Why Mandeville Matters

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“It is a mark of great philosophers that they cannot be rebutted simply by the discovery of errors, however egregious, in the theories they espouse” (Welchman, 57). A figure from the past, no matter how major was, if it is recalled, only in footnotes, should have been at the center of discussion, or rebutted by different opponents at his time. This was also the story of Bernard Mandeville. He was the author who became more famous from the critics about his book “The fable of the Bees,” than from his overall achievement as a writer. His book went through a process of various editions and was published under different names, until it was finally titled “The fable of the Bees.” The introduction of the book consists of an allegory that describes a hive, similar to a real state which is shaped by the existence of different attitudes such as ambition, dishonesty, selfishness and pride which Mandeville calls vices. According to Laurence Dickey in the essay “Pride, hypocrisy and civility in Mandeville's social and historical theory,” the purpose of “The fable of the Bees” was to bring back the idea of the moralists and French Jansenists about self-love. By doing this Mandeville would be able to explain the theory that development comes as a result of the impact that selfish actions (without any constrain from moral forces) have on the whole society and economy. His idea caused an immediate and strong reaction among the contemporary moralists of the time. Moreover, the Grand Jury accused Mandeville for public nuisance since the book he wrote emphasized the useful and positive effect of vice in the society. All his enemies and other people who felt threatened by Mandeville’s ideas accused him of writing against the institutions and morality of the society. As Philip Harth put it: “If they recognized any personal reflections in his satire touching their own lives, they managed to disguise their resentment in the manner in which Mandeville complained.” In fact, there were...
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