Who Was Bernard Mandeville and Was He Truly An Epicurean?

  • This reminds me that "priestcraft" is a great word! :)


    Published in 1720, Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church and National Happiness was his final party political tract in which he endorses the advantages of Whig governance as well as advancing a skeptical view of the religious establishment and priestcraft.

  • I read over the summary there and indeed it's hard to tell, but if we substituted "pleasure" for "egoism" in that article then there might be some merit to it, and since this is a summary and we don't know to what extent "egoism" is a label applied to him, rather than his own label, it would take some reading into the original material to see what's really going on. it would also be important to know whether in in fact cites Epicurus for any of his views.

    But there's enough here in the "Fable of the Bees" references that this might well be worth reading. I'll tag EricR here to as he is much for familiar with some of the writers in that camp than I am. Maybe he's heard of Mandeville.

  • I hope others will have time to look at some of this material and comment further. Right now, after getting past that "egoism" accusation of the IEP article, I'd say that there's a good chance that Mandeville had a very well developed appreciation of Epicurus that surpasses most of what I've seen in other writers of the last several hundred years. But again that's a very preliminary assessment and while he appears to be a materialist, his views on epistemology aren't clear to me yet. But if indeed he was a medical doctor then perhaps there's a lot of promise here.

    I wish Charles were still around to comment on this. Maybe he'll see this and drop by! ;)

  • I should also mention that that little clip of the poem seems promising to my very simple poetic tastes too, so therefore I need to be sure that the resident poet Laureate (probably Don would agree) Joshua will need to check this poem out too!

  • I just finished reading Remark O. Overall it is a very memorable slash and burn of Stoics, Priests, Government officials and others who claim virtue in public but do the opposite in private (and sometimes in public too).

    It does seem to me that he has a good understanding of Epicurus, but it's hard to say whether he is going to extend it philosophically or just be content to cite him in support of his contention, which is something like that everyone in facts acts to pursue what they find pleasing so we should be honest about it.

    No doubt it's easy to see why he is labeled an "egoist" but that just obscures the deeper issues in my view. I would say that Ayn Rand is faily labeled an "egoist" but I am also convinced that scratch the surface of her philosophy and she is throughout Platonist and even Stoic in her worship of reason. Labeling someone an egoist might be a decent indicator of Epicurean views (because the stoic majority views that negatively and labels most all Epicureans as egoists) but unless you drill down to the specifics you probably can't be sure what is going on in the original writings.

    Here I would say there is a good chance that Mandeville combines his view of pursuit of pleasure with considerably more Epicurean philosophy. His ethics at least here do seem based on pleasure, but I don't see much if any recognition of the need for friends of the same viewpoint or much if the practical advice about evaluating the total balance of pleasure and pain.

    Maybe since he is a doctor (I gather?) He is more of a materialist, but if so that's not in this section of this poem.

    And I haven't seen any references to epistemology here though that's not unexpected given this subject.

    So more reading would be necessary but I would rate based what I've read so far as someone who seems to be willing to go further than most in support of some of Epicurus' most controversial ethical positions.

  • I came across Mandeville in my research and initially added him to my list. There are a few loose citations that tie him to the Epicurean philosophical tradition (and not just modern epicurean stereotypes). He seems to have been familiar with the specifics of the philosophy and made several observations about Christian neo-Epicureanism.


    The controversial Epicurean moralist, Bernard Mandeville, makes a distinction between Christian Epicureans like Erasmus, Gassendi and Temple, who claim that piety and virtue are the only true sources of voluptas, and libertines such as Hobbes's follower Charles de Saint-Évremond, who associate it with more straightforwardly sensual pleasure.” (Bullard, Edmund Burke and the Art of Rhetoric 91)

  • Yes Nate it's mainly a question of how you define the target of a list. Saying an occasional good word about Epicurus here and there is probably not enough to consider someone an Epicurean, but again it's all in the context of how you're setting up your chart. There are many people who say a good word about him who I wouldn't dream of calling Epicurean.

    To me, I don't generally start considering them Epicurean until they've at least ruled out supernatural gods, ruled out life after death, they specifically talk about pleasure as the goal and distinguish that from virtue, and say at least something in the direction of general materialism. I don't know that with Mandeville we have good documentation except for the pleasure part.