WHEN first issued in 1714 the Fable, despite its two editions that year, attracted little notice.1 Another edition was not called for until 1723, and then, possibly, only because Mandeville had doubled the bulk of his book and wished publicity for the new matter. Included in that new matter, however, was an attack on a vested interest — the charity-schools. The work now at once attracted attention. The newspapers focused their batteries on it, and within a few months whole books began to be aimed at it. At the same time the public commenced to exhaust an edition a year. Then it went into foreign editions.2 Meanwhile, other books by Mandeville were having frequent printings in England and, translated, on the Continent.3 His works, moreover, must have been made familiar to thousands who never saw the books by the reviews (often of great length) which appeared of them in periodicals such as the Bibliothèque Britannique and the Histoire des Ouvrages des Savans,4 in theological bibliographies like those of Masch, Lilienthal, and Trinius, and in encyclopaedias like Chaufepié’s and Birch’s General Dictionary. The many attacks, also, on the Fable not only reflected the celebrity of the book, but diffused this fame still further — a fame often commented on by contemporaries.1 Here is a partial list of some of the better-known men who at some time gave him specific and often lengthy attention: John Dennis, William Law, Reimarus, Hume, Berkeley, Hutcheson, Godwin, Holberg, John Brown, Fielding, Gibbon, Diderot, Holbach, Rousseau, Malthus, James Mill, Mackintosh, Kant, Adam Smith, Warburton, John Wesley, Herder, Montesquieu, Hazlitt, and Bentham.1 Some of these, like Hazlitt, referred to him repeatedly, and some wrote whole books on him. William Law devoted a volume to him; so did John Dennis; Francis Hutcheson, no unimportant figure in the history of English thought, wrote two books against him; while Berkeley apportioned him two dialogues, and Adam Smith twice wrote at length about his thought.
Nor was this vogue merely academic. The Fable of the Bees made a public scandal. Mandeville, with his teaching of the usefulness of vice, inherited the office of Lord High Bogy-man, which Hobbes had held in the preceding century. The Fable was twice presented by the Grand Jury as a public nuisance; minister and bishop alike denounced it from the pulpit.2 The book, indeed, aroused positive consternation, ranging from the indignation of Bishop Berkeley3 to the horrified amazement of John Wesley,4 who protested that not even Voltaire could have said so much for wickedness. In France, the Fable was actually ordered to be burned by the common hangman.5
It would, in fact, be difficult to overrate the intensity and extent of Mandeville’s eighteenth-century fame. A letter of Wesley’s,1 in 1750, indicates that the Fable was current in Ireland. In France, in 1765, we find Diderot evidencing that the book was a familiar subject of conversation.2 In 1768 the friend of Laurence Sterne, John Hall-Stevenson, thought a good title for one of his pieces would be ‘The New Fable of the Bees’. In Germany, in 1788, when Kant made his sixfold classification of ethical systems, he chose Mandeville’s name as that by which to identify one of the six types.3 And in America the author of the first American comedy — a play meant for popular consumption4 — referred to Mandeville as if his theories were as well known to the audience as the latest proclamation of General Washington.
The enormous vogue of the book should be borne in mind during the discussion of its influence; for in the light of this vogue points of relationship between the Fable and subsequent developments take on fuller significance, and the manner in which future events followed the trend foreshadowed by the book becomes more closely associated with the influence of the work.5
1 I know no reference to it earlier than 1723.
2 See above, i. xxxvi-xxxvii.
3 See above, i. xxxi-xxxii.
4 For instance, the Bibliothèque Angloise for 1725 gave the Fable 28 pages, and Bluet’s reply to the Fable the same amount of space; the Bibliothèque Raisonnée for 1729 reviewed the Fable in 43 pages; the Bibliothéque Britannique in 1733 gave 51 pages to Mandeville’s Origin of Honour; Maendelyke Uittreksels for 1723 devoted 71 pages to the Free Thoughts, and the Mémoires de Trévoux (1740) allotted the Fable over a hundred pages. Other similar references are noted below, vol. 2, last appendix.
1 For instance, ‘La Pièce . . . fait grand bruit en Angleterre’ (Bibliothèque Angloise for 1725, xiii. 99); ‘Avide lectum est in Anglia et non sine plausu receptum’ (Reimarus, Programma quo Fabulam de Apibus examinat, 1726 [cited from Sakmann, Bernard de Mandeville und die Bienenfabel-Controverse, p. 29]); ‘The Fable . . . a Book that has made so much Noise’ (Present State of the Republick of Letters for 1728, ii. 462); ‘Ce livre a fait beaucoup de bruit en Angleterre’ (Bibliothèque Raisonnée for 1729, iii. 404); ‘ . . . la fameuse Fable des Abeilles . . .’ (Le Journal Littéraire for 1734, xxii. 72); ‘ . . . la famosa Favola delle Api . . . (Novella della Republica delle Lettere for 1735, p. 357); ‘ . . . a celebrated Author . . .’ (Henry Coventry, Philemon to Hydaspes, ed. 1737, p. 96); ‘La Fables des Abeillesa fait tant de bruit en Angleterre . . .’ (preface to French version of Fable, ed. 1740, i. i); ‘Un Livre qui a fait tant de bruit en Angleterre’ (Mémoires pour l’Histoire des Sciences & des Beaux-Arts [Mémoires de Trévoux] for 1740, p. 981); ‘Nicht nur die Feinde der christlichen Religion, sondern auch viele Christen zählen ihn unter die recht grossen Geister’ (J. F. Jakobi, Betrachtungen über die weisen Absichten Gottes, 1749 [cited from Sakmann, Bernard de Mandeville, p. 29]); ‘ . . . Autore . . . quello . . . tanto noto, quanto empio della fable des abeilles’ (Memorie per servire all’ Istoria Letteraria for July 1753, ii. 18); ‘ . . . célébre Ecrivain . . .’ (Chaufepié, Nouveau Dictionnaire, ed. 1753, art. ‘Mandeville’); ‘ . . . le fameux docteur Mandeville . . .’ (Le Journal Britannique, ed. Maty, for 1755, xvii. 401); ‘ . . . a celebrated book . . .’ (John Wesley, Journal, ed. Curnock, 1909–16, iv. 157); ‘Such is the system of Dr. Mandeville, which once made so much noise in the world . . .’ (Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. 1759, p. 486); ‘La fameuse fable des abeilles . . . fit un grand bruit en Angleterre’ (Voltaire, Œuvres Complètes, ed. Moland, 1877–85, xvii. 29); ‘ . . . das berühmte Gedicht The Fable of the Bees . . .’ (preface to German version of Fable, trans. Ascher, 1818, p. iii).
1 See the last appendix for a fuller list, and the index to commentary under the names of the authors listed above for their references to Mandeville.
2 See below, vol. 2, last appendix.
3 See below, ii. 427, under Berkeley.
4 See below, ii. 433, under Wesley.
5 G. Peignot, Dictionnaire . . . des Principaux Livres Condamnés au Feu (1806) i. 282.
1 Cited in Abbey’s English Church and Its Bishops (1887) i. 32.
2 Œvres, ed. Assézat, x. 299.
3 Kant, Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin, 1900–) v. 40, in Kritik der praktischen Vernunft.
4 Royall Tyler’s The Contrast (1787) 111. ii.
5 To judge from the references given below, ii. 419 sqq.,
the vogue of the Fable in England was greatest from 1723 to about 1755. From then until about 1835 it retained
its celebrity, but had apparently ceased to be an active sensation. From 1755 the Fable was published only at
Edinburgh. In France, the main vogue of the Fable was from 1725 to about 1765. The Free Thoughts— to
judge by the issues of the translations and by the references to it — had currency in France between 1722 and 1740. In
Germany, the vogue of the Fable seems to have been later — the first translation being in 1761 and the next in
1818. German interest in the Free Thoughts was considerable from 1723 to 1730.
In England, interest in the Fable was largely concerning its moral and psychological aspects; in France this was also true. The French, too, showed a specific interest in Mandeville’s defence of luxury, which, although it awoke attention also in England, did so there to a greater extent because of its moral implications. French concern with the defence of luxury is partly explained by the fact that this was bound up with the evaluation of primitive society which had attracted French speculation from the sixteenth century to Rousseau.
How was it that a work so celebrated and influential as the Fable, and possessed of such extraordinary literary merit, should have passed into the eclipse which it has suffered? In the first place, because Mandeville’s opinions in many cases became familiar, and the public studied them in the form in which they prevailed — in Adam Smith, in Helvétius, in Bentham. In the second place, Mandeville’s fame had been a succès de scandale. Generations had been trained to think of him as a sort of philosophical antichrist, and scandal was the normal association with the Fable. After a while the scandal became stale. When that happened, Mandeville’s renown passed, for, at that date, in the public mind, nothing impelling to interest besides the now dead scandal was sufficiently associated with Mandeville to preserve him. A succès de scandale is never permanent. Sooner or later, if the author is to live, his fame must be built afresh on other grounds.
We shall be occupied here with Mandeville’s effect in three fields: literature, ethics, and economics.
His literary influence was slight. The Fable had no direct imitators. Its influence was limited to the offering of titbits for amalgamation or paraphrase by other writers. Among these were Pope, Johnson, Adam Smith, and Voltaire. Pope paraphrased the Fable both in the Moral Essays and in the Essay on Man.1 The manuscript of the latter, it should be noted, had instead of the present line ii. 240 this direct paraphrase of the sub-title of the Fable of the Bees:
And public good extracts from private vice.1
— Dr. Johnson, who said that Mandeville opened his views into real life very much,2 and whose economic theories were largely borrowed from Mandeville,3 limited his literary indebtedness to a passage in one of his Idlers (no. 34), which seems to be a paraphrase of a witty portion of the Fable (i. 106),4 and to some able discussions with Boswell about the book. — Adam Smith’s literary obligation extended to at least one famous passage, but this matter will be considered later as incidental to Smith’s debt to Mandeville in the field of economics. — The literary borrowings of Voltaire, whose considerable general indebtedness will also be touched on later, consisted in the paraphrase in French verse of several pages of the Fable (i. 176–80), Voltaire’s poem being called Le Marseillois et le Lion (Œuvres, ed. Moland, 1877–85, x. 140–8); and of passages in Le Mondain and the Defense du Mondain, and in the Observations sur MM. Jean Lass, Melon et Dutot; sur le Commerce, which have parallels in the Fable.1
All this, however, constitutes an unimportant phase of Mandeville’s influence. His great effect was on ethics and economics.
1 According to the Elwin and Courthope edition the following passages were derived from Mandeville: Moral Essays iii. 13–14 and 25–6; Essay on Man ii. 129–30, 157–8, 193–4, and iv. 220. That the Essay on Man ii. 129–30, 157–8, and iv. 220 were derived from Mandeville, however, is doubtful; the other lines from the Essay are more probably Mandevillian; those from the Moral Essays seem to derive definitely from the Fable. I believe that further study would show additlonal indebtedness of Pope to Mandeville.
1 See Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, ii. 394, n. 7.
2 Boswell, Life, ed. Hill, iii. 292.
3 See below, i. cxxxviii, n. 2.
4 Johnson develops in a manner much like Mandeville’s the theme that ‘the qualities requisite to conversation are very exactly represented by a bowl of punch’, the ingredients of which taken separately are either unpleasant or insipid, but together are agreeable. Boswell (Life, ed. Hill, i. 334) suggests that Johnson derived the passage from Thomas Blacklock’s On Punch: an Epigram (Blacklock, Poems on Several Occasions, ed. 1754, p. 179):
Life is a bumper fill’d by fate . . .
Where strong, insipid, sharp and sweet,
Each other duly temp’ring, meet . . . .
What harm in drinking can there be,
Since Punch and life so well agree?
But it seems more likely that Johnson was thinking of the Fable, which he knew thoroughly (see below, i. cxxxviii, n. 2), and which bears a closer resemblance to the passage in the Idler than does Blacklock’s epigram. — It is, of course, possible that Blacklock also was indebted to Mandeville.
To understand the effect which Mandeville exercised on ethical theory, certain aspects of his creed should be recalled. In the first place, his conception of virtue proclaimed that no action was virtuous if inspired by selfish emotion; and this assumption, since Mandeville considered all natural emotion fundamentally selfish, implied the ascetic position that no action was virtuous if done from natural impulse. Secondly, Mandeville’s definition of virtue declared that no action was meritorious unless the motive that inspired it was a ‘rational’ one. As he interpreted ‘rational’ to imply an antithesis to emotion and self-regard, both aspects of his ethical code — the ascetic and the rationalistic — alike condemned as vicious all action whose dominant motive was natural impulse and self-regarding bias. To put it from a different angle, his code condemned all such acts as were caused by the traits men share with the animals.
This conception of morality was no invention of Mandeville’s. He merely adopted the creed of two great popular groups of the period. The first group comprised the theologians who, from the orthodox belief in the depravity of human nature, concluded naturally that virtue could not be found except in such action as unselfishly denied or transcended the workings of the nature they condemned.1 To all logical inferences from Mandeville’s position as to the moral necessity of unselfishness and the conquest of natural impulse these ascetics were fairly committed. The other group comprised the rationalistic or ‘intellectualistic’ ethical thinkers, who identified morality with such action as proceeded from rational motives. This group was committed to conclusions logically deducible from Mandeville’s position only in so far as, like him, they made an antithesis between reason and emotion and therefore denied the virtue of action dictated by emotion; but, since this antithesis was very commonly made, at least implicitly,1 these thinkers too were largely implicated in Mandeville’s conclusions. The inferences, then, which Mandeville was to deduce from the rigorous application of his definition of virtue were such as could genuinely involve and provoke the thought of his day.
The analysis of human emotions and their relation to opinion and conduct which led Mandeville, in the light of his definition of virtue, to the conclusion that all human action is at bottom vicious has already been considered (i. lxi-lxiv). He found, in brief, that reason is not a determinant factor in men’s actions, our most elaborate and apparently detached ratiocination being basically only a rationalizing and excusing of the demands of dominant emotions; and that all our acts — even those apparently most unselfish — are, traced to their source, due to some variety or interplay of selfishness — that, in fact, despite all the divines and philosophers, man is, after all, only ‘the most perfect of Animals’ (Fable i. 44) and can never contradict or transcend this fact. Thus, no part of his definition of virtue being fulfillable in a world governed by more utilitarian considerations, he was driven to the conclusion that the world is entirely vicious, even its agreeable and valuable products being the effect of vice, and so arose the paradox ‘Private Vices, Publick Benefits’.
By juxtaposing together the utilitarian principles by which the world is inevitably controlled and the demands of rigoristic ethics, and showing their irreconcilability, Mandeville achieved a latent reductio ad absurdum of the rigoristic point of view. But he never educed this reductio ad absurdum. Although he spent most of his book in the demonstration that a life regulated by the principles of rigoristic virtue as expressed in his definition is not only impossible but highly undesirable, whereas the actual immoral world is a pleasant place, he continued to announce the sanctity of the rigoristic creed. This paradoxical ethical duet which Mandeville carried on with himself is the point to note here, for it is this fact which gives the clue to the influence on ethics which he exerted.
The attacks on Mandeville focus on this paradox, but the type of attack varies according to the intellectual leanings of the particular polemicist. First there were the critics who, like William Law and John Dennis, adhered to the rigoristic school of ethics. On these the effect of the Fable was that of the insane root which takes the reason prisoner. William Law was almost alone in keeping his head, although not his temper. It was not merely the theories of Mandeville that caused this riot of reason, but the tone of the Doctor’s writing. Mandeville employed a humorously cynical downrightness of statement that made him so provocative that even now, after two hundred years, he has kept almost unimpaired his ability to irritate those who disagree with him. But, apart from their expression, there was enough in Mandeville’s tenets to agitate those who believed virtue necessarily unselfish and rational. Mandeville accepted their own position to argue them into unbearable predicaments. He agreed that only such behaviour is virtuous as proceeds from dispassionate obedience to a moral code; and then he demonstrated that there can be no such conduct in this world. He admitted that a state based on selfishness is corrupt and that luxury is contrary to the Christian religion, and then he proceeded to show that all society must be based on selfishness and that no state can be great without luxury. He agreed that men must transcend their animal nature, and then he proved that it could not be done. In other words, he took advantage of his opponents’ own standards to show them that according to those standards they had never done a virtuous action in their lives, and that, if those principles could be lived up to, they would inevitably cause the total collapse of society. Meanwhile Mandeville stood in the middle of this spectacle roaring with laughter; which did not help to soothe his critics.
They lost their heads. If only Mandeville had accepted the reductio ad absurdum latent in his book and rejected the rigoristic system of ethics, things would have been simple for the William Laws. They would merely have rushed to the defence of their code, and been quite comfortable. But Mandeville did not reject it; the force of his demonstration of the value of vice and impossibility of virtue rested on his accepting their position.
There were, therefore, only two rational1 objections open to the rigorists. They could argue, first, that Mandeville’s vivisection of human nature was faulty and that men really do act from absolutely dispassionate unselfishness. This they tried.2 But Mandeville’s analysis had been so keen and thorough that few of his opponents dared claim that they had demonstrated much more than that in some few cases a man might conceivably be virtuous in their sense of the word. This was hardly very comforting, for it left them still drowning in a sea of almost undiluted iniquity.
The other method was to qualify the rigoristic point of view that only such actions were virtuous as were done from unselfish devotion to principle, and to call for another criterion of virtue. Now, the significant fact is that almost every rigorist who undertook to answer Mandeville did in some way modify the rigoristic position.1 William Law was perhaps as staunch and unmitigated an ascetic as ever urged his dogmas on other people; to Law an act done simply because a person wished to do it was ipso facto without merit.2 Yet Law, in his answer to the Fable, was at pains to defend the admissibility of emotion and desire, and even approached a utilitarian3 position.4
Law was typical. Of the rigorists who attacked the Fable with any insight, almost all were driven in some manner to qualify the severity of the current rigoristic conception — to insist less on the sheerly rational element in moral conduct, to allow more play to interested motives, to offer, if only obliquely, something more in harmony with a utilitarian philosophy.5
On the other hand, there was another class of critics of the Fable, comprising those men by intellectual bias anti-rigoristic, like Hume and Adam Smith. These men took the Fable more calmly. Not holding the ascetic premiss, they were not perturbed by Mandeville’s deductions therefrom. They agreed with his analyses; but when he came to his rigoristic candle-snuffer and said, ‘All these good things are due to vice’, they answered with Hume, If it be vice which produces all the good in the world, then there is something the matter with our terminology; such vice is not vice but good.1 These critics, then, simply accepted the reductio ad absurdum which Mandeville refused to educe, and, rejecting the rigorism which gave rise to Mandeville’s paradox, set up instead a utilitarian scheme of ethics.
This may seem the simple and obvious thing to do. And it is simple and obvious now — after two hundred years. But in that simple and obvious step is the germ of the whole modern utilitarian movement; in that rejection of absolute a priori codes and in that refusal to dissever man from the animals is the core of the modern scientific, empirical attitude. With the solving of Mandeville’s paradox, indeed, is bound up our whole present-day intellectual atmosphere, the development of which the utilitarian movement has done so much to foster.
Now, recognition of the inexpediency of rigoristic codes, which recognition eventually led to the utilitarian movement, was to be found elsewhere than in Mandeville, and the Mandevillian paradox was to be found latent in every-day points of view; but Mandeville’s statement of the paradox was the most forceful, the most provocative, and the most celebrated, and therefore, by natural deduction, one of the most influential. That it was Mandeville who furnished much of the specific stimulus towards the utilitarian solution of the paradox is demonstrated by the fact that in the case of at least two of the earlier utilitarian leaders — Francis Hutcheson and John Brown1 — their first statements of the utilitarian theory are found in those books of theirs which deal with Mandeville, and were evidently largely evolved through the controversy. Hume, too, may have owed to Mandeville some impulse towards utilitarianism.2 We might note, also, that of the later major utilitarians Bentham and Godwin praised him, and James Mill strongly defended him. And, turning from the leaders to the intellectual soil upon which they had to work, it should be remembered that contemporary anti- or non-utilitarian opinion had been disturbed, and thus prepared for change, by the insistent paradox of the Fable, the outstanding ethical irritant of its generation.
The case might be summed up thus: Mandeville’s critics, for all their dissimilarity from each other, were forced in common away from strict rigorism and, more or less, towards a utilitarian attitude. It seems, then, that the paradox of the Fable supplied a spur which, on contact, urged all groups in the general direction of utilitarianism; and the enormous vogue of the book, together with the facts that its paradox was based on dominant types of ethical theory and thus involved and affected their many adherents, and that the book was so studied and reacted to by the utilitarian leaders, is proof of how generally and efficaciously the spur was applied.
As a matter of fact Mandeville has an even fuller claim than this to be considered a prime mover in the development of modern utilitarianism: it was not alone through forcing a solution of the paradox that private vices are public benefits that the Fable helped to precipitate the utilitarian philosophy; another salient feature of Mandeville’s ethical scheme had effect of a similar sort. This feature can be equally well described as moral nihilism, philosophical anarchism, or pyrrhonism (cf. above, i. lvi-lviii). In morals, declared Mandeville, there are no universally valid rules of conduct. No person believes one thing but some one professes the opposite; no nation approves one form of conduct but another nation as strongly condemns it; ‘ . . . hunting after this Pulchrum & Honestum is not much better than a Wild-Goose-Chace . . .’ (Fable i. 331). ‘What Mortal can decide which is the handsomest, abstract from the Mode in being, to wear great Buttons or small ones? . . . In Morals there is no greater Certainty’ (Fable i. 328–30).
How Mandeville reconciled this pyrrhonism with the rigoristic ethics which he accepted superficially and the utilitarianism which was basic in his thought has been discussed elsewhere (above, i. lviii-lxi). The point here is that he put his denial of general moral standards with his usual pungency, and that it produced reactions in a number of his critics.1 It affected them in much the same way that his famous paradox had. It presented what was to them an intolerable scheme of things, which, for their peace of mind and soul, they had to remodel. And this remodelling — the furnishing of those valid ethical standards whose existence Mandeville denied — led them either to assert some code of divine origin and to maintain a rigoristic scheme of ethics (in which case the other edge of Mandeville’s blade — his paradox — drove them towards utilitarianism); or it caused them to appeal to the utility of actions to supply, for judging those acts, the moral criteria Mandeville denied.
Thus with a double lash Mandeville drove his critics towards utilitarianism. By making the rigoristic position intolerable and the anarchistic position plausible, he forced his readers to formulate a way out. He furnished the necessity which is the mother of invention, and, by so doing, became one of the most fundamental and persistent of the early literary influences underlying the modern utilitarian movement.2
1 This was the respectable orthodox position for both Catholics and Protestants. St. Augustine stated, ‘Omnis infidelium vita peccatum est; et nihil est bonum sine summo bono. Ubi enim deest agnitio æternæ et incommutabilis veritatis, falsa virtus est, etiam in optimis moribus’ (Opera Omnia, Benedictine ed., Paris, 1836–8, x. 2574 D). Luther wrote, ‘ . . . omnia quae in te sunt esse prorsus culpabilia, peccata, damnanda . . .’ (Werke, Weimar, 1883–, vii. 51, in Tractatus de Libertate Christiana). Calvin agreed with this attitude: ‘Siquidem inter ista duo nihil medium est: aut vilescat nobis terra oportet, aut intemperato amore sui vinctos nos detineat. Proinde si qua aeternitatis cura est, huc diligenter incumbendum, ut malis istis compedibus nos explicemus’ (Institutio 111. ix. 2). The Puritan divine Daniel Dyke argued that ‘Though the matter of the work be never so good, yet the corruption of an unsanctified heart will marre all, and change the nature of it’ (Mystery of Selfe-Deceiving, ed. 1642, p. 415). Thomas Fuller spoke of ‘corrupt nature, (which without thy restraining grace will have a Vent)’ (Good Thoughts in Worse Times, ed. 1657, p. 12). Even writers given to psychological analyses like Mandeville’s show the ascetic belief that human nature unassisted by divine grace is incapable of virtue, which can exist only in so far as human nature is overcome. Thus Esprit urged that virtue is absent in so far as any leaven of self-interest is present (Fausseté des Vertus Humaines, Paris, 1678, i. 419–21; and cf. i. 458–9). And J. F. Bernard wrote, ‘La Vertu humaine n’est pas estimable, c’est un composé de peu de bon & de beaucoup de mauvais. . . . c’est une espece de Déïfication de soi-même; selon Dieu ce n’est rien’ (Reflexions Morales, Amsterdam, 1716, p. 114). In 1722, in his Conscious Lovers (III. i), Steele satirized this attitude as if it were of general currency: ‘To love is a passion, ’tis a desire, and we must have no desires.’
1 Although the general thought of the day identified virtue
with conduct in accord with ‘reason’, ‘reasons’ was usually an ill-defined and contradictorily employed term. The
ethical rationalism of the period implied, first, that the organization of the universe was a geometrically rational
one, and that, therefore, moral laws were the ‘immutable and eternal’ affairs whose disconnexion with the facts of
human nature Fielding was later to ridicule in Tom Jones. To such a conception the tastes and emotions in
which men differed from one another were either irritating or negligible; and its stress was naturally laid upon the
abstract, rational relationships which were true alike of all men. To this conception, therefore, ‘reason’ tended to
imply an antithesis to taste and individual impulse.
Secondly, contemporary ethical rationalism insisted that acts were virtuous only if their motivation was from ‘reason’. It is at this point — the phase of rationalistic ethics of chief importance in relation to Mandeville — that current philosophy was most inchoate. No real attempt was usually made to define motivation by ‘reason’. ‘Reason’ sometimes implied any practical action, sometimes a proper blend of deliberation and impulse, and very often, indeed, it was used as Mandeville used it, in connexion with acts the decision to perform which was not determined by emotion or personal bias (which might, however, provided they did not determine the will to act, legitimately accompany the action). Again and again it is manifest upon analysis that action according to reason is thought of (even by thinkers who sometimes take a different position) as action done despite the insistence of natural impulse and self-regarding bias, in spite of one’s animal nature. Sometimes the writer makes this antithesis comparatively obvious, as when Culverwel reasons: ‘Yet grant that the several multitudes, all the species of these irrational creatures [animals] were all without spot or blemish in . . . their sensitive conversation, can any therefore fancy that they dress themselves by the glass of a [moral] law? Is it not rather a faithfulness to their own natural inclinations? . . . A law is founded in intellectuals, in the reason, not in the sensitive principle’ (Of the Light of Nature, ed. Brown, 1857, p. 62). The antithesis between reason and natural impulse is very sharp and explicit in Richard Price, who summed up the principles of the ‘intellectualist’ school of which he was a belated member in the statement that ‘instinctive benevolence is no principle of virtue, nor are any actions flowing merely from it virtuous. As far as this influences, so far something else than reason and goodness influence, and so much I think is to be subtracted from the moral worth of any action or character’ (Review of the Principal Questions . . . in Morals, ed. 1758, p. 333).
There were certain characteristics of the ethical rationalism of the day which explain and illustrate the tendency to dissociate reason and feeling. In the first place, rationalism was from one aspect transcendental. With its stress on ‘immutable and eternal laws’ of right and wrong and its love of the formulable, it was largely an attempt to transcend the merely relative, and hence personal and individual emotions. Like the theological asceticism of its day (see above, p. cxxi), it was a method of transcending concrete human nature. Secondly, it could hardly help being affected by this current theological asceticism and its condemnation of natural impulse, especially since so many rationalists were also theologians. The tendency to identify the theological and the rationalistic attitudes is evidenced in the prayer with which Thomas Burnet closed the second book of his Theory of the Earth: ‘MAY we, in the mean time, by a true Love of God above all things, and a contempt of this Vain World which passeth away; By a careful use of the Gifts of God and Nature, the Light of Reason and Revelation, prepare our selves . . . for the great Coming of our Saviour.’ Note the paralleling of ‘a contempt of this Vain World’ with ‘the Light of Reason’. In the third place, because of the problem of the soul a sharp distinction was drawn between man and the animals. The belief that animals have no soul (rational principle), combined with the conviction that the soul is the ultimately important thing, tended naturally to cause contempt for the animal functions and a belief that they could form no ingredient in virtue. Berkeley illustrated this tendency when, in his reply to Mandeville (Alciphron), he said, ‘ . . . considered in that light [as he is an animal], he [man] hath no sense of duty, no notion of virtue’ (Works, ed. Fraser, 1901, ii. 94). There was, too, a famous Pauline passage — Rom. vii. 23–5 — which could be construed as implying an antithesis between reason and emotion, an interpretation made for instance by Toland (Christianity not Mysterious, 2nd ed., 1696, pp. 57–8). Finally, to cause too sharp an antithesis between the conceptions of reason and feeling, there was the all-important fact of mental and literary inexactness, of failure to make and maintain proper distinctions. Since Mandeville’s day philosophical speculation, to some extent perhaps on his account (see below, i. cxxviii, n. 5), has become more precise as regards the distinction between reason and feeling, but in his time it was a commonplace for a writer to fall into assertions or implications of a necessary antithesis between reason and impulse, even in the face of speculations in the same work maintaining an opposite position.
From the above it may be seen that even though the position taken by Mandeville that no conduct can be virtuous unless the will to perform it was undetermined by natural impulse and selfishness may have been somewhat more extreme than the average, yet it is evident that his position was none the less in accord with a great body of contemporary theory. And, indeed, this close relation to his age is demonstrated by the violence of the popular reaction to his book.
1 I say ‘rational’ advisedly. Many of Mandeville’s attackers
simply misunderstood him. They took his terms quite literally, interpreting ‘vice’ as something contrary to the welfare
of the individual practising it. From this they proved ‘by rule demonstrative’ that vice must therefore be injurious to
society, the sum of individuals. But, of course, Mandeville meant by vice not something harrnful to its devotees, but
something contrary to the dictates of a rigorously ascetic morality. John Dennis is a good example of the
literal-minded whose attack on the Fable was largely an excited attempt to prove that if a thing has a bad
effect it has an effect which is bad.
And then, besides the logomachy arising from a too literal reading of the Fable, much of the controversy was mere vituperation, as in Hendley’s Defence of the Charity-Schools. Wherein the Many False, Scandalous and Malicious Objections of those Advocates for Ignorance and Irreligion, the Author of the Fable of the Bees . . . are . . . answer’d (1725).
2 Notably Hutcheson (Inquiry into . . .
Beauty and Virtue). But Hutcheson’s attempt to prove the fundamental benevolence of humanity is not entirely
an attack on Mandeville’s psychological analysis; it is largely a giving of different names to the same emotions.
Hutcheson, like Mandeville, denied the possibility of entirely dispassionate action; and Mandeville, like Hutcheson,
admitted the reality of the compassionate impulses. Mandeville, however, insisted on terming all natural emotions
selfish, whereas Hutcheson defined some of them as altruistic.
As to the effects of distinguishing between selfish and unselfish natural impulse, see below, i. cxxviii, n. 5.
1 That is, if he did not indulge merely in vituperation or in the misunderstanding considered above, i. cxxvii, n. 1.
2 See his Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (published 1728), passim.
3 Concerning my necessarily somewhat loose use of this term see above, i. xlviii, n. 1.
4 Remarks upon . . . the Fable of the Bees (1724), p. 33.
5 Examples of rigoristic critics thus forced to qualify
their position include Law, Dennis, Fiddes (General Treatise of Morality, 1724), Bluet (Enquiry
whether . . . Virtue tends to . . . Benefit . . . of a
People)— digests of whose replies to Mandeville will be found below, ii. 401–12 — and Warburton (Works,
ed. 1811, i. 287, in Divine Legation, bk. 1, § 6, pt. 111).
Of course, there were ways for the rigorists to evade Mandeville’s attack. Their very inconsistencies were a means of defence; and Mandeville, too, really had taken a rigoristic position more accentuated and bald than the average. But the devices by which the rigorists sought to defend themselves without shifting ground were a very incomplete defence. Thus, they argued that there was such a thing as morally neutral activity, and that, therefore, self-regarding action and natural impulse, while not sufficient by themselves for virtue, were not necessarily vicious. This destroyed Mandeville’s demonstration that the rigoristic position implied everything to be necessarily vicious, but it left him able still to claim that nothing could be virtuous, moral neutrality being then the utter limit of moral achievement. This, of course, was hardly satisfactory to the rigorists. Similarly, the ascetics could and did argue that they did not deny the moral value of natural impulse nor quite condemn selfishness — indeed, that, properly understood, man’s real nature and greatest happiness are found only in obeying the a priori dictates of Heaven, and that, therefore, enlightened selfishness demands adherence to the rigoristic code. Not to notice the important shift of sense in the word ‘nature’, it is enough to point out that the partial utilitarianism here adopted is definitely an approach to more empirical utilitarianism, and, therefore, that here again Mandeville’s pressure towards utilitarianism is only partially evaded. Again, the rigorists might deny, like non-rigorists such as Adam Smith, that all natural feeling was selfish, maintaining that some compassionate emotions were genuinely altruistic. But, since they could not say this of all compassionate feeling (some of this being obviously a self-indulgence), they had to find a criterion to distinguish between selfish and non-selfish compassionate emotion; and, the strictly rigoristic test being here not possible, a utilitarian criterion naturally forced itself upon them. — And, waiving the efficacy of their replies to Mandeville, the very fact that they had to frame replies on profoundly significant ethical questions was itself a service to the progress of speculation. One may look long in pre-Mandevillian literature for such careful distinctions between reason and emotion and their respective virtuousness as Law, for example, is forced to make in his effort to show that Mandeville misunderstood the rigoristic position. Whether he misunderstood it or not, he helped to force its adherents to attempt a liberation of their creed from the contradictions and indefiniteness which by themselves had given enough ground for his satire.
And, apart from the sheerly logical side of the matter, there was a psychological reason why the attempt to cope with Mandeville so weakened the power of the rigorists. Rigorism affirms its transcendence; it professes absoluteness. When, therefore, imperfection in a rigoristic creed is sufficiently felt to induce a desire for modification, the impulsion to rigorism — a craving for the absoluteness and perfection which the creed promised — is weakened at its source, for the creed is now seen to be somewhat a thing of uncertainty.
1 Cf. Hume, Philosophical Works, ed. Green and Grose, 1874–5, iv. 178. Hume is not here referring specifically to the Fable, but speaking generally.
1 See below, ii. 345, n. 1, and 415.
2 This is conjectural, but somewhat substantiated by the fact that Hume specifically mentioned the paradox of the Fable and answered it, like Hutcheson and Brown, by appeal to a utilitarian criterion (Philosophical Works, ed. Green and Grose, 1874–5, iii. 308).
1 For instance, in Law (Remarks, § 3), Berkeley (Works, ed. Fraser, 1901, iil. 88 and 94–5), Brown (Essays, second essay, § 4), Adam Smith (Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. 1759, p. 474), and Fiddes (General Treatise of Morality, preface).
2 In ways less demonstrable than those just mentioned
Mandeville might also have been a factor in the spread of utilitarianism. One of the practical difficulties in securing
general acceptance of the utilitarian philosophy that men act for happiness and that this fact is its own justification
arises from the fear that belief in such an ethics will lead to a break-down of ethical sanctions such that men will
feel justified in acting from completely selfish motives, and society be ruined. Before the utilitarian point of view
can gain popular adherence, therefore, some argument must be found to show that it will not lead to this unsocial
action. Such an argument was given us by Aristotle when he contended that a man’s personal good and the good of the
state are identical (Nic. Ethics 1. ii. 5); and by eighteenth-century utilitarians like Hutcheson and Hume
when they invoked man’s ‘benevolence’ and ‘sympathy’ to show that he can only be happy if he acts socially. Now, in
Mandeville’s philosophy there was latent an effective answer to the fear that utilitarianism would foster selfish and
unsocial action. This answer was Mandeville’s famous philosophy of individualism — his argument that self-service by
the nature of things means public service. Through this philosophy the utilitarians could reassure themselves and the
public. Since Mandeville’s position was both so celebrated and, as the history of economics proves, so in harmony with
the times, it may well have furnished important preparation for the acceptance of utilitarianism.
Mandeville might also to some extent have exerted a more direct influence than I have noticed, for he himself several times took the utilitarian position, and it underlies his thought (see above, i. lviii-lxi).
Let us turn now to Mandeville’s effect on the course of economic theory, where his consequence was perhaps greatest.
One aspect of Mandeville’s effect in this field was his association with the famous division of labour theory, which Adam Smith made into one of the foundation stones of modern economic thought. For his statement of this principle Adam Smith owed much to Mandeville’s definite and repeated development of the conception.1 I do not mean that the Fable was the sole source of Smith’s doctrine, for, of course, knowledge of the implications of division of labour was far older than Mandeville.2 The Fable’ was only one source, but it was a source with special claims to influence. To begin with, Mandeville’s statement of the doctrine was a brilliant one, and Smith was intimately acquainted with it. At the beginning of his literary career he devoted part of an essay to the Fable, and his careful discussion of Mandeville in the Theory of the Moral Sentiments1 showed that he had not only learned Mandeville’s ideas but had the very language of the Fable by heart. Mandeville’s treatment of division of labour must have made an especial impression on him, for one of the most famous passages on this matter in the Wealth of Nations— that about the labourer’s coat — is largely a paraphrase of similar passages in the Fable.2 The celebrated phrase, too —‘division of labour’— was anticipated by Mandeville,3 and, apparently, by no one else. Finally, Dugald Stewart, who knew Smith personally, credited Mandeville with having been Smith’s inspiration.4 Obviously, therefore, considerable credit for establishing the division of labour theory belongs to Mandeville.
But, though important, his influence on the establishment of this doctrine was a minor phase of Mandeville’s effect on economic tendencies. More important was his effect through his defence of luxury — that argument for the harmlessness and necessity of luxury with which he confronted not only all the more ascetic codes of morality but what was once the classic economic attitude, which set forth the ideal of a Spartan state, exalted the simpler agricultural pursuits, and denounced luxury as the degenerator of peoples and impoverisher of nations. The problem of the value of luxury was to be a widely agitated question in the eighteenth century — one of the battlegrounds of the Encyclopaedists.
Now, of all single literary influences in this discussion of luxury the Fable of the Bees was one of the very greatest. In brilliance and completeness it surpassed all previous defences of luxury,1 and some of the leading contestants in the quarrel drew on the Fable for their opinions and arguments. Voltaire was considerably indebted to Mandeville.2 Melon3 probably owed him much. Montesquieu was at least slightly in his debt.1 Dr. Johnson confessed himself Mandeville’s pupil.2
Nor was the Fable merely a potent influence in the works of other writers. It not only spurred on the others, but was itself in the van of the attack. In 1785, Professor Pluquet, in a work approved by the Collège Royal, called Mandeville the first to defend luxury from the standpoint of economic theory;3 and so thoroughly in the public mind was Mandeville conceived of as spokesman for the defence of luxury that a popular American play1 as late as 1787 apostrophized not Voltaire, not Montesquieu, not any of the well-known encyclopaedists, but Mandeville as the arch-advocate for this defence.
We now come to perhaps the most important aspect of Mandeville’s economic influence. In the Fable Mandeville maintains, and maintains explicitly, the theory at present known as the laissez-faire theory, which dominated modern economic thought for a hundred years and is still a potent force. This is the theory that commercial affairs are happiest when least regulated by the government; that things tend by themselves to find their own proper level; and that unregulated self-seeking on the part of individuals will in society so interact with and check itself that the result will be for the benefit of the community. But unnecessary interference on the part of the state will tend to pervert that delicate adjustment. Of this attitude Mandeville has definite anticipations: ‘In the Compound of all Nations, the different Degrees of Men ought to bear a certain Proportion to each other, as to Numbers, in order to render the whole a well-proportion’d Mixture. And as this due Proportion is the Result and natural Consequence of the difference there is in the Qualifications of Men, and the Vicissitudes that happen among them, so it is never better attained to, or preserv’d, than when no body meddles with it. Hence we may learn, how the short-sighted Wisdom, of perhaps well-meaning People, may rob us of a Felicity, that would flow spontaneously from the Nature of every large Society, if none were to divert or interrupt the Stream’ (Fable ii. 353). The Fable of the Bees, I believe, was one of the chief literary sources of the doctrine of laissez-faire.
But it became a source not because of such passages as that just cited — though the vogue of the Fable vouches for their having been well known; it became an influence because of the philosophy of individualism so prominent in the Fable. Man, said Mandeville, is a mechanism of interacting selfish passions. Fortunately, however, these passions, although, at first sight, their dominion might seem to threaten anarchy, are so composed and arranged that under the influence of society their apparent discords harmonize to the public good. This immensely complicated adjustment is not the effect of premeditated effort, but is the automatic reaction of man in society. Now, the laissez-faire theory was to be grounded on such a philosophy — a philosophy, indeed, without which there could hardly have been a self-conscious doctrine of laissez-faire and with which, sooner or later, there could hardly help but be.
But was it Mandeville’s statement of this philosophy which was influential? To answer this it should be noted that before Mandeville there was no systematic formulation of laissez-faire. All manifestations of the spirit were opportunist and unsynthesized for want of a philosophy of individualism.1 It should be noted, too, that Mandeville’s exposition of the individualistic position was incomparably the most brilliant, the most complete, the most provocative, and the best known until Adam Smith made the laissez-faire position classic in the Wealth of Nations. Adam Smith himself is the concrete example which indicates that Mandeville’s influence here was not merely a likelihood, but an actuality. I have already shown (above, i. cxxxiv-cxxxv) the general fact of Smith’s familiarity with and indebtedness to the Fable. There are additional reasons why he should have been influenced by Mandeville in conceiving his exposition of laissez-faire. Smith studied under Francis Hutcheson at Glasgow, and in both philosophy and economics owed his teacher much inspiration.1 Now, Mandeville was an obsession with Hutcheson. He could hardly write a book without devoting much of it to attacking the Fable.2 And the concepts concerning which he was most aroused were precisely those which underlie laissez-faire —the egoism of man and the advantage to society of this egoism. It is inconceivable that Hutcheson could have lectured without often analysing Mandeville’s point of view. Thus, precisely during a critical period of intellectual growth, Smith’s mind must have been fed on the Fable. And that the food was absorbed and not rejected we may see from the fact that in his exposition of laissez-faire and its basis Smith repudiated Hutcheson to come close to Mandeville.3
This sketch of Mandeville’s importance in the modern utilitarian movement and of his effect on economic thought through the division of labour theory, the defence of luxury, and the laissez-faire philosophy does not exhaust the subject of his influence. It is, for instance, more than possible that he was a factor in the development of philological theory, for both Condillac and Herder may well have owed to the Fable inspiration for their noted studies of the origin of language.1 There remains, also, the fact of the enormous influence Mandeville must have exerted at second-hand — through Voltaire, through Melon, through Hutcheson, through Adam Smith, and, possibly, through Helvétius.1
But, leaving aside the possible and the indirect in Mandeville’s influence and considering only his probable and immediate effect, his influence bulks so large in the two great fields of ethics and economics1 that it is doubtful whether a dozen English works can be found in the entire eighteenth century of such historical importance as The Fable of the Bees.
1 See Fable i. 356–8, ii. 141–2, 284, 325, and index to Part II under ‘Labour. The usefulness of dividing and subdividing it’.
2 Cf. below, ii. 142, n. 1.
1 See below, i. cxli, and ii. 414–15.
2 Compare Fable i. 169–70 and 356–8 with Wealth of Nations, ed. Cannan, i. 13–14. Cannan notes the parallel.
3 Cf. above, i. cxxxiv, n. 1.
4 Stewart, Collected Works, ed. Hamilton, viii. 323; see also viii. 311.
1 Cf. above, i. xciv-xcviii.
2 The influence of Mandeville on Voltaire’s Le Mondain and Défense du Mondain ou l’Apologie du Luxe is shown in Morize’s L’Apologie du Luxe au XVIIIeSiècle (1909).
3 I know no testimonial evidence that Melon had read
Mandeville. Before treating the question of indebtedness, therefore, it would be well to consider whether Melon would
probably have been familiar with the Fable. We may, I think, assume that he was. From 1725 leading French
periodicals had been discussing the Fable— especially as regards the problem of luxury. It is highly
improbable that Melon, engaged in looking up data for his book, should not have read either some of the reviews in the
magazines or the celebrated Fable itself.
Melon discusses the problem of luxury in the chapter ‘Du Luxe’ of his Essai Politique sur le Commerce (1734). It may be said that he offers no basal arguments that are not in the Fable, and omits no essential ones that are in the Fable. His moral and psychological groundwork is like Mandeville’s. Man, he says, is not governed by religion, but ‘ . . . ce sont les passions qui conduisent; & le Législateur ne doit chercher qu’à les mettre à profit pour la Société’ (Essai Politique, ed. 1761, p. 106). For thus setting the passions to work, luxury, Melon continues, is a great stimulus. This is good Mandeville, of course. Melon even shows the Mandevillian paradox that Vice is virtue — that there are two valid conflicting codes of conduct: ‘ . . . les hommes se conduisent rarement par la Religion: c’est à elle à tâcher de détruire le Luxe, & c’est à l’Etat à le tourner à son profit . . .’ (Essai, p. 124). Mandeville’s insistence on the relativity of luxury and on the question being largely one of definition is also in Melon: ‘Ce qui étoit luxe pour nos peres, est à présent commun. . . . Le Paysan trouve du luxe chez le Bourgeois de son Village; celui-ci chez l’Habitant de la Ville voisine, qui lui même se regarde comme grossier, par rapport à l’habitant de la Capitale, plus grossier encore devant le Courtisan’ (Essai, p. 107; and cf. p. 111). Again, ‘ . . . le pain blanc & les draps fins, établis par M. Colbert, seroient de plus grand luxe, sans l’habitude où nous sommes de nous en servir tous les jours. Le terme de Luxe est un vain nom . . .’ (Essai, p. 113). With this compare Fable i. 107–8 and 123. Melon offers reasons why luxury does not enervate a people; and his reasons are Mandeville’s. He urges that luxury cannot enervate, because it is necessarily limited to a small proportion of the population (Essai, p. 110, and Fable i. 119–20). His argument that luxury tends to diminish drunkenness (Essai, p. 111) is adumbrated in Fable i. 119. But most significant of all is his closeness to Mandeville in the following contention: ‘Dans quel sens peut-on dire que le Luxe amollit une Nation? Cela ne peut pas regarder le Militaire: les Soldats & les Officiers subalternes en sont bien éloignés; & ce n’est pas par la magnificence des Officiers Généraux, qu’une Armée a été battue’ (Essai, pp. 108–9). With this compare Fable i. 119–21: ‘The Hardships and Fatigues of War that are personally suffer’d, fall upon them that bear the Brunt of every Thing, the meanest Indigent Part of the Nation . . . and those . . . will . . . make good Soldiers, who, where good Orders are kept, have seldom so much Plenty and Superfluity come to their Share as to do them any. . . . The other [inferior] Officers . . . can spare but little Money for Debauches . . . .’ And ‘Strong Sinews and supple Joints are trifling Advantages not regarded in [generals]. . . . So their Heads be but Active and well furnished, ’tis no great Matter what the rest of their Bodies are’ (i. 120). Finally, coming to more purely economic arguments, Melon, like Mandeville, argues that the ruin of the individual by luxury is no harm to the state (Essai, p. 121, and Fable i. 108–9 and 249–50), and that foolish extravagance has the merit of making money circulate (Essai, p. 123, and Fable, passim).
Some of the reasoning which Melon shares with Mandeville he shares also with other predecessors (see above, i. xciv, n. 3). Melon’s friend Montesquieu especially, in the Lettres Persanes (letter 106), parallels both Mandeville’s and Melon’s defence of luxury by urging its inevitability in great states, its not enervating a people, and its necessity to prosperous trade and the circulation of money. But Melon is throughout much closer to Mandeville than to Montesquieu, particularly in illustrative detail, and in certain arguments — for example, the suspiciously close parallel to Mandeville concerning luxury and armies — Melon seems to have been anticipated by Mandeville alone. Now, it is possible that Melon made up this duplicate of Mandeville’s opinions from his own invention and the scattered hints of other predecessors. But it is a more plausible hypothesis that he drew his views largely from the Fable.
1 Both the Lettres Persanes (letter 106) and the Esprit des Lois (bk. 7) show strong resemblances to Mandeville’s arguments, and, in addition, Montesquieu twice cited Mandeville on luxury to express agreement with him (see below, ii. 430 and 453). Whether Montesquieu received from Mandeville any basal influence or merely drew from him some supplementary insight into the problem of luxury we cannot, however, determine, since, among other things, we do not know whether Montesquieu’s knowledge of the Fable antedated the formation of his own opinions on luxury. It is probable, however, that Montesquieu did not read the Fable until his opinions were pretty well formed, for the Fable was not well known till 1723 — two years after the publication of the Lettres Persanes.
2 Dr. Johnson’s opinions about luxury were apparently drawn largely from the Fable. Mandevillian passages abound; see Works (1825) xi. 349; Boswell, Life, ed. Hill, 1887, ii. 169–70, 217–19 (cf. Fable i. 118 sqq.), iii. 55–6, 282 (cf. Fable i. 182–3), iii. 291–2, and iv. 173; Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 25 Oct.; Lives of the English Poets, ed. Hill, i. 157 (Hill notes the origin of this in Mandeville). Johnson himself practically admitted his debt (Life iii. 291): ‘He as usual defended luxury; “You cannot spend money in luxury without doing good to the poor . . .” Miss Seward asked, if this was not Mandeville’s doctrine of “private vices publick benefits”.’ And Johnson responded with a brilliant criticism of the Fable, the statement that he read the book forty or fifty years ago, and the acknowledgement that it ‘opened my views into real life very much’.
3 For the College’s approval see Pluquet, Traité Philosophique et Politique sur le Luxe (1786) ii. 501. Pluquet’s statement concerning Mandeville’s priority (Traité i. 16) is not quite accurate. Saint-Évremond, for instance, had preceded Mandeville in defending luxury (see above, i. xciv-xcviii). However, the very error shows how closely Mandeville had become identified popularly with the defence of luxury.
1 Tyler, The Contrast 111. ii.
1 See above, i. ci-ciii.
1 Cf. Wealth of Nations, ed. Cannan, i. xxxvi-xli. Smith strongly praised Hutcheson (see Theory of Moral Sentiments, pt. 6, § 2, ch. 3).
2 See below, ii. 345, n. 1.
3 In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, although he
strongly praised Hutcheson (ed. 1759, pp. 457 and 505), Smith differed from him both in his calculation of the
proportion ‘benevolence’ holds in human nature and in his estimate of the effect of benevolence in actual life (cf. pt.
6, § 2, ch. 3). Selfishness is much more prominent in our motives than altruism, said Smith: ‘Every man . . .
is much more deeply interested in whatever immediately concerns himself, than in what concerns any other man: and to
hear, perhaps, of the death of another person, with whom we have no particular connexion, will give us less concern
. . . than a very insignificant disaster which has befallen ourselves’ (p. 181). So much is society based
upon selfishness that it ‘may subsist among different men, as among different merchants, from a sense of its utility,
without any mutual love or affection . . .’ (p. 189).
In the Wealth of Nations Smith’s difference from Hutcheson is more apparent. In this book, Smith frankly assumed the selfishness of mankind and made this assumption a basis of his speculation, elaborating, as it were, the sentence from his Theory of Moral Sentiments quoted at the close of the preceding paragraph.
From the above, it will be seen that what references Hutcheson might have made to the Fable would have been received by the pupil in an attitude somewhat more favourable to Mandeville than the lecturer wished. And, indeed, a study of Smith’s ethical system will show an outlook more in harmony with the conceptions of the Fable than at first appears. It is true that Smith labelled Mandeville’s opinions as ‘in almost every respect erroneous’ (p. 474), but this, we shall see, was largely a gesture of respectability, the formality of which is indicated by the fact that, immediately afterwards, Smith scaled down his disagreement with Mandeville mostly to a matter of terminology. In Smith’s system the central and motivating ethical force is the affection of ‘sympathy’. Analysing this ‘sympathy’ into its elements, Smith wrote: ‘As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did and never can carry us beyond our own persons, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by representing to us what would be our own if we were in his case’ (p. 2). This is not very far from Fable i. 66. For further illustration of the manner in which Smith reduced sympathy to egoistic components see pt. 1, § 2, ch. 2; and cf. pp. 90–1, 127–8, and 168. It must, however, be admitted that Smith argued, in spite of his own analysis, that sympathy need not be selfish (see pp. 15 and 496–7); but these arguments do not bulk large in his work, and, to me at least, have a flavour of disingenuousness, of ‘playing safe’.
In this analysis, I have not, of course, meant to imply that Smith owed his doctrine of ‘sympathy’ in any way to Mandeville; nor has it been my primary purpose to establish a very close resemblance between this doctrine and Mandeville’s opinions. My purpose has been merely to show that whatever Hutcheson might have retailed of Mandevllle to attack him would have found in Smith a mind far from prepared to reject the Fable.
1 Condillac’s Essai sur l’Origine des Connoissances
Humaines appeared in 1746, while the Fable was at the height of its French vogue and a few years after it
had achieved a French translation. What makes me suspect indebtedness by Condillac for that part of the Essai
(pt. 2, § 1, ch. 1) where the origin of language is treated is that he agrees so closely with Mandeville’s very unusual
discussion, most of the analysis in the Essai, barring its systematic exposition and its appeal to what
psychologists call ‘association’, being in the Fable— the ability of primitive men to communicate without
language by means of cries and gestures aided by sympathy (Essai, in Œuvres, ed. 1798, i. 261–2, and
Fable ii. 285–7), their inability at first to use language, because of their stupidity and the stiffness of
their tongues (Œuvres i. 261 and 265 and Fable ii. 285–6), the slowness and the accidental nature of
the development of language (Œuvres i. 265–6 and Fable ii. 288), the use, forcefulness, and
persistence of gesture (Œuvres i. 266–70 and Fable ii. 287–90). Even for such a detail as Condillac’s
remark (Œuvres i. 266) that gesture, because of its very usefulness as a means of intercourse, was a hindrance
to the growth of language there is a hint in the Fable (ii. 291–3). But the most significant resemblance
between the Essai and the Fable is in a point which both books make central — that children, because
of the superior flexibility of their tongues, were largely the creators of new words (Œuvres i. 265–6 and
Fable ii. 288).
Herder’s celebrated Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache, which in 1770 won the prize offered by the Königliche Akademie der Wissenschaften of Berlin, does not show the specific parallels to the Fable which Condillac’s inquiry offers. It agrees with the Fable merely in its general attitude, taking the still unorthodox naturalistic view of the origin of language. For this attitude Herder need, of course, have owed Mandeville nothing: if Herder’s inspiration was derivative, he might have drawn it, for instance, from Condillac, whom he cited and criticized. Yet it is worth some notice that Herder specifically referred to the Fable in 1765 (Sämmtliche Werke, ed. Suphan, i. 24–5) and reviewed it at length in Adrastea in 1802 (see below, ii. 438).
1 The indebtedness of Helvétius to Mandeville has been
assumed by a number of historians, and the Sorbonne’s famous Condemnation of Helvétius’s De l’Esprit in 1759,
the year after its publication, detailed passages from the Fable as among the sources of Helvétius’s doctrines
(see below, ii. 434). It is true that Helvétius is often very close to Mandeville — in his belief, for instance, that
the passions are the mainspring of our actions (De l’Esprit, Amsterdam and Leipsic [Arkstee & Merkus],
1759, i. 185–6, 337 sqq., ii. 58–60, and passim; De l’Homme, London, 1773, i. 35–7), in his
discussion of luxury (De l’Esprit i. 18, 178–9, 225, and passim; De l’Homme, § 6, ch. 3–5),
in his psychologizing of courage (De l’Esprit, ‘discours’ 3, ch. 28), in his stress on the egoism of man and
corollary analyses of compassion and of pride (De l’Esprit i. 58–60 and 125; De l’Homme ii. 15–16,
52, and 253), and in his attack on Shaftesbury (De l’Homme ii. 10–12). On the other hand, in so far as these
opinions were derivative, they need not have come from Mandeville. They had been expressed by other writers, such as
Bayle, Hobbes, Spinoza, La Rochefoucauld, and Melon (see above, i. lxxviii-xcviii and cxxxvi, n. 3). The
chances, to be sure, are decidedly that the free-thinker Helvétius had, like his friends, read the famous free-thinking
Fable, but, on the other hand, he nowhere in De l’Esprit and De l’Homme cited Mandeville.
This last point, however, may in turn be somewhat discounted, for Helvétius was not conscientious about confessing his
sources. Thus in De l’Homme, in the very short ch. 15 of § 9, he has without indication paraphrased Hobbes at
the opening (Human Nature, dedication) and borrowed from Hume on miracles in his first footnote. I note three
passages where Helvétius is rather close to Mandeville in illustrative detail. The least close of these is in De
l’Esprit i. 337–8, where Helvétius illustrates the force of avarice and pride by showing them sending merchants
over seas and mountains and stimulating effort in various lands (cf. Fable i. 356–8). For a really close
parallel compare Fable ii. 85 and De l’Esprit ii. 151: ‘Le courage est donc rarement fondé sur un
vrai mépris de la mort. Aussi l’homme intrépide, l’épée à la main, sera souvent poltron au combat du pistolet.
Transportez sur un vaisseau le soldat qui brave la mort dans le combat; il ne la verra qu’avec horreur dans la tempête,
parce qu’il ne la voit réellement que là.’ Helvétius, however, might equally well have drawn this passage from La
Rochefoucauld or Aristotle (see below, ii. 85, n. 1). Finally, Helvétius wrote as follows while treating of
compassion: ‘On écrase sans pitié une Mouche, une Araignée, un Insecte, & l’on ne voit pas sans peine égorger un
Bœuf. Pourquoi? C’est que dans un grand animal l’effusion du sang, les convulsions de la souffrance, rappellent à la
mémoire un sentiment de douleur que n’y rappelle point l’écrasement d’un Insecte’ (De l’Homme, § 5, notes,
n. 8). This is certainly close to Fable i. 173–4 and 180–1.
From the evidence just given I think we may conclude no more than that Helvétius had probably read the Fable, that, if he had read it, he probably owed it at least a little, and that he might have owed it much.
1 As the grain of salt with which my conclusions in this chapter are to be taken, it will be well to recall certain limitations to which the influence of books is subject. They are but one means of affecting thought and, when influential, are rather the ‘immediate’ than the ‘effective’ causes of change. If, furthermore, in a genuine historical synthesis, books as a whole are but one source of influence, and that often a minor one, single writings, of course, are of still less import. The most celebrated and dynamic composition must enter into streams of consciousness — and of unconsciousness — coloured and determined not only by natural bias, by social status, and by the great historical and economic facts, but by hundreds and thousands of other books. The power of a book is hardly more than that of one vote in a great parliament, a power which can bulk large in full synthesis only through an alinement of forces — an alinement not determined by it — which enables it to be a deciding vote. When, therefore, we estimate the influence of a book, we should always join the qualification —‘in so far as books have influence’. Such a relative estimate of Mandeville’s influence is all I have pretended to give; and, measured against the dimensions to which such influence through books may attain, my conclusions as to the importance of the Fable are, I think, justified.
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