Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Compare Mandeville's characterization of two types of human beings with Friedrich Nietzsche's master and slave-morality and Jeremy Bentham's principles of sympathy and antipathy. What are the central similarities among these three theories?

  2. If "private vices" are the origin of "public benefits" does it follow that "the end justify the means"? How is the distinction between virtue and vice to be drawn if Mandeville is correct in his analysis of selfishness?

  3. Attempt to justify on Mandeville's suppositions why "There is no merit in saving an innocent babe ready to drop into the fire: the action is neither good nor bad…" Contrast Mandeville's view with Kant's explanation of the good will.

  4. Kantian ethics and egoism are opposed in many of their doctrines. Kantian ethics emphasizes the good will, whereas egoistic ethics emphasizes self-interest. Use your knowledge of each ethical theory to explain the apparent conflict in the following two quotations:


    …it is always a matter of duty that a dealer should not over charge an inexperienced purchaser; and wherever there is much commerce the prudent tradesman does not overcharge, but keeps a fixed price for everyone, so that a child buys of him as well as any other. Men are thus honestly served; but this is not enough to make us believe that the tradesman has so acted from duty and from principles of honesty: his own advantage required it; it is out of the question in this case to suppose that he might besides have a direct inclination in favour of the buyers, so that, as it were, from love he should give no advantage to one over another. Accordingly the action was done neither from duty nor from direct inclination, but merely with a selfish view.

    --Immanuel Kant, [Actions for the Sake of Duty]. 

    [Pity] has helped to destroy the honour of virgins, and corrupted the integrity of judges, and whoever acts from it as a principle, what good soever he may bring to the society, has nothing to boast of but that he has indulged a passion that has happened to be beneficial to the public. There is no merit in saving an innocent babe ready to drop into the fire: the action is neither good nor bad, and what benefit soever the infant received we only obliged ourselves; for to have seen it fall, and not strove to hinder it, would have caused a pain which self-preservation compelled us to prevent.

    --Bernard Mandeville, [Public Benefits].