Maarten Maartensz

 Philosophy - Philosophers - Mandeville

Fable of the Bees

















Welcome to my Mandeville pages!

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This part of my site is given to one of the few philosophers that stem from Holland of which I am proud: Bernard Mandeville, who was born in Rotterdam, studied in Leiden, and lived most of his life as a doctor of medicine in London.

He lived in the 18th Century, and wrote a beautifully clear and satiric English. He got famous - indeed so infamous that his contemporaries restyled is name as "Man-devil" - with the Fable of the Bees, which gives a plausible if satirical explanation for social life, social welfare, and social progress: Most of it is - in real fact - firmly based on what have been called vices from times immemorial, in all books of religion.

The Fable of the Bees was first published as a poem, and was later, in several editions adorned with a very satirical explanation and comments by Mandeville.

Mandeville himself was "answered" by most of his famous contemporaries, but not very well, except for the amazing Bishop Butler.

I believe that Mandeville saw deep into the real causes of social wealth and welfare, and into the real hearts and desires of most men and women - for which reason he - and others like him, such as Juvenal, Lucian, Swift and Orwell - has not at all been popular with ordinary people.

The edition at present on this site is that of Jack Lynch, who is an Associate Professor of English who also has interesting things to say on style and writing. At present all I have available is the poem "The Fable of the Bees", and not Mandeville's accompanying text.

It may interest some that John Maynard Keynes quotes Mandeville with considerable approval in his "The General Theory of Employment and Money" as one of his own precursors, and spends some 4 pages of text and quotation on him (in chapter 23, pages 359-362 in my edition). Here is the start of Keynes' discussion:

But it was by Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees that Barbon's opinion [Covetousness is a Vice, prejudicial both to Man and Trade] was mainly popularised, a book convicted as a nuisance by the grand jury of Middlesex in 1723, which stands out in the history of the moral sciences for its scandalous reputation. Only one man is recorded as having spoken a good word for it, namely Dr. Johnson, who declared that it did not puzzle him, but "opened his eyes into real life very much"" (p. 359)

I wish you pleasurable and instructive reading and computing!

last update: 5-Jul-2012