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Bernard de Mandeville

Born: Nov-1670
Birthplace: Dordrecht, Netherlands
Died: 21-Jan-1733
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Author

Nationality: England
Executive summary: The Fable of the Bees

Dutch-English philosopher and satirist, born at Dordrecht, where his father practiced as a physician. On leaving the Erasmus school at Rotterdam he gave proof of his ability by an Oratio scholastica de medicina (1685), and at Leiden University in 1689 he maintained a thesis De brutorum operationibus, in which he advocated the Cartesian theory of automatism among animals. In 1691 he took his medical degree, pronouncing an "inaugural disputation", De chylosi vitiata. Afterwards he came to England "to learn the language", and succeeded so remarkably that many refused to believe he was a foreigner. As a physician he seems to have done little, and lived poorly on a pension given him by some Dutch merchants and money which he earned from distillers for advocating the use of spirits. His conversational abilities won him the friendship of Lord Macclesfield (chief justice 1710-18) who introduced him to Joseph Addison, described by Mandeville as "a parson in a tye-wig." He died in January (19th or 21st 1733/4 at Hackney.

The work by which he is known is the Fable of the Bees, published first in 1705 under the title of The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn'd Honest (two hundred doggerel couplets). In 1714 it was republished anonymously with Remarks and An Enquiry into the Origin of Moral Virtue. In 1723 a later edition appeared, including An Essay on Charity and Charity Schools, and A Search into the Nature of Society. The book was primarily written as a political satire on the state of England in 1705, when the Tories were accusing Marlborough and the ministry of advocating the French War for personal reasons. The edition of 1723 was presented as a nuisance by the Grand Jury of Middlesex, was denounced in the London Journal by "Theophilus Philo-Britannus", and attacked by many writers, notably by Archibald Campbell (1691-1756) in his Aretelogia (published as his own by Alexander Innes in 1728; afterwards by Campbell, under his own name, in 1733, as Enquiry into the Original of Moral Virtue). The Fable was reprinted in 1729, a ninth edition appeared in 1755, and it has often been reprinted in more recent times. George Berkeley attacked it in the second dialogue of the Alciphron (1732) and John Brown criticized him in his Essay upon Shaftesbury's Characteristics (1751).

Mandeville's philosophy gave great offense at the time, and has always been stigmatized as false, cynical and degrading. His main thesis is that the actions of men cannot be divided into lower and higher. The higher life of man is merely a fiction introduced by philosophers and rulers to simplify government and the relations of society. In fact, virtue (which he defined as "every performance by which man, contrary to the impulse of nature, should endeavor the benefit of others, or the conquest of his own passions, out of a rational ambition of being good") is actually detrimental to the state in its commercial and intellectual progress, for it is the vices (the self-regarding actions of men) which alone, by means of inventions and the circulation of capital in connection with luxurious living, stimulate society into action and progress. In the Fable he shows a society possessed of all the virtues "blest with content and honesty", falling into apathy and utterly paralyzed. The absence of self-love (cf. Hobbes) is the death of progress. The so-called higher virtues are mere hypocrisy, and arise from the selfish desire to be superior to the brutes. "The moral virtues are the political offspring which flattery begot upon pride." Similarly he arrives at the great paradox that "private vices are public benefits." But his best work and that in which he approximates most nearly to modern views is his account of the origin of society. His a priori theories should be compared with Maine's historical inquiries in Ancient Law. He endeavors to show that all social laws are the crystallized results of selfish aggrandizement and protective alliances among the weak. Denying any form of moral sense or conscience, he regards all the social virtues as evolved from the instinct for self-preservation, the give-and-take arrangements between the partners in a defensive and offensive alliance, and the feelings of pride and vanity artificially fed by politicians, as an antidote to dissension and chaos. Mandeville's ironical paradoxes are interesting mainly as a criticism of the "amiable" idealism of Shaftesbury, and in comparison with the serious egoistic systems of Hobbes and Helvetius. It is mere prejudice to deny that Mandeville had considerable philosophic insight; at the same time he was mainly negative or critical, and, as he himself said, he was writing for "the entertainment of people of knowledge and education." He may be said to have cleared the ground for the coming utilitarianism.

Works. Typhon: a Burlesque Poem (1704); Aesop Dress'd, or a Collection of Fables writ in Familiar Verse (1704); The Planter's Charity (1704); The Virgin Unmasked (1709, 1724, 1731, 1742), a work in which the coarser side of his nature is prominent; Treatise of the Hypochondriack and Hysterick Passions (1711, 1715, 1730) admired by Samuel Johnson (Mandeville here protests against merely speculative therapeutics, and advances fanciful theories of his own about animal spirits in connection with "stomachic ferment"; he shows a knowledge of Locke's methods, and an admiration for Sydenham); Free Thoughts on Religion (1720); A Modest Defence of Publick Stews (1724); An Enquiry into the Causes of the Frequent Executions at Tyburn (1725); The Origin of Honor and the Usefulness of Christianity in War (1732). Other works attributed, wrongly, to him are A Conference about Whoring (1725); The World Unmasked (1736) and Zoologia medicinalis hibernica (1744).

    Medical School: University of Leiden (1691)



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