Talk:The dismal science

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Expansion request[edit]

According to Thomas Malthus:

the phrase was actually coined by the historian Thomas Carlyle in reference to an anti-slavery essay written by John Stuart Mill.

Is this true, and if so, which essay? -- Beland 03:21, 7 May 2006 (UTC)

It's not true. Mill wrote a response to Carlyle's essay, not the other way round. I'll alter the Malthus page. Paul B 11:11, 7 May 2006 (UTC)

eh... shouldn't the Expansion Request be part of the article itself? I'm too much of a newbie to be sure, but it seems pretty weird to request an expanded talk page...? --Oolong 11:06, 13 June 2006 (UTC)

Origin of the quote[edit] I thought Carlyle first anointed economics the “dismal science” because liberal economists insisted that American slaves be free to sell their labour in the marketplace like everyone else. It was a debate on labour economics if I'm not wrong. Kendirangu 11:59, 20 December 2006 (UTC)

The use of "another" in the first sentence is somewhat jarring. It feels like we've entered into the middle of a discussion -- or this paragraph has been pulled up from a later position.

No, it just means it's another name for economics - i.e. an alternative name. It may be jarring because of the subclause inserted between "another" and "name". Paul B 14:26, 23 January 2007 (UTC)


Undoing a revert. The two parties need to discuss what is intended, and I believe the use is proper. U am, however, not a Carlysle expert. So, the reverted might be correct.Julzes (talk) 15:07, 2 July 2011 (UTC)

Just a comment[edit]

I have to say, this is one of the least intelligible articles I've ever read on wikipedia. Granted I know little about the subject at hand, but even then, I should be able to understand what it is we're talking about here. Context please, don't assume everybody is familiar with the subject matter... this is ridiculous. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:51, 14 December 2011 (UTC)

Please explain what exactly the problem is. Paul B (talk) 13:12, 14 December 2011 (UTC)
I must admit I had to re-read the article a few times to gather the information I needed. Maybe modify the lead as follows:
"The Dismal Science" is the derogatory nickname that was given to Economics in the 19th century by the Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle. He found, much to his dismay, that the science did not support his political position favouring the reintroduction slavery.
Fawby (talk) 17:41, 3 August 2016 (UTC)
The lead paragraph should not be changed to that, because whatever Carlyle originally meant in coining the phrase, it has been broadly understood (both in the 19th century and today) in a rather different context (see next section of this page below, and Humphry House quote on article)... AnonMoos (talk) 01:15, 4 August 2016 (UTC)
P.S. it may be confusing that the "false etymology" section exposes a falsehood about Carlyle's original intended meaning, but nevertheless the meaning that's "false" etymologically is in fact the most widespread in actual usage in the 19th and subsequent centuries... AnonMoos (talk) 01:23, 4 August 2016 (UTC)


OK, I tried to replace the choppy small subsections near the top of the article with more of a textual narrative flow. The slavery connection is a semi-strange historical quirk, but has nothing to do with how the phrase is commonly used today, and so should not be elevated to the lead paragraph. AnonMoos (talk) 10:43, 4 August 2016 (UTC)

My misunderstanding, whilst slightly embarrassing, is quite telling about how difficult the page is/was to read. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Fawby (talkcontribs) 22:17, 4 August 2016 (UTC)

Beyond Carlyle[edit]

Whatever Carlyle originally meant, the phrase gained traction because of the doctrines of Victorian "political economy", according to which it was often claimed to be uneconomical and inefficient to use government money to alleviate lower-class misery (though it was of course perfectly proper to use government funds to protect the property of the upper classes). Variations and developments on such views included the idea that all or almost all forms of charity or "relief" had a "pauperizing" effect of creating dependency, the maxim that the condition of the best-off man on "relief" always had to be worse than the condition of the worst-off employed man, or otherwise workers would resign their jobs en masse to live on handouts, strict moralistic and other criteria separating the "deserving" and "undeserving poor", etc. etc. ad nauseam. In the eyes of some, political economy was only separated by a thin line from outright misanthropy (such as Ebenezer Scrooge's aphorisms). The influence of such political economy ideas had their effect in inhibiting the British from organizing truly timely and large-scale effective aid to meet the needs created by the great Irish famine[1]... AnonMoos (talk) 07:24, 24 March 2014 (UTC)

Here is a source that might be used for that:
--Kmhkmh (talk) 11:53, 10 October 2014 (UTC)
That seems to support the idea that the phrase "Dismal science" is something idiosyncratic casually tossed off by Carlyle. I'm adding a fortuitously-encountered quote which gives a much clearer idea what "the dismal science" meant to a lot of people in the mid-19th century. AnonMoos (talk) 11:18, 11 March 2015 (UTC)

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