Dr. Bernard Mandeville

“Dr. Bernard Mandeville.” Proceedings of the British Academy 52 (1966), London 1967.


“It is to be feared that not only would most of Bernard Mandeville’s contemporaries turn in their graves if they could know that he is today presented as a mastermind to this August body, but even that now there may have been some raising of eyebrows about the appropriateness of such a choice. The author who achieved such a succes de scandale  almost 250 years ago is still not quite reputable. Though there can be no doubt that his works had an enormous circulation and that they set many people thinking on important problems, it is less easy to explain what precisely he has contributed to our understanding.

Let me at once say to dispel a natural apprehension, that I’m not going to represent him as a great economist.  Although we owed him both the term ‘division of labor’ and a clearer view of the nature of this phenomenon, and although no less an authority than Lord Keynes has given him high praise for other parts of his economic work, it will not be on this ground that I shall claim eminence for him. With the exception I have mentioned — which is a big one — what Mandeville has to say on technical economics seems to me to be rather mediocre, or at least unoriginal — ideas widely current in his time which he merely uses to illustrate conceptions of a much wider bearing.”

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