Bernard Mandeville

Bernard Mandeville books and biography

Bernard de Mandeville

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Western Philosophers
18th-century philosophy
(Modern Philosophy)
Name: Bernard de Mandeville
Birth: January 19, 1670 (Rotterdam in the Netherlands)
Death: 1733
School/tradition: Classical economics
Main interests: Political philosophy, ethics, economics
Notable ideas: the unknowing cooperation of individuals, modern free market, division of labour
Influences: William Petty
Influenced: Adam Smith

Bernard de Mandeville (1670 – 1733), was a philosopher, political economist and satirist. Born in the Netherlands, he lived most of his life in England and used English for most of his published works. He was famous (or infamous) for The Fable of the Bees.



He was born in 1670, at or near Rotterdam in the Netherlands, where his father practised as a physician. The exact date of his birth is uncertain, but he was baptised on November 20, 1670.[1] On leaving the Erasmus school at Rotterdam he showed his ability by an Oratio scholastica de medicina (1685), and at Leiden University in 1689 he produced 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. He came to England to learn the language[2], and succeeded so remarkably that many refused to believe he was a foreigner. His father had been banished from Rotterdam in 1690 for involvement in the Costerman tax riots; Bernard himself may well have been involved.[3]

As a physician he was well respected and his literary works paid off very well. His conversational abilities won him the friendship of Lord Macclesfield (chief justice 1710-1718) who introduced him to Joseph Addison, described by Mandeville as "a parson in a tye-wig." He died of influenza on January 21, 1733 at Hackney.

There is no surviving picture of Mandeville and many details of his life are obscure. The name Mandeville suggests a French origin, but his ancestors had lived in the Netherlands since at least the 16th century.[4] There is no known connection between him and the 14th century Sir John Mandeville.

Fable of the Bees

In 1705 he published a longer poem under the title The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn'd Honest (two hundred doggerel couplets). In 1714 it was republished as an integral part of the Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits, consisting of a prose commentary, called Remarks, and an essay, 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. It was vigorously combated by, among others, Bishop Berkeley and William Law, author of The Serious Call, and in 1729 was made the subject of a prosecution for its immoral tendency.

The book was primarily written as a political satire on the state of England in 1705, when the Tories were accusing John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough and the ministry of advocating the Trench 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. 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 offence 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 a mere 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 endeavour 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. This is because it is the vices (i.e., 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.

Private vice, public benefit

Mandeville arrives at a very contemporaneously vile conclusion: vice as a necessary condition for economic prosperity. His viewpoint is more severe when juxtaposed to Adam Smith's. Both Smith and Mandeville believed that individuals’ collective actions bring about a public benefit. However, what sets his philosophy apart from Smith’s is his catalyst to that public benefit. Smith believed in a virtuous self-interest which results in invisible cooperation. For the most part, Smith saw no need for a guide to garner that public benefit. On the other hand, Mandeville believed it was vicious greed which led to invisible cooperation if properly channeled. Mandeville’s qualification of proper channeling further parts his philosophy with Smith’s laissez-faire attitude. Essentially, Mandeville called for politicians to ensure that the passions of man would result in a public benefit. It was his stated belief in the Fable of the Bees that "Private Vices by the dextrous Management of a skilful Politician may be turned into Publick Benefits” (Mandeville, 369).

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."

Among other things, Mandeville argues that the basest and vilest behaviors produce positive economic effects. A libertine, for example, is a vicious character, and yet his spending will employ tailors, servants, perfumers, cooks, and distressed women. These persons, in turn, will employ bakers, carpenters, and the like. Therefore, the rapaciousness and violence of the base passions of the libertine benefit society in general. Similar satirical arguments were made by the Restoration and Augustan satirists.

The Division of Labour

Mandeville was an early describer of the Division of labour, and Adam Smith makes use of some of his examples.[5] Mandeville says:

But if one will wholly apply himself to the making of Bows and Arrows, whilst another provides Food, a third builds Huts, a fourth makes Garments, and a fifth Utensils, they not only become useful to one another, but the Callings and Employments themselves will in the same Number of Years receive much greater Improvements, than if all had been promiscuously follow’d by every one of the Five...
In Watch-making, which is come to a higher degree of Perfection, than it would have been arrived at yet, if the whole had always remain’d the Employment of one Person; and I am persuaded, that even the Plenty we have of Clocks and Watches, as well as the Exactness and Beauty they may be made of, are chiefly owing to the Division that has been made of that Art into many Branches. (The Fable of the Bees, Volume two).


While the author probably had no intention of subverting morality, his views of human nature were certainly cynical and degrading. Another of his works, A Search into the Nature of Society (1723), appended to the later versions of the Fable, also startled the public mind, which his last works, Free Thoughts on Religion (1720) and An Enquiry into the Origin of Honour and the Usefulness of Christianity (1732) did little to reassure. The work 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 Henry Maine's historical inquiries (Ancient Law). He endeavours 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 ironic paradoxes are interesting mainly as a criticism of the "amiable" idealism of Shaftesbury, and in comparison with the serious egoistic systems of Hobbes and Helvtius. 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 can be said to have removed obstacles for the coming utilitarianism.


  • 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 Johnson (Mandeville here protests against 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)
  • The Fable of the Bees (1714)
  • 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 Honour and the Usefulness of Christianity in War (1732).

Other works attributed, wrongly, to him are The World Unmasked (1736) and Zoologia medicinalis hibernica (1744).


  1. ^ http://[|Project Bernard Mandeville]
  2. ^ [1] Britannica Student Encyclopedia
  3. ^ The Literary Encyclopedia
  4. ^ The Literary Encyclopedia
  5. ^ The Wealth Of Nations, Glasgow Edition, footnote to page 27, section I.ii.3
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopdia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • See Hill's Boswell, iii. 291-293; Leslie Stephen's English Thought in the Eighteenth Century; Alexander Bain's Moral Science (593-598); Windel-ia.nd's History of Ethics (Eng. trans. Tufts); JM Robertson, Pioneer Humanists (1907); P Sakmann, Bernard de Mandeville und die Bienenfabel-Controverse (Freiburg, 1897)
  • Mandeville, Bernard. Fable of the Bees, I, p 369, in the appended "A Search into the Nature of Society."

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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