Review Of "Mandeville's 'Fable': Pride, Hypocrisy, And Sociability" By R. Douglass

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Bernard Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees (1714) is a search into what moves humans to live sociably with one another. Mandeville argues that private vices, not Christian virtues, move people. Private vices might indeed lead to public benefits. Chief among private vices is pride. Though other motives play a part—fear, for example—the desire to look good in the eyes of others moves people to be as successful as they can in all walks of life, to be admired for what they accomplish, and to be ashamed of their failures. Douglas’s book spells out with clarity and subtlety how Mandeville thinks about human nature. He was anti-Utopian but did not deny that social progress was possible: he thought that people are more likely to succeed by choosing the less bad over the greatest good. Though Mandeville's Fable was excoriated as deeply immoral, it had a positive influence on other 18th-century philosophers, especially David Hume and Adam Smith. Anyone interested in the roots of 18th-century moral and political philosophy—or even a contemporary take on human motivation—would do well to read this excellent book. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty.


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