Bernard de Mandeville: The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Public Benefits (Volume One)

(2957 words)
  • E. J. Hundert (University of British Columbia)

Bernard Mandeville's importance rests upon the arguments he developed in The Fable of the Bees (1714, 1723 and 1728), in which he amplified the meaning of the motto appearing on the book's title page: “Private vices, Public benefits”. In his Preface Mandeville declared himself to be a naturalist performing an “anatomy” of man and society which seeks to lay bare the underlying mechanisms that condition human desires. He claimed that longings for power, esteem and sensual pleasure were innate and indelible, motivating everyone to compete for scarce satisfactions. Contemporary moral standards could not coherently be accounted for in terms of the received platitudes of orthodox ethical reasoning, but rather by inspecting the …

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Hundert, E. J.. "The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Public Benefits (Volume One)". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 25 October 2002
[, accessed 30 September 2016.]