Course meets during the last seven weeks only, First Class: Oct. 30; Last Class: Dec. 13.
This course will focus on a close reading of Thomas Robert Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population and an examination of some of the reactions to and implications of this work in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Ironically, today, if people read Malthus at all, they read the short first edition, whereas in the nineteenth century most of those who were influenced positively or negatively by Malthus, including, among others, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Harriet Martineau, and John Stuart Mill, read the second edition, or later editions based on the second. We will read both editions and focus on the second, which exerted the most influence on subsequent social and political thought, economics, and biology. Those not familiar with this work may be surprised to find that Malthus framed his arguments within the tradition of natural theology and that, contrary to the popular understanding, he did not predict environmental disaster due to human overpopulation. What he did say, and how people have interpreted it, will be the subject of this course.