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Collective and Individual Rationality: Robert Malthus's Heterodox Theodicy


  • Andy Denis

    (Department of Economics, The City University London, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, LSE)


In previous research, investigating economists’ conceptions of the relationship between micro-level self-seeking behaviour and the desirability of macro-level outcomes, I identified two rhetorical strategies of laissez-faire, characterised by reductionism, and by holism plus an invisible-hand mechanism. The paper suggests that Malthus switches from the latter to the former. Opposing literary Jacobins by means of the principle of population, he is drawn far from Smith’s providentialism. In 1798 he presents a novel theodicy to reconcile his theory with providentialism, but by 1803 abandons this in favour of a reductionist argument that unaided individual selfinterest can guide us to socially desirable outcomes.

Suggested Citation

  • Andy Denis, 2006. "Collective and Individual Rationality: Robert Malthus's Heterodox Theodicy," History of Economic Ideas, Fabrizio Serra Editore, Pisa - Roma, vol. 14(2), pages 9-31.
  • Handle: RePEc:hid:journl:v:14:y:2006:2:1:p:9-31

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    Cited by:

    1. Denis, A., 2010. "A century of methodological individualism part 2: Mises and Hayek," Working Papers 10/03, Department of Economics, City University London.
    2. Denis, A., 2010. "A century of methodological individualism part 1: Schumpeter and Menger," Working Papers 10/02, Department of Economics, City University London.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)
    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • B41 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Economic Methodology


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