Malthus and Dawrin

Date: Sat, 18 May 1996
From: David M Levy

The birth rate in Malthus' setup (like that in Adam Smith) is linked to the age of marriage: the earlier people get married the more kids. Remember: dissemination of contraceptive information did not become 'legal' until 1877 in the Bradlaugh-Besant trial.

Malthus' preventive check is what distinguishes people from nonpeople which is precisely why Darwin in *Origins* said his model was Malthus without the preventive check.

Malthus does not predictive explosive birth rates under a system of private property because people have to pay for their own kids. Under communism the kids are paid for by the neighbors. Godwin signed on to this in his 1st response to Malthus.

References on request.

David Levy

 


Date: Mon, 20 May 1996
From: Michael Gregory

Professor Levy:

I am intrigued by your remark about Darwin being Malthus w/o the preventive check. Could you please share with us this citation from *Origin* and the edition in which it appears? It would appear to be quite unappreciated by scholars of Darwinian evolution.

Michael Gregory
NEXA Program
SFSU

 


Date: Wed, 22 May 1996
From: David M Levy

>From the Penguin edition of *Origin* p. 117

"... as more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole and animal and vegetable kingdom; for in this case there can be no artificial increase, and no prudential restraint from marriage."

I don't understand the claim that students of Darwin don't "appreciate" this. I'm not an historian of biology but I see historians of biology (until recently) actively denying that Malthus had anything to do with Darwin's ideas. The passages in Darwin's *Notebooks* are clear, I would have though. However, the new biography of Darwin laid out the Malthus connection; even Gould signed on in his *Nature* review.

David Levy

 


Date: Wed, 22 May 1996
From: Mark Stoll

Perhaps the passage that David M Levy had in mind and which Michael Gregory seeks is the following, from Darwin's Origin of Species:

A struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase. Every being, which during its natural lifetime produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer destruction during some period of its life, and during some season or occasional year, otherwise, on the principle of geometrical increase, its numbers would quickly become so inordinately great that no country could support the product. Hence, as more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms; for in this case there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint from marriage. Although some species may be now increasing, more or less rapidly, in numbers, all cannot do so, for the world would not hold them.

Mark Stoll
St. Edward's University
Austin, Texas

 


Date: Thu, 23 May 1996
From: Richard Weikart

The debate over Malthus' influence on Darwin has long since been concluded and historians of science today are almost unanimous in recognizing Malthus' influence on the formulation of Darwin's theory. What is still being debated, though, is whether Darwin applied Malthus to society.

Again, Darwin's own statements are so clear it embarrasses me to have to argue for what is an ironclad case. In _The Descent of Man_ (Princeton reprint of the 1st edition) Darwin writes in the conclusion:

"Man, like every other animal, has no doubt advanced to his present high condition through a struggle for existence consequent on his rapid multiplication; and if he is to advance still higher he must remain subject to a severe struggle. Otherwise he would soon sink into indolence, and the more highly-gifted men would not be more successful in the battle of life than the less gifted. Hence our natural rate of increase, though leading to many and obvious evils, must not be greatly diminished by any means. There should be open competition for all men; and the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring." (2:403)

This is not the only quote demontrating that Darwin did indeed favor competition (both individualist and collectivist) among humans.

 


Date: Fri, 24 May 1996
From: Michael Gregory

Prof. Levy:

Thanks for your later reply. What is unclear to me is what you mean by "Darwin being Malthus w/o the check." What is the struggle for survival if not a check? Malthus has of course food supply (and "vice") as checks, clearly. Are you really saying that natural selection is not a check on population (this is a variant of Darwin's own, now-famous, tautology)?

Michael Gregory
NEXA Program
SFSU

 


Date: Fri, 24 May 1996
From: Helen Liebel-weckowicz

Richard Weikart is certainly correct when he claims Malthusian influence for Darwin. Darwin was quite familiar with Malthus. But it is not the problem of struggling for existence which is crucial. Malthus had the distinct idea that men reproduce according to a geometric ratio, and food only arithmetically. Thus men, 2,4,8,16, 32, 64, 128 etc. Food, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, .... This has not been proven and has not been correct.

Further , see below -----

On Thu, 23 May 1996 Richard Weikart wrote:

 

> The debate over Malthus' influence on Darwin has long since been
> concluded and historians of science today are almost unanimous in
> recognizing Malthus' influence on the formulation of Darwin's theory.
> What is still being debated, though, is whether Darwin applied Malthus 
> to society.

 

Darwin stayed away from social questions.

The argument cited refers to biological competition.

 

> Again, Darwin's own statements are so clear it embarrasses me to have to
> argue for what is an ironclad case.  In _The Descent of Man_ (Princeton
> reprint of the 1st edition) Darwin writes in the conclusion:
>
>      "Man, like every other animal, has no doubt advanced to his present
> high condition through a struggle for existence consequent on his rapid
> multiplication; and if he is to advance still higher he must remain
> subject to a severe struggle.  Otherwise he would soon sink into
> indolence, and the more highly-gifted men would not be more successful 
in
> the battle of life than the less gifted.  Hence our natural rate of
> increase, though leading to many and obvious evils, must not be greatly
> diminished by any means.  There should be open competition for all men;
> and the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs from
> succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring." (2:403)
>
> This is not the only quote demontrating that Darwin did indeed favor
> competition (both individualist and collectivist) among humans.
>

What Darwin does not see here, is that such struggles are different in hunting and fishing cultures from agrarian. Malthus was concerned with rural poverty in a milieu in which birth control information was limited (tho not unknown). He calls for letting the best intelligences rear large families (as he did). In reality this turned out to be less feasible in the 20th century than in his own time. Best was misinterpreted to mean brute force )Hitlerism). Whether Darwin favored group conflict remains to be seen. he lived in his mansion with his family on his inherited wealth. He saw life as an individual thing and opposed letting one group dominate another. When thye Beagle returned some Tierra Del Fuegans to their home, dressed in Victorian clothing and armed with English bibles, he noted, when the ship returned for a brief visit after some months of exploring the Straits of Magellan, that these same people had reverted to their own clothing and customs. He concluded that there was not much in such efforts. Sometimes he preferred friendly monkeys to brutal humans.

HLW

 


Date: Sat, 25 May 1996
From: Helen Liebel-weckowicz

This discussion leaves out the bridge between Malthus and Darwin. David Ricardo's economic theories introduced the idea of diminishing returns and the iron law of wages. The natural checks were still working in the 19th century, but population cycles seem to exist despite that. Disease causing agents also seem to increase in cycles and so new diseases )or variants of old ones) appear. These do not check the population. Wars increase the birth rate. From 1918, when a population of 1 billion was reached, the world's population has increased to 5.7 million. The food supply has more than kept pace. HLW

 


Date: Tue, 28 May 1996
From: David Levy

In Malthus the preventive check comes down to the foresight of cost of marriage. [The 18th-19th c population theory makes a big distinction between sex and marriage on empirical grounds. Let me wave my hands here with the promise of erudition on demand.] Darwin says, reasonably I'd think, that nonhumans don't have such foresight so they have to fall back on the positive check, i.e., premature death from all sorts of causes.

Malthus had been singing in the choir invisible when Darwin published so he wasn't around to discuss matters. Moreover, Malthus' disciples had *mainly* come around to contraceptive devices. The major (now almost forgotten) figure was Charles Bradlaugh, self-described atheist, republican and Malthusian. For a whiff of this his booklet *Jesus, Shelley and Malthus* is rather easy to find.

Bradlaugh got into trouble by printing an, ah, explicit book giving detailed instructions. He and Annie Besant were tried for obsensity (I'm not a lawyer so I might have the charge wrong) in 1877. They wrote to Darwin asking for him to testify at their trial. He refused. The exchange of letters makes it clear that Darwin was opposed to contraception on some kind of 'genetic' ground (I'm not a biologists so ...).

At the trial Bradlaugh-Besant made the case that it is a neo-Malthusian preventive check or a Darwinian positive check.

David Levy

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