Comparing Bentham and Malthusby Rit Nosotro
Compare and contrast the ideas of Thomas Malthus, John Mills and/or Jeremy Bentham.
While the beliefs and ideals of both Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus were considered utilitarian, these two men did not share many common ideas. "On the ground of his general principles, Thomas Robert Malthus may be counted among the utilitarians; but he was a follower of Tucker and Paley rather than of Bentham. He did not share Bentham's estimate of the intellectual factor in conduct, and the exaggeration of this estimate in other thinkers of the time was the indirect cause of his famous work. In fact, the driving principle behind the philosophy of Malthus was opposite from Bentham's. Bentham, as was the custom of the philosophers of his era, was in search of a perfect society, a utopia. Malthus, on the other hand, was determined that such a perfect society could never exist, but that every society was bound to face vice and misery.
Jeremy Bentham was born in 1748 to a London attorney and his wife. At the age of twelve, he was sent to Oxford to follow in his father's footsteps by studying the law. However, instead of practicing law Bentham's interests turned to law reform while he was at college. Because of these interests, he began to devote himself to writing and studying, often spending eight to twelve hours a day writing. Although Bentham wrote a great deal in his lifetime, many of his work were left unpublished until his death. His most well known theoretical work is the Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. In this book Bentham described his philosophy that centered around "the greatest happiness principle" . Bentham is also well remembered for his criticism of Blackstone's popular book Commentaries on the Laws of England. Bentham disagreed with Blackstone on how laws should be evaluated. One of Bentham's more memorable accomplishments was his establishment of University College, London (UCL). Bentham died in 1832, leaving tens of thousands of unpublished manuscripts.
As explained in his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Bentham believed that life, government and morality should be centered around "the greatest happiness principle." He believed that pleasure and pain were the only real motives of human life, and that morals were based on these two concepts. Anything that increased pleasure was morally acceptable, and anything that increased pain was not. In Bentham's words, "nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand, the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne." Because of this belief, Bentham believed that law should be judged based on whether or not they increased general happiness in the population. Bentham was also a strong believer in individualism. He claimed that in every situation a person would put his or her own interests in a higher place than the common interest. As far as government was concerned, Bentham was in favor of liberty, but the liberty that he believed in was slightly different than the normally accepted definition. Bentham believed in liberty as the absence of restraint. He thought that the absence of restraint would increase happiness, and thus make a perfect society. However, Bentham realized that some laws were necessary because of the selfish nature of man. What increased one man's happiness would not necessarily increase another man's happiness. Bentham believed that every society should strive toward a large, wealthy population. His philosophy asserted that increased wealth resulted in increased happiness. However, he realized it was difficult to have a large and wealthy population, because a large population naturally increased the demand for food and money. Bentham believed that it was the job of the government to ensure that no person should suffer needlessly.
Thomas Malthus was born in 1776 to a wealthy family in England. Malthus was educated at home until in 1784 he was accepted to Jesus College, Cambridge. As Malthus developed his philosophy through his education, his beliefs were formed after the earlier writings of William Godwin and Jean Jacques Rousseau. Malthus developed a strong opinion on population versus means of subsistence and expressed that opinion in his most famous work, An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798). His philosophy was immensely popular on its introduction, and became accepted as an orthodox utilitarian tradition. Some however, were offended by Malthus's belief that there would never be a perfect society or golden age. In response to these critics, Malthus published a second edition of the essay in which he "tried to soften some of the harshest conclusions of the first essay." In 1824 Malthus received the honor of being elected as one of the ten royal associates of the Royal Society of Literature. Unlike Bentham, Malthus's essay on population was his only substantial contribution to theological literature during his lifetime. Malthus's philosophy had a great influence on the theories of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, among others.
Thomas Malthus's philosophy on population centers on the fact "that human and other populations will increase until checked by natural limitations, principally to do with food supply." He believed that a perfect society with a large population could never exist because population increases at a faster rate than the means of subsistence. While philosophers before Malthus had stated this belief, Thomas was the first to state it in mathematical terms. He said that population will always increase at a geometrical rate, while food will only increase at an arithmetical rate. Bentham's ideas on population were opposite from Malthus's. Bentham favored a large, wealthy population, while Malthus favored controlling the population. Malthus believed that vice and misery were the only two ways to check the population. Although some people viewed this belief as cruel, Malthus claimed that a population that was too large would result in even more vice and misery, because it would outweigh the means of subsisnence. Unlike Bentham, Malthus believed that humans could not escape poverty, and that it a necessary device to check the population. Malthus's theory that population increases at a geometrical rate and food supply increases at an arithmetical rate has long since been proved false. Today food is produced with a high caliber of technology and it has been proved that population will not increase over food supply.
Although Malthus's theory of population has been proved false, elements of both Malthus and Bentham's ideas can be seen in society today. As mentioned before, Charles Darwin was influenced by Malthus's writings during his development of the theory of evolution. Bentham's idea of the government providing for the needy is accomplished through welfare programs all throughout the world. Although happiness was Bentham's primary goal, he searched for it in all the wrong places. God's truth is the only thing that can make a person truly happy.
1. What was Bentham's most famous literary work?
a. Commentaries on the Laws of England
b. Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
c. An Essay on the Principle of Population
d. The Greatest Happiness Principle
2. What did Bentham believe were the only two motives of human life?
a. Happiness and grief
b. Right and wrong
c. Pain and pleasure
d. Wealth and poverty
3. Which of the following is not true of Malthus's theory on population
a. Population increases at an arithmetical rate.
b. Vice and Misery are the only two ways to check the population
c. Poverty is man's inescapable lot.
d. Population that is unchecked will always exceed the food supply.
4. Why did Malthus revise An Essay on the Principle of Population?
a. Because he discovered that his first essay was inaccurate in some points.
b. Because his editor told him he should.
c. Because his first essay was too hard to understand.
d. Because he wanted to soften the harsh ideas of his first essay.
Ward and Trent, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. "Thomas Robert Malthus; An Essay on the Principle of Population." http://www.bartleby.com/221/0310.html December 27, 2003.
William Sweet. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. "Jeremy Bentham." http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/b/bentham.htm December 28, 2003.
The History of Economic Thought Website. "Jeremy Bentham." http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/bentham.htm December 28, 2003
Nigel Malthus. "The Rev Thomas Robert Malthus." http://homepages.caverock.net.nz/~kh/index.html December 27, 2003.
The Electronic Universe. "Thomas Malthus." http://zebu.uoregon.edu/~js/glossary/malthus.html December 27, 2003.
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