The Malthus-Ricardo Correspondence: Sequential structure, argumentative patterns, and rationality

Journal of Pragmatics 31 (9):1129-1172 (1999)
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Although the controversy between Malthus and Ricardo has long been considered to be an important source for the history of economic thought, it has hardly been the object of a careful study qua controversy, i.e. as a polemical dialogical exchange. We have undertaken to fill this gap, within the framework of a more ambitious project that places controversies at the center of an account of the history of ideas, in science and elsewhere. It is our contention that the dialogical co-text is essential for reconstructing the meaning and the evolution of science. In the present paper we try to substantiate this contention by means of a pragma-rhetorical study of this particular controversy. First, we reconstruct, through an analysis of a chunk of the correspondence, a micro-level of specific moves and countermoves which constitute a sequential structure within which also meta-scientific and meta-controversial considerations play a role. We then move to a macro-level of analysis, looking for recurrent patterns of argumentation. Finally, we draw epistemological conclusions on the nature of rationality and progress as manifested in actual scientific controversies.
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