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The Core Curriculum

Bernard Mandeville, British Moralist and Author of Fable of the Bees.

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Hobbes is popularly thought of as the modern philosophical father of egoism and hedonism (the theses that the only ultimate objects of desire are self-interest and pleasure, respectively) in his ethical and political theory. However, this handle may be more deservedly assessed to the English philosopher of Dutch origin, Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733).

In his great work, The Fable of the Bees (1714), Mandeville develops a political theory in which Private Vices are said to lead to Public Benefits—the notion that the individual pursuit of self-interest leads to collectively advantageous results in a properly organized community (many have used this slogan, unadvisedly, to interpret Adam Smith’s later political economic theories). While Hobbes does develop a moral psychology in which the pursuit of self-interest is at the motivational foreground, there is much evidence in his Leviathan and other political/ethical works suggesting that he did not endorse the much balder egoist and hedonist psychological assumptions later popularized by Mandeville.


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