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An Essay on the Principle of Population


contempt. He brands him as the slave of the most miserable and
narrow prejudices; or as the defender of the abuses of civil
society only because he profits by them. He paints him either as
a character who prostitutes his understanding to his interest, or
as one whose powers of mind are not of a size to grasp any thing
great and noble, who cannot see above five yards before him, and
who must therefore be utterly unable to take in the views of the
enlightened benefactor of mankind.
In this unamicable contest the cause of truth cannot but
suer. The really good arguments on each side of the question
are not allowed to have their proper weight. Each pursues his own
theory, little solicitous to correct or improve it by an
attention to what is advanced by his opponents.
The friend of the present order of things condemns all
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political speculations in the gross. He will not even condescend
to examine the grounds from which the perfectibility of society
is inferred. Much less will he give himself the trouble in a fair
and candid manner to attempt an exposition of their fallacy.
The speculative philosopher equally oends against the cause
of truth. With eyes fixed on a happier state of society, the
blessings of which he paints in the most captivating colours, he
allows himself to indulge in the most bitter invectives against
every present establishment, without applying his talents to
consider the best and safest means of removing abuses and without
seeming to be aware of the tremendous obstacles that threaten,
even in theory, to oppose the progress of man towards perfection.
It is an acknowledged truth in philosophy that a just theory
will always be confirmed by experiment. Yet so much friction, and
so many minute circumstances occur in practice, which it is next
to impossible for the most enlarged and penetrating mind to
foresee, that on few sub jects can any theory be pronounced just,
till all the arguments against it have been maturely weighed and
clearly and consistently refuted.
I have read some of the speculations on the perfectibility of
man and of society with great pleas ure. I have been warmed and
delighted wit h the enchanting picture which they hold fort h. I
ardently wish for such happy improvements. But I see great, and,
to my understanding, unconquerable diculties in the way to
them. These diculties it is my present purpose to state,
declaring, at the same time, that so far from exulting in them,
as a cause of triumph over the friends of innovation, nothing
would give me greater pleasure than to see them completely
removed.
The most important argument that I shall adduce is certainly
not new. The principles on whic h it depends have been explained
in part by Hume, and more at large by Dr Adam Smith. It has been
advanced and applied to the present sub ject, though not with its
proper weight, or in the most forcible point of view, by Mr
Wallace, and it may probably have been stated by many writers
that I have never met with. I should certainly therefore not
think of advancing it again, though I mean to place it in a point
of view in some degree dierent from any that I have hitherto
seen, if it had ever been fairly and satisfactorily answered.
The cause of this neglect on the part of the advoc ates for
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