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Mandeville on the origins of virtue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Robin Andrew Douglass

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Philosophy
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 10 May 2019

King's Authors


While many of Bernard Mandeville’s contemporary critics read him as trying to ridicule and subvert all ideas of morality and virtue, others criticized him for insisting on too demanding a conception of virtue as self-denial. In this article, I take the latter line of criticism as my point of departure and evaluate whether Mandeville’s ‘origins of virtue’ thesis can be reconciled with his claims about virtue requiring self-denial. To do so, I trace the changes to Mandeville’s account of virtue between the different editions of The Fable of the Bees and An Enquiry Into the Origin of Honour, placing particular emphasis on the conceptual distinctions introduced in the 1723 edition of the Fable. I show that there are important tensions in Mandeville’s argument and I evaluate potential ways in which they might be resolved. The most important inconsistency, I argue, is that it is unclear whether Mandeville’s speculative historical explanation of the origins of virtue can support the strongest claims he makes about virtue requiring a complete conquest of the passions, even if it can support weaker conceptualizations of virtue as self-denial.

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