p.l.e. logophilosophy.lander.edu     

Ethics Homepage  >  Textbook  >  Mandeville        

   
 

Site Map

Ethics Homepage

Quizzes
Tests
FAQ
Links
Search
Readings
Archives
Syllabus

 

 

Philosophy 302: Ethics
Bernard Mandeville, "Human Beings Are Always Selfish"

Abstract:  Mandeville argues that the private vices of individuals being selfish and seeking self-interest pays off for social welfare and social progress.

1. Characterize Mandeville's description of human nature.

2. According to Mandeville, why do some persons practice self-denial? How have politicians convinced persons to overcome their self-interest?

3.  How, according to Mandeville, were the brutes, or the lower-class, made civilized by the politicians?  What are the origins of "virtue" and "vice"?  Do you agree that virtuous actions are only fictions contrary to human nature invented by politicians?

4. In what ways do "private vices" become "public benefits" according to Mandeville?  Does the absence of "self-love" destroy progress? 

1.  Characterize Mandeville's description of human nature.

Mandeville holds the doctrines of psychological and ethical hedonism and psychological and ethical egoism.

  1. Psychological Hedonism: the doctrine that each individual seeks his own pleasure.
  2. Ethical Hedonism: the belief that each individual ought to seek his own pleasure.
  3. Psychological Egoism: the doctrine that each individual seeks his own interest—for Mandeville, each person is selfish.
  4. Ethics Egoism: the doctrine that each individual ought to seek his own interest—for Mandeville, each person ought to be selfish.

Animals seek their own pleasure and do not think about the consequences to others.  Those species who do live together have the fewest appetites to gratify.

Man is extraordinarily selfish, cunning, and stubborn, but capable of being socialized if he believes he can profit by it.

Top of Page

2.  According to Mandeville, why do some persons practice self-denial? How have politicians convinced persons to overcome their self-interest?

 With man, the "wise" men or politicians try to convince everyone that everyone is better off if he conquers his appetites and is unselfish. It is very difficult to get persons to conquer their natural inclinations.

The politicians contrive an imaginary reward: they charm the savage with praise and flattery. They flatter by ...

  1. First, by saying that your superiority over other animals lies precisely in your ability of self-denial—of course, low-minded people do not have this ability.
  2. Second, by inventing the rewards of honor and shame: one being the highest good you can aspire to, the other being characteristic of low animals.

Man, being prideful, falls for this.  And so, the savage was broken.

Top of Page

3.  How, according to Mandeville, were the brutes, or the lower-class, made civilized by the politicians?  What are the origins of "virtue" and "vice"?  Do you agree that virtuous actions are only fictions contrary to human nature invented by politicians?

 These clever men, the skillful politicians, benefit from those who through pride deny their own pleasures.  But the politicians were threatened by those who saw through the tricks and were like themselves.

So the politicians set up an ethical system and defined "vice" as the gratification of appetites, and "virtue" as acting contrary to the impulses of nature.  Deities were set up to enforce what the politicians could not enforce: the threats and rewards of hell and heaven. 

The moral virtues, then, are a political offspring.

Top of Page

4.  In what ways do "private vices" become "public benefits" according to Mandeville?  Does the absence of "self-love" destroy progress?

 Pity is just like any other emotion.  We would save a baby falling into a fire solely to avoid our own pain.  Whoever does good things without coveting thanks, according to Mandeville, is indulging in some secret passion or pleasure which is not immediately obvious—most notably pride.

Hence, by not seeking our own advantage we help others and reap the rewards of honor and pride.  It's in our own interest and in society's interest not to be overtly selfish. The "insatiable thirst after fame" results in public benefits. A person who does not love self is not so driven by flattery and praise.

Top of Page


Recommended Sources

Mandeville, Geoffrey de:  The 1911 Encyclopedia.  An excellent short presentation of Mandeville's thought

Ethics Homepage     

 
Plato, "The Ring of Gyges"   Top of Page   Bentham, "Happiness Is the Greatest Good"
Send corrections or suggestions to webmaster at philosophy.lander.edu
Read the disclaimer concerning this page.
09.10.09        2003-9 GFDL

Problems  |  Egoistic Theories  |  The Good  |  Duty Ethics  |  Utilitarianism  |  Rights  |

.