The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Buckle, Henry Thomas (1821–1862)

  • F. Y. Edgeworth
Reference work entry


Buckle led a student’s recluse life, devoted to the great historic work which he left unfinished on his death in his 41st year (1862). In the introduction to this work, the principle that human actions obey laws verifiable by statistics, was, as Mill says (Logic, bk. vi, chapter xi, § 1), ‘most clearly and triumphantly brought out’ by Buckle. Mill does not however agree in the opinion ‘that the moral qualities of mankind are little capable of being improved,’ and conduce little [to] the progress of society (ibid., § 2). Dr. Venn has protested more strongly against Buckle’s fatalistic interpretation of statistics (Logic of Chance, 2nd edn, pp. 235–241). An erroneous impression of the futility of human effort is conveyed by such statements as ‘suicide is merely a product of the general condition of society, and the individual felon only carries into effect what is a necessary consequence of preceding circumstances’ (Venn, Logic of Chance, chapter xviii, § 14; Buckle, History of Civilisation, vol. i, chapter i). The same disposition to underrate the force of human will appears in Buckle’s theories as to the influence of physical conditions on wages and population: ‘There is a strong and constant tendency in hot countries for wages to be low, in cold countries for them to be high. The evil condition of Ireland was the natural result of cheap and abundant food’ (History of Civilisation, chapter ii). He here maintains that ‘potato philosophy of wages’, which Walker stigmatized (Political Economy, bk. v, chapter iii). Buckle’s economical reflections are indeed not always sound, but they bear the impress of originality, enhanced by copious learning and recondite references. His account of the discoveries made by political economists is masterly (chapter iv). The remarks on the leading economists, in particular Adam Smith and Hume, are instructive, even when disputable. The description of Adam Smith’s method as deductive, is a half-truth characteristic of Buckle.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. Y. Edgeworth
    • 1
  1. 1.