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An Essay on the Principle of Population


the perfectibility of mankind is not easily accounted for. I
cannot doubt the talents of such men as Godwin and Condorcet. I
am unwilling to doubt their candour. To my understanding, and
probably to that of most others, the diculty appears
insurmountable. Yet these men of acknowledged ability and
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penetration scarcely deign to notice it, and hold on their course
in such speculations wit h unabated ardour and undiminished
confidence. I have certainly no right to say that they purposely
shut their eyes to such arguments. I ought rather to doubt the
validity of them, when neglected by such men, however forcibly
their truth may strike my own mind. Yet in this respect it must
be acknowledged that we are all of us too prone to err. If I saw
a glass of wine repeatedly presented to a man, and he t ook no
notice of it, I should be apt to think that he was blind or
uncivil. A juster philosophy might teach me rather to think that
my eyes deceived me and that the oer was not really what I
conceived it to be.
In entering upon the argument I must premise that I put out
of the question, at present, all mere conjectures, that is, all
suppositions, the probable realization of which cannot be
inferred upon any just philosophical grounds. A writer may tell
me that he thinks man will ultimately become an ostrich. I cannot
properly contradict him. But before he can expect to bring any
reasonable person over to his opinion, he ought to shew that the
necks of mankind have been gradually elongating, that the lips
have grown harder and more prominent, that the legs and feet are
daily altering their shape, and that the hair is beginning to
change into stubs of feathers. And till the probability of so
wonderful a conversion can be shewn, it is surely lost time and
lost eloquence to expatiate on the happiness of man in such a
state; to describe his powers, both of running and flying, to
paint him in a condition where all narrow luxuries would be
contemned, where he would be employ ed only in collecting the
necessaries of life, and where, consequently, each man’s share of
labour would be light, and his portion of leisure ample.
I think I may fairly make two postulata.
First, That food is necessary to the existence of man.
Secondly, That the passion bet ween the sexes is necessary and
will remain nearly in its present state.
These two laws, ever since we have had any knowledge of
mankind, appear to have been fixed laws of our nature, and, as we
have not hitherto seen any alteration in them, we have no right
to conclude that they will ever cease to be what they now are,
without an immediate act of power in that Being who first
arranged the system of the unive rse, and for the advantage of his
creatures, still executes, according to fixed laws, all its
various operations.
I do not know that any writer has supposed that on this earth
man will ultimat ely be able to live without food. But Mr Godwin
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has conjectured that the passion between the sexes may in time be
extinguished. As, however, he calls this part of his work a
deviation int o the land of conjecture, I will not dwell longer
upon it at present than to say that the best arguments for the
perfectibility of man are drawn from a contemplation of the great
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