Private Vices, Public Benefits examines the social and political thought of Bernard Mandeville. Mandevilles best known work, The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits, became notorious in the eighteenth century after it was presented by a Grand Jury for denigrating religion and virtue and recommending vices. Although denounced by many contemporaries, it had a significant impact on serious thinkers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume and Smith.
This book shows how Mandevilles views stemmed from his replies to Richard Steele's version of public and private virtue in The Tatler. In a series of issues of the Female Tatler, Mandeville had the sisters Lucinda and Artesia and their friend, an Oxford gentleman, ridicule the pretensions of Isaac Bickerstaff, the Censor of Great Britain, and his claim that anyone not acting for the public good or for self improvement was as good as dead. On the contrary, Mandeville argued that human needs and desires (weaknesses and vices) are what stimulated improvements in the human condition. The sisters also advanced the claims of women to have capacities and virtues equal to men's.
Mandeville reworked these ideas in The Fable of the Bees and its sequels into a conjectural history of human development from an animal existence to civilization. Human sociability and virtue stemmed from self-love and self-liking. Being susceptible to praise and blame, humans could suppress their initial impulses and be manipulated into large cooperative societies. Although this task was notionally ascribed to skilful politicians, language, society, arts and sciences resulted from a gradual development over a long period of time. Civilization and the amenities of life thus turn out to be based on what were regarded as the vile characteristics of human beings.
...an excellent piece of scholarship with a fine bibliography of primary sources, as well as an exhaustive list of Mandevilles works and editions. - History of Political Thought
...a probing and well-informed monograph. Goldsmith's evidence is so abundant and convincing, his knowledge of the literature on Mandeville so intimate, that his image of Mandeville as the most sinister English satirist of the eighteenth century is difficult to challenge...an outstanding study of ideas in context. - American Historical Review
Professor Goldsmith, by skilfully marshalling the fruits of recent scholarship, provides a lucid picture of the ideological consensus which Mandeville rejected, and shows that Mandevilles breach was sudden, thoroughgoing, and thoroughly deplored. - History
...a valuable addition to the growing library of books on Mandeville. The elegance of the style alone would make the book worth reading. But in addition Goldsmith provides us with a lucid and comprehensive account of civic humanism and of the complicated political milieu of Mandevilles England. - Eighteenth Century Studies
Educated at Columbia University, Maurice Goldsmith was Professor of Political Theory at the University of Exeter from 1969 to 1989 and subsequently Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Victoria University of Wellington. His principal interests are contemporary political philosophy and seventeenth and eighteenth century social and political thought. His books include 'By a Society of Ladies': Essays in The Female Tatler by Bernard Mandeville, Private Vices, Public Benefits: Bernard Mandeville's Social and Political Thought and Hobbes's Science of Politics. He has also written articles on political obligation, justice, rational choice and a number of subjects in seventeenth and eighteenth century political thought. He is editor-elect of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy and currently on the editorial board of History of Political Thought and is a Consulting Editor of The Journal of the History of Ideas.
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