Fable of the Bees

Reply Sun 3 Jan, 2010 09:33 am
Fable of the Bees
Bernard Mandeville
ISBN: 978-0-14-044541-1
Publisher: Penguin Group

OVERVIEW: I'd seen several philosophical works refer to this and simply had to read it myself. It actually consists of "The Grumbling Hive" - a work of poetry of sorts which describes what happens when a fictitious beehive suddenly becomes virtuous; where once they prospered, they now fail. Along with the poem itself, the work's real meat is the extensive accompanying essays and commentary on trade, virtue, economics and morals; how they fit together and work against each other. Mandeville is a pragmatist, extraordinaire - and preaches about his world's (read; early 18C England) paradox wherein one extols and preaches virtue, charity and compassion, but how these actually can work against a country being "great" (economically). His writing is first-rate and nicely pits the practical reality of a socioeconomics against traditional notions of honor, virtue and self-denial. At 410 Pages of medium page-size print it's not small, but its still quite readable. Like or dislike, agree or disagree with his views - they almost assuredly will get you thinking.


  • Thorough coverage of subjects addressed
  • Arcane language actually enhances the intonations of the text; nice effect in highlighting/punctuating various points
  • The various essays each deal with a different aspect of human interaction; nicely divided (each can be read in smaller chunks)
  • Though written for an about his world; still seems to have widespread pertinence
  • Despite the somewhat "oppressive" environment, Mandeville writes without fear, openly condemning and praising despite the taboos/more's of his time
  • Gives background, here and there, on the "opponents" he addresses - nicely brings the reader into the context he addresses


  • Some of his arguments, even with multiple re-reads, don't "follow" - I chalk this up to a different time, different place and contexts I'm not a part of
  • In some places, his thoroughness of topic coverage actually works against him - one can only go just so far into the weeds of an issue before the overall direction becomes muddy
  • As typical for 18C philosophers, his sentences can be (practically) unnecessarily complex and difficult for your average 21C reader


  • A system of Contrived Rewards and Punishments (pp82)
  • Religion as the Creator of "Virtue" and "Vice" (pp87)
  • Humanity's vulnerability to Flattery as a control method (pp88)
  • The Disingenuous nature of Politeness and created Shame (pp105)
  • Even the Worst Elements of Society contribute to economic prosperity (pp119)
  • The Symbiotic Relationship between the Virtuous Woman and the Prostitute (pp127)
  • Economics and the Vices of Man (pp143)
  • Not so Dissimilar: Virtue and Wealth (pp157)
  • Hope, Confidence and Imbecility (pp164)
  • Sexual Hypocrisy (pp165)
  • Acknowedgment of Value (pp188)
  • Propensity for Idleness (pp208)
  • "Honor" - as a control method of the Body Politic (pp223)
  • Immortality of the Soul as a method of Self-Flattery (pp 240)
  • Difference between Dishonest and the un-Virtuous (pp244)
  • Fear and Pity's Numbing Effect (pp 268)
  • On Charity (pp275)
  • Charity leading to the "No Consequences"-mindset (pp281)
  • Education: How it doesn't deter crime (pp283)
  • Compassion and "Justice" as detrimental to economic greatness (pp293)
  • Serving a Fool (pp296)
  • The Overpaid Poor (pp306)
  • Compassionate beyond Reason (pp314)
  • Too Much education as Detrimental to a functioning Economy (pp316)
  • Custom and Nature (pp334)
  • Self Love and Methods of Justification (pp337)
  • Self Interest as a Central Theme (pp346)

NOTABLE QUOTES:[INDENT] "It is in Morality as it is in Nature, there is nothing so perfectly Good in Creatures that it cannot be hurtful to any one of the Society, nor anything so entirely Evil, but it may prove beneficial to some part or other of the Creation..."
[/INDENT][INDENT]"Charity, where it is too extensive, seldom fails of promoting Sloth and Idleness, and is good for little in the Common Wealth but to breed Drones and Destroy Industry..."
[/INDENT][INDENT]"... to make people the People they were to govern, believe, that it was more beneficial for everybody to conquer than indulge his appetites... it is not likely that any body could have persuaded them to disapprove of their natural inclinations, or prefer to good of others to their own, if at the same time he had not shew'd them an Equivalent to be enjoy'd as a Reward... "
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