7 theological view
of progress paradoxical because it can be seen as "the
religious equivalent of the secular perfectablism which
his Essay sets out to undermine.1,77 But Malthus did not
argue that the human condition had not and would not
continue to improve. What distinguished Malthus7
assessment of the population challenge to progress and of
the prospects for improved social conditions for the
masses from those of Godwin and Condorcet, was that
individual responsibility had to be the foundation of the
remedy. Social or political reform and scientific
discovery could assist, but would not substitute for
awareness of the social, biological, and economic
realities of the effects of population growth beyond
existing resources.
What life experiences produced Malthus intense and
lasting interest in the human population dilemma are not
definitely know. Neither the Malthus Library Catalog nor
the work of his biographer, Patricia James, mention a
surviving diary, notes, or sermons that directly answer

this question. He was raised in an atmosphere of
intellectual stimulation at the close of the
Enlightenment and received a liberal education at Jesus
College, Cambridge, graduating with honors in
mathematics. After graduation he took holy orders and
was later appointed curate of a small church in the hill
country of Surrey.
About three years of his curacy were spent in actual
residence at Okewood chapel. He observed and commented
on the often "stunted" physical condition of the children
of laborers. He visited poor parishioners and witnessed
the condition of their homes and the content of their
diets. It was during this period that he published the
first edition of "The Essay". James Bonar felt that
Malthus interest in population was a direct result of his
concern about the conditions of the poor," inquiry
into the nature and causes of poverty, comparable to Adam
Smith's inquiry into the nature and causes of wealth."78
Bonar suggested that in the course of the argument over
Godwin and Condorcet's ideal society, Malthus first
realized that the balance between population and
subsistence was key to the problem of persistent and
growing poverty and the primary obstacle to progress.

"People had heard of the objection before; it was only
now (after the publication of Malthus essay) that they
began to look on it as conclusive".
Malthus left Okewood after his marriage in 1804 at
age 38 to accept a teaching post at the East India
College, where he held the first chair in Political
Economy. Malthus continued his study of population and
published the sixth and final edition of An Essay on the
Principle of Population in 1826.
Many aspects of Malthus writings on population
produced critical responses. Malthus added an appendix
to the third edition of "The Essay" published in 1806 to
respond to criticisms of the earlier editions and to
clarify points previously made that had caused confusion
and led to misrepresentation of his principle of
James Bonar described the extent and character of
the criticism Malthus received in the introduction to
Malthus and His Work, first published in 1885. Bonar
considered Malthus "the best abused man of the age" and
"Bonapart himself... not a greater enemy of his species".
Criticism that began with the publication of the "First
Essay" continued beyond the final edition: published replies, private

correspondence, public journals and parliamentary
speeches.his warnings were disbelieved without
being herd or understood by both the general public
and savants... for thirty years it rained
Kenneth Smith's The Malthusian Controversy. 1951, written
as a doctoral dissertation, is a detailed chronology of
the criticisms. Population Malthus. Patricia James 1979
biography includes two chapters, IV and XI, on the
population controversies.
Time has transformed reaction into reflection.
Contemporary scholars assess Malthus contribution to
demographic study rather than attack his character,
question his motivations or argue the truth or fallacy of
the basic points of his principle of population. The
extensive criticism of the late eighteenth and early
nineteenth century has given way to considerable
recognition and appreciation of Malthus works. Professor
Ryozaburo Minami, is a former president of the Population
Association of Japan and author of T.R. Malthus as
Population Scientist. 1982. In an essay that appears in
The Malthus Library Catalog. 1983, Minami recognizes
Malthus principle of population as the foundation on
which political economics, sociology, statistics,

ethnology and biology built new fields of learning.80

Three thousand years have passed since a Babylonian
history of mankind recorded a bargain between the Goddess
of Birth and humans to limit population and 1998 marks
the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of
Malthus "First Essay". Malthus7 predecessors commented
on the role of population in the course of their writings
on history, politics, economics, state security and moral
or religious concerns. Malthus "First Essay" made
population a subject in its7 own right, replacing common
sense observations with the beginnings of demographic
The fragmented comments on population of Malthus7
predecessors and Malthus7 work dedicated to the
population dilemma are the early chapters of the story of
the difficult process of drawing public attention to the
importance of population growth and density. Each of
their works is an appeal to human reason and a challenge
to confront this complex and emotionally charged issue, a
challenge more easily ignored than accepted. They remind

us that since antiquity, through our action or inaction,
we have made decisions about the growth of human numbers
and the well-being of individuals and of societies. The
population Cassandras remind us that our choices have
been, and continue to be, to educate one another and
exercise the preventative checks to population growth
beyond our resources, or to ignore their warnings and
take our chances with the positive checks to population-
famine, disease and war.
The choices we make as we enter the twenty-first
century will be of tremendous importance. Periodically
an international conference on population, the status of
women, the environment or agriculture and world food
supplies briefly draws our attention to the relationship
between population and resources. Contemporary authors
who warn about present and future population challenges
speak largely to one another and to a relatively small
international community of concerned individuals. They
continue to be Cassandras, ignored or disbelieved.
If population growth projections are reasonably
accurate, and they vary considerably depending upon
fertility rate estimates, by the second half of the
coming century, global population is expected to grow

from a current 5.8 billion to between 9 and 13 billion
inhabitants, an increase in human numbers that will test
the arguments of all who have and will participate in
this vital debate.

1. James Bonar, Malthus and His Work (New York:
August M. Kelley, 1966), 8-9.
2. Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, "The Mesopotamian Concept of
Overpopulation and Its Solution as Reflected in the
Mythology," Orientalia 1 (1972): 160.
3.Ibid., 168-69.
4.Ibid., 166-171.
5.Ibid., 174.
7.Ibid, 175.
9.Ibid., 176.
10.Richard Harrow Feen. "Keeping the Balance: Ancient
Greek Philosophical Concern with Population and
Environment," Population and Environment 17, #6 (1996):
11. Charles Emil Stangeland, Pre-Malthusian Population
Doctrines: A Study in the History of Economic Theory (New
York: August M. Kelley, 1966), 19.
12. Edward P.Hutchinson, The Population Debate: The
Development of Conflicting Theories up to 1900 (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967), 9.

13. John M. Riddle, J. Worth Estes and Josiah C.
Russell, "Ever Since Eve...Birth Control in the Ancient
World," Archeology (March/April 1994): 30.
14. Hutchinson, 10.
15. Plato The Republic, trans. A.D. Lindsay (London:
Everyman, 1935; reprint, 1992 London: Everyman), 146 (page
references are to reprint edition), 146.
16.Ibid., 51.
17. R.F. Stalley, An Introduction to Plato's Laws
(Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Co., 1983), 100.
18. Feen, 451.
19. Martin P. Golding and Naomi Golding, "Population
Policy in Plato and Aristotle: Some Value Issues," Arethusa
8, #2 (Fall 1975) : 345.
20. John J. Mulhern, "Population and Plato's Republic,"
Arethusa (Fall 1975): 265.
21.Ibid., 272.
22. Feen, 448-449.
23. Hutchinson, 13, citing Aristotle, Politics, Book
II, Ch 6.
24. Richard McKeon, ed., The Basic Works of Aristotle
(New York: Random House, 1941), 1156.
25. Frank Egerton, "Aristotles Population Biology,"
Arethusa 8, #2 (Fall 1975): 313
26. Joseph Spengler, French Predecessors of Malthus
(Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press 1942), 4-5.
27.Stangeland, 86-7.
28.Stangeland, 91, citing Raoul des Presles, Sonae du
Veraier. Facts of publication unknown.

29.William H. McNeill, Plaques and Peoples. (New York:
Doubleday, 1976), 102-103.
30.Ibid, 113.
31.John P. McCay, Bennett D. Hill and John Buckler, A
History of World Societies (Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1984), 427.
32.Ibid, 393.
33. Hutchinson, 17-18.
34. Charles Issawi, An Arab Philosophy of History. (New
York: Grove Press, 1969), 94.
35.Ibid, 96-7.
36.Stangeland, 93.
37.Stangeland, 90.
38.Hutchinson, 16.
39.Hutchinson, 17, citing Niccolo Machiavelli,
Discourses on the First Decade of Livy. Book II, Ch. 5.
40.The New Century Italian Renaissance Encyclopedia.
1972 ed., s.v. "Botero, Giovani."
41. Giovanni Botero, The Reason of State and the
Greatness of Cities. trans. P.J. Whaley, D.P. Whaley and
Robert Peterson (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956),
42. Hutchinson, 45-47, citing John Graunt, Natural and
Political Observations Upon the Bills of Mortality. London,
43.Stangeland, 141, citing C.H. Hull, Economic
Writings of Sir William Petty. (Cambridge University Press,
1899). vol, ii.

44.Hutchinson, 46-48, citing C.H. Hull, The Economic
Writings of Sir William Petty. (Cambridge University Press,
1889), vol i.
45.Ibid, 48.
46. Hutchinson,
Essays. 16.
47. Hutchinson,
48. Hutchinson,
4 9.Stange1and,
49, citing William Petty, Several
51. Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of
Population and a Summary View of the Principle of
Population. Anthony Flew, ed. (London: Penguin Books,
1985), 69.
52. Edward Gray, ed., The Malthus Library Catalog; The
Personal Collection of Thomas Robert Malthus at Jesus
College, Cambridge Pergamon Press, 1983), 207-26.
53. Malthus, 70-71.
54.Ibid, 74-75.
55.Ibid, 109-111.
56. Donald Winch, Malthus (Oxford, New York: Oxford
University Press, 1987), 21.
57. Malthus, 77-78.
58. Malthus, 74-76.
59. Antoine Nicolas Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical
Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, trans. June
Barraclough (New York: Noonday Press, 1955), 188.

60.Edward Gooddell, The Noble Philosopher: Condorcet
and the Enlightenment. (New York: Prometheus Books, 1994),
61.Malthus, 124.
62.Ibid, 120.
63.Winch, 26.
64.Ibid, 26-27.
65.Ibid, 30.
66. Patricia James, Population Malthus: His Life and
Times (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), 59.
67. Malthus, 146-148.
68.Ibid, 67.
69.Ibid, 89.
70. William H. McNeill, Population and Politics Since
1750 (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia
Press, 1990), 8-13.
71. Malthus, 100-103.
72.Smith, Adam. An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes
of the Wealth of Nations, ed. Edwin Cannan (New York:
Random House, 1965), 79.
73.Malthus, 192.
74.Ibid, 186.
75.Ibid, 193.
76. Bonar, 1.
77. Winch, 35.
78. Bonar, 5-9.
79.Ibid, 2-3.

80.Gray, xxxiv.

Bonar, James. Malthus and His Work. New York: August M.
Kelley, 1966.
A detailed study of Malthus7 population and
economic theory and his ethics and philosophy.
Includes an expanded biographical section.
Botero, Giovanni. The Reason of State and The Greatness
of Cities. Translated by P.J. and D.P. Whaley and
Robert Peterson. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,
A sixteenth century manual for city and state
rulers. Botero offers advice on a wide range of
topics including justice, liberty, religion, war and
the importance of population size.
Condorcet, Antoine Nicolas. Sketch for a Historical
Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind.
Translated by June Barraclough. New York: Noonday
Press, 1955.
An outline of an intended larger work
demonstrating human progress through reason from
tribal society to the founding of the French
Republic. Concludes that human intellectual,
moral and physical perfectibility are possible.
Egerton, Frank. "Aristotles Population Biology." Arethusa
8 (Fall 1975): 307-31.
Aristotle's biological studies and writings are
examined for their possible relationship to his
writings on population policy.
Feen, Richard Harrow. "Keeping the Balance: Ancient Greek
Philosophical Concern with Population and
Environment." Population and Environment: A Journal

ofInterdisciplinary Studies 17, #6, (July 1996):
Discusses concerns about population size in the
Ancient Greek city-states. Presents the balance
between population and resoures as a real and
present concern during a time of increasing
population pressure.
Golding, Martin P. and Naomi H. Golding. "Population
Policy in Plato and Aristotle: Some Value
Issues." Arethusa. 8, #2 (Fall 1975): 345-49.
Plato and Aristotles attention to the human
material and social values of citizens of the polis
are compared to their concerns about population
Gooddell, Edward. The Nobel Philosopher: Condorcet and
the Enlightenment. New York: Prometheus Books,
Biography with emphasis on historical and
intellectual influences on Condorcet's Sketch for a
Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human
Mind. Includes the final chapter of "The Sketch",
"The Tenth Stage: The Future Progress of the
Human Mind".
Gray, Edward, ed. The Malthus Library Catalog; The
Personal Collection of Thomas Robert Malthus at
Jesus College, Cambridge. New York: Pergamon Press,
A list of the contents of the library of Thomas
Robert Malthus as donated by his heirs to Jesus
College, Cambridge with brief essays by Malthus
scholars on his life, population and economic
theories and the contents of his library
Hutchinson, E.P. The Population Debate: The Development
of Conflicting Theories up to 1900. Boston: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1967.

Traces the development of population theory from
antiquity to 1900 in Europe with a section on 19th
century American population thought. The origin and
development of the optimistic and pessimistic views
of population growth are featured. Includes
biographical notes on many authors.
James, Patricia. Population Malthus: His Life and Times.
London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.
A biography of Malthus and a study of his works
on population and political economy. The Malthus7
family geneology, a section of plates and Malthus
portrait is included.
Issawi, Charles, An Arab Philosophy of History Selections
from the Prolegomena of Ibn Khaldun of Tunis 1332-
1406. New York: Grove Press, 1969.
An introduction the views of Arab historian and
sociologist Ibn Khaldun on history, geography,
economics, sociology, politics, education,
metaphysics and population through selected passages
of his Prolegomena.
Kilmer, Anne Drafkorn. "The Mesopotamian Concept of
Overpopulation and Its Solution as Reflected in the
Mythology." Orientalia 1 (1972): 160-77.
A paper presenting material prepared for a
University of San Diego State College lecture, "The
Problem of Overpopulation and It's Solution in
Ancient Mesoptamian Thought." The text of an epic
poem is offered as evidence of overpopulation in
1600 b.c.
Malthus, Thomas Robert. An Essay on the Principle of
Population and A Summary View of the
Principle of Population. Anthony Flew, ed. London:
Penguin Books, 1985.
A reprint of Malthus first edition of "The
Essay", published in 1798 and an extract of an
article by Malthus A Summary View, written as a

suppliment to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, first
published in 1830. Extensive introduction by
Anthony Flew, Professor of Philosophy examines
Malthus life and works, conceptual structure of the
"First Essay" an Malthus achievements.
McKay, John P., Bennett D. Hill and John Buckler. A
History of World Societies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1984.
Global history from the Paleolithic Age to
contemporary times with a focus on social history
and the role of women, family and population.
McNeill, William H. Plagues and Peoples. New York:
Doubleday, 1976.
A study of the effects of infections disease
circulation and the role of infectious disease in
historical events from antiquity to the 18th
________. Population and Politics Since 1750.
Charlottesvill: University Press of Virginia, 1990.
An expanded version of McNeill's 1989 "Richard
Lectures" given at the University of Virginia. A
study of the of the relationships between the
changing global disease pool, political systems,
culture and population growth and decline in Europe
since 1750.
More, Thomas. Utopia. Translated by J.H. Lupton, B.D.
Oxford: Clarendon Press,
A reproduction of the 1516 edition of More's
presentation of his social, political and religious
views through the story of his ideal commonwealth.
Bibligographic information on the author and
background explaining the conception of the work
by the editor.
Mulhern, John J. "Population and Plato's Republic"
Arethus 8 (Fall 1975): 345-358.

Virtue rather than limited resources is the
reason for Socrates concern about population size in
this revised interpreation of Plato's Repubic.
Plato, The Republic. Edited by Terence Irwin. Rutland,
Vermont: Everyman, 1992.
Book II, 373 b-e and 373 b-e discuss the
relationship between population size, luxuries and
war. Book V, 460 b-e examines the importance of
population stability, and individual reproductive
Riddle, John M., J. Worth Estes and Josiah C. Russell.
"Ever Since Eve...Birth Control in the Ancient
World" Archaeology (March/April 1994): 29-35.
Discusses women's knowledge and use of a variety
of plant products for contraception and abortion
from the seventh century B.C. through the
Smith, Adam. An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the
Wealth of Nations. Edited by Edwin Cannan. New York:
The Modern Library, 1965.
A reproduction of the fifth and final edition of
Smith's economic treatise with and introduction,
notes, marginal summary and an enlarged index.
Smith, Kenneth. The Malthusian Controversy. London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951.
Presents Malthus' population theory and the
arguments of his most prominent 18th and 19th
century critics. Smith uses extensive guotations to
allow Malthus critics, who he considers unjustly
ignored, to speak for themselves.
Spengler, Joseph. French Predecessors of Malthus: A
Study in Eighteenth-Century Wage and Population
Theory. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1942.
Comparison and analysis of Mercantilist,

agrarian, repopulationist, physiocrat and the
philosphes' views on wages and population.
Stalley, R.F. An Introduction to Plato's Laws.
Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Co., 1983.
Topic by topic discussion of and guide to
understanding Plato's Laws. Each chapter is
preceeded by a list of relevant passages from the
original work.
Stangeland, Charles Emil. Pre-Malthusian Population
Doctrines: A Study in the History of Economic
Theory. n.p., 1904; reprint, New York: August M.
Kelley, 1966.
Stangeland challenges the idea that population
study did not exist until the 18th century when it
emerged as a sub-field of political economy.
Population thought from antiquity to the close of
the 18th century is presented. Not indexed.
The New Century Italian Renaissance Encyclopedia. 1972
ed., S.v. Botero, Giovani."
Over 4000 detailed articles on Italian
Renaissance figures and others who influenced
Renaissance thought. Cross-referenced and
Turner, Michael. Malthus and His Time. London: MacMillan
Press Ltd., 1986.
A collection of papers on Malthus observations
on population and political economy submitted for
the 1980 Paris conference "Malthus Heir et
Winch, Donald. Malthus. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
A brief biography and a concise interpretation

of Malthus principle of population and the
development of his economic theory.