Date of Award

2008

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Economics

DOI

10.15760/honors.646

Abstract

Of all the dour portraits lining the august halls of Economics, it is that of Thomas Robert Malthus which seems perhaps to scowl the most grimly. Describing an approach or policy as Malthusian in everyday conversation conjures a host of disturbing images, bare fields and squalling babies chief among them. Such allusions provoke even stronger reactions within the discipline Malthus helped to found, ranging from Keynes's fervent championship to the sneering dismissal of Samuelson. Neither the more famous Smith nor Ricardo nor even Marx can claim to have gained in their lives what the comparatively less prolific Reverend did with one essay: A reputation for cosmic pessimism that has endured for nearly two centuries.

It is a general interest in the methods by which this reputation was shaped and is presently being challenged that motivates this paper's inquiry. In 1998 leading Malthus scholar A.M.C Waterman published "Reappraisal of 'Malthus the economist,' 1933 -97," a review of significant contributions to Mal thus studies in the second half of the 20th century. "Reappraisal" prompted passionate responses from established Malthus scholars Donald Winch, Samuel Hollander, and John Pullen shortly after its publication, effectively shifting the community's focus from assessing Malthus's contributions to economics to assessing the methodological means by which this was to be done - in other words, of shifting the focus from questions of what Mal thus really meant to questions of how economics is really practiced.

This exchange in 1998 was an important moment in a discourse which has for the past 25 years sought to destabilize the accepted view of Mal thus as conservative misanthrope and establish his work as pivotal in the history of economics. The output of Hollander, Pullen, Waterman and Winch combined totals nearly 30 journal articles and books, and it is largely thanks to their efforts that of the classical economists it is Malthus who has undergone the most significant reappraisal in recent years. Though a thorough history of how the accepted view of Mal thus came to be is far beyond the scope of this inquiry, an examination of a selection of contemporary work on Mal thus will prove equally effective in illuminating the ways in which our perceptions of economists - and, consequently, our understandings of economic texts - are shaped. How are modem scholars challenging the traditional view of Malthus, and to what purpose? Where do they situate Malthus with respect to existing literature? To what extent does the practice of history inform the practice of economics, and vice versa? These are the issues which this paper seeks to address.

Hollander, Pullen, Waterman, and Winch may be engaged in the same intellectual project but in approach and methodology they differ sufficiently to invite comparison. The focus of this inquiry will be the diverse ways in which the four scholars work to structure and persuade readers of their arguments - that is, on the various rhetorical devices they employ. An explication and analysis of these devices will provide a framework not only for examining the means by which perceptions of Mal thus are shaped, but for examining the development of the discourse over time, as well. Since an exhaustive survey of the four scholars ' work is not the principle aim of this paper, discussion will be limited to texts central to the development of the discourse and to the individual scholars' overarching arguments. It will be argued that the rhetorical devices employed by Hollander, Pullen, Waterman, and Winch work not only to position Malthus as a cmcial figure in economics, but in ways that support the scholars' respective versions of the history of the discipline.

The paper will comprise four sections devoted to examining the work of Hollander, Pullen, Watetman and Winch individually. After first briefly discussing pertinent biographical information about each scholar, a review ofhis contribution to the discourse will be provided. I will then explicate the argumentative techniques and rhetorical devices that are employed consistently throughout the body of the scholar's contribution, concluding each section with a comparison of the scholars discussed.

Persistent Identifier

https://archives.pdx.edu/ds/psu/25611

Comments

An undergraduate honors thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Science in University Honors and Economics

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