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Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population was first published anonymously in 1798. In the first Essay on Population, as its subtitle suggests, the extremely optimistic theories of continuous human progress advocated by William Godwin (1756-1836) and the Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) were under critique. Malthus’s principle of population was primarily based on the hypothesis that increases in population occur too rapidly for the means of subsistence to keep pace. He viewed this process as a natural law that had been established by a benevolent God, and that the utopian communities supported by Godwin and Condorcet were doomed to collapse due to overpopulation. Malthus maintained that «lust» regularly overtook «prudence», with the inevitable consequences of «misery and vice» prevailing. As early as 1798, Malthus conceptualised two ways to control population growth–«positive checks» enacted through increases in the death rate, and «preventive checks» adopted through reductions in the birth rate.
Malthus regarded his first Essay on Population as an unsatisfactory statement on the principle of population, because it was constructed «on the spur of the occasion» (Malthus [1803-1826] 1989, vol. 1, p. 1) and based mostly on his own thoughts. He decided to revise and rewrite the first edition. In 1803, Malthus produced the second edition of his work. His text was thoroughly revised and further expanded. In this second edition, Malthus both relatively and absolutely reduced the extent of his discussions of Godwin and Condorcet’s utopian schemes…


This essay explores the development of Thomas Robert Malthus’s reformist ideas. A careful examination of Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population, and specifically the critical discussion of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man contained therein, revealed that Malthus’s reformist ideas underwent an inconspicuous but significant change between 1803 and 1806. In this period Malthus assigned greater importance to the value of educational and parliamentary reforms in connection with his plan to abolish the existing Poor Laws and reduce the poverty of the poor. This change should be considered as a reflection of his keen recognition of the need to take steps to prevent French egalitarian republicanism from taking hold in Britain in times of revolution and war.

  • Thomas Robert Malthus
  • Thomas Paine
  • poverty
  • educational reform
  • parliamentary reform
Nobuhiko Nakazawa
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