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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XI. Berkeley and Contemporary Philosophy

§ 20. Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees

Hutcheson’s first work was described on the title-page as a defence of Shaftesbury against the author of The Fable of the Bees. In 1705, Bernard Mandeville, a Dutch physician resident in London, had published a pamphlet of some four hundred lines of doggerel verse entitled The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn’d Honest. This was republished as a volume, in 1714, together with “an inquiry into the original of moral virtue” and “remarks” on the original verses, and, again, in 1723, with further additions—the whole bearing the title The Fable of the Bees; or, Private Vices, Public Benefits. Mandeville marks a reaction against the too facile optimism which was common with the deists and to which Shaftesbury gave philosophical expression, and against the conventions associated with popular morality. But he did not draw nice distinctions: convention and morality are equally the objects of his satire. He was clever enough to detect the luxury and vice that gather round the industrial system, and perverse enough to mistake them for its foundation. He reverted to Hobbes’s selfish theory of human nature, but was without Hobbes’s grasp of the principle of order. He looked upon man as a compound of various passions, governed by each as it comes uppermost, and he held that “the moral virtues are the political offspring which flattery begot upon pride.” The combination of ability and coarseness with which this view was developed led to many other answers than Hutcheson’s. Berkeley replied in Alciphron; and William Law, as his manner was, went to the heart of the matter in a brilliant pamphlet, Remarks upon a late book, entituled The Fable of the Bees (1723). Law also made his mark in the deist controversy by The Case of Reason (1731), a reply to Tindal, in which he anticipated the line of argument soon afterwards worked out by Butler.