An Essay on the Principle of Population | Study Guide

Thomas Robert Malthus

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An Essay on the Principle of Population | Key Figure Analysis

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Thomas Robert Malthus

Malthus published his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, catapulting him to a controversial fame among British intellectuals. It is believed the book was written as a reaction to the views of Malthus's father, who, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was optimistic about the future of civilization. Malthus's outlook in the Essay is grim, reflecting what he believed to be an inevitable population crisis.

William Godwin

Godwin is Malthus's main rhetorical opponent throughout the Essay on Population. Notable for his anarchism and religious skepticism, Godwin predicted a future in which humankind would grow beyond the need for civil laws. Without the restraint of government, Godwin felt, humanity might go on perfecting itself forever. Malthus rejects this view as out of touch with reality.

Nicolas de Caritat

De Caritat was a French nobleman who wrote on philosophy, mathematics, and—fatefully—politics. Initially a supporter of the French Revolution, he was later declared a traitor and died under mysterious circumstances in 1794. Malthus respects de Caritat's intellectual integrity but disagrees with much of what he says about the "perfectibility" of humankind.

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