Chapter 24. "Human Beings Are Selfish" by Bernard Mandeville

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from The Fable of the Bees
The Reading Selection from The Fable of the Bees
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Bee on Hive, (detail) İSmithsonian Institution

About the author…

Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) was born in Rotterdam and attended the University of Leiden where he studied medicine and philosophy. He settled in London where he published The Fable of the Bees; or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits, which he revised over a quarter century in response to criticism directed by many of his contemporaries. Although shocking to the 18th century moralists, his economic thought profoundly affected Adam Smith.

About the work…

In his The Fable of the Bees,[1] Mandeville constructs a somewhat satirical explanation praising the "private vices" of selfishness because they produce virtues and "public benefits," including those of social origins, social welfare, and social progress. Mandeville's shrewd insight into the motivations of human beings has often delighted many persons who believe that human nature is less than noble. The reading is drawn from Mandeville's introductory explanation of the fable.

Ideas of Interest from The Fable of the Bees

  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?



Bernard Mandeville. The Fable of the Bees; or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits. 2nd Ed., 1723. London: Edmund Parker, 1714. 493-502.