Item of the Day: Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees (1723)

Full Title:

The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits. The second edition, enlarged with many additions. As also an essay on Charity and Charity-Schools and a Search into the Nature of Society. By Bernard Mandeville. Printed in London for Edmund Parker at the Bible and Crown in Lombard Street, 1723.

The Introduction:

One of the greatest Reasons why so few People understand themselves, is, that most Writers are always teaching Men what they should be, and hardly ever trouble their heads with telling them what they really are. As for my part, without any Compliment to the Courteous Reader, or my self, I believe Man (besides Skin, Flesh, Bones, &c. that are obvious to the Eye) to be a Compound of various Passions, that all of them, as they are provoked and come uppermost, govern him by turns, whether he will or no. To shew, that these Qualifications, which we all pretend to be asham’d of, are the great support of a flourishing Society, has been the subject of the foregoing Poem [“The Grumbling Hive”]. But there being some Passages in it seemingly Paradoxical, I have in the Preface promised some explanatory Remarks on it; which, to render more useful, I have thought fit to enquire, how Man no better qualify’d, might yet by his own Imperfections be taught to distinguish between Virtue and Vice: And here I must desire the Reader once and for all to take notice, that when I say Men, I mean neither Jews nor Christians; but meer Man, in the State of Nature and ignorance of the true Deity.

From An Enquiry into the Origin of Moral Virtue:

All untaught Animals are only Sollicitous of pleasing themselves, and naturally follow the bent of their own Inclinations, without considering the good or harm that from their being pleased wiill accrue to others. This is the Reason, that in the wild State of Nature those Creatures are fittest to live peaceably together in great Numbers, that discover the least of Understanding, and have the fewest Appetites to gratify, and consequently no Species of Animals is without the Curb of Government, less capable of agreeing long together in Multitudes than that of Man; yet such are his Qualities, whether good or bad, I shall not determine, that no Creature besides himself can ever be made sociable: But being an extraordinary selfish and headstrong, as well as cunning Animal, however he may be subdued by superior Strength, it is impossible by force alone to make him tractable, and receive the Improvements he is capable of.

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Filed under 1720's, Philosophy, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

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