Seagrave, S. Adam
M.A. (Master of Arts)
Department of Political Science
The paradoxical nature of Bernard Mandeville's The Fable of the Bees has led a number of scholars to offer competing interpretations of his social and political thought. In particular, his rigoristic definition of moral virtue, which juxtaposes a version of Christian asceticism with Enlightenment rationalism, has allowed for competing portrayals of Mandeville as either a Christian moralist or a Hobbesian empiricist. Contributing to this perplexity is the fact that his writings are also characterized by repeated appeals to Christian ethics, despite the fact that he is making a case for the benefits to be derived from vice. In this paper, I attempt to illustrate that Mandeville's apparent references to Christian theology are a crucial part of his naturalistic argument for the need to manage fundamentally vicious passions through moral education. Understanding that Mandeville acknowledges the social utility of Christianity contributes to a more coherent reading of his political thought and allows us to place him more prominently among 18th-century thinkers whose ideas were borne out in practice at the time of the American Founding. Furthermore, the argument for Mandeville's consistency presented here speaks to a more general ongoing debate over the compatibility between naturalism and religious belief.
Hoss, Lewis, "Reconciling naturalism and theology in the political thought of Bernard Mandeville" (2016). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 4650.
Northern Illinois University
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