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Thomas Robert Malthus
(13 Feb 1766 - 23 Dec 1834)

English economist and demographer who published his theories, an early systematic analysis of human society, in An Essay on the Principle of Population. He quantified the rates of increase of population versus food supply, and the consequences.


Thomas Robert Malthus
“Nature has scattered the seeds of life”

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Thomas Robert Malthus quote Nature has scattered the seeds of life
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“Through the animal and vegetable kingdoms, Nature has scattered the seeds of life abroad with the most profuse and liberal hand; but has been comparatively sparing in the room and the nourishment necessary to rear them. ”
— Thomas Robert Malthus
From An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)

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Thomas Malthus first published his famous essay in 1798, in a nineteen chapter book titled An Essay on the Principle of Population.

Chapter I began with Malthus stating the question he wanted address in his essay. Toward the end of the chapter, he gives his most well-known point: that a matching increase in necessary food supply will at some point not be able to keep up with continuing population growth.

“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.”

After stating that as a mathematical certainty, Malthus reflects on the necessity of an “operating check on population.” He shortly continues on the role of Nature, ending the chapter by writing:

[p.14] Through the animal and vegetable kingdoms, nature has scattered the seeds [p.15] of life abroad with the most profuse and liberal hand. She has been comparatively sparing in the room, and the nourishment necessary to rear them. The germs of existence contained in this spot of earth, with ample food, and ample room to expand in, would fill millions of worlds in the course of a few thousand years. Necessity, that imperious all pervading law of nature, restrains them within the prescribed bounds. The race of plants and the race of animals shrink under this great restrictive law. And the race of man cannot, by any efforts of reason, escape from it. Among plants and animals its effects are waste of seed, sickness, and premature death. Among mankind, misery and vice. The former, misery, is an absolutely necessary consequence of it. Vice is a highly probable consequence, and we therefore see it [p.16] abundantly prevail; but it ought not, perhaps, to be called an absolutely necessary consequence. The ordeal of virtue is to resist all temptation to evil.

This natural inequality of the two powers of population, and of production in the earth, and that great law of our nature which must constantly keep their effects equal, form the great difficulty that to me appears insurmountable in the way to the perfectibility of society. All other arguments are of slight and subordinate consideration in comparison of this. I see no way by which man can escape from the weight of this law which pervades all animated nature. No fancied equality, no agrarian regulations in their utmost extent, could remove the pressure of it even for a single century. And it appears, therefore, to be decisive against the possible existence of [p.17] a society, all the members of which, should live in ease, happiness, and comparative leisure; and feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for themselves and families.

Consequently, if the premises are just, the argument is conclusive against the perfectibility of the mass of mankind.

I have thus sketched the general outline of the argument, but I will examine it more particularly; and I think it will be found that experience, the true source and foundation of all knowledge, invariably confirms its truth.”


In An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), 14-17. (source)

Thomas Robert Malthus quote The prodigious waste of human life
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See also:
  • Science Quotes by Thomas Robert Malthus.
  • 13 Feb - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Malthus's birth.
  • Thomas Robert Malthus - context of quote “Famine … the most dreadful resource of nature.” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Robert Malthus - context of quote “Famine … the most dreadful resource of nature.” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Thomas Robert Malthus - context of quote “Food is necessary to…existence ” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Robert Malthus - context of quote “Food is necessary to…existence ” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Thomas Robert Malthus - context of quote “Population…increases in a geometrical ratio” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Robert Malthus - context of quote “Population…increases in a geometrical ratio” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Thomas Robert Malthus - context of quote “Nature has scattered the seeds of life” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Robert Malthus - context of quote “The prodigious waste of human life” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Thomas Robert Malthus - context of quote “The prodigious waste of human life” - Large image (800 x 400 px)

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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Quotations about:Atomic  BombBiologyChemistryDeforestationEngineeringAnatomyAstronomyBacteriaBiochemistryBotanyConservationDinosaurEnvironmentFractalGeneticsGeologyHistory of ScienceInventionJupiterKnowledgeLoveMathematicsMeasurementMedicineNatural ResourceOrganic ChemistryPhysicsPhysicianQuantum TheoryResearchScience and ArtTeacherTechnologyUniverseVolcanoVirusWind PowerWomen ScientistsX-RaysYouthZoology  ... (more topics)


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