The Fable of the Bees

Dublin Core


The Fable of the Bees


Published originally in 1714, Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees is an important work of political, economic, and cultural satire. Subtitled “Private Vices, Publick Benefits,” The Fable of the Bees' central proposal is that private vices—greed, political hypocrisy, affectation, indulgence, lust, and other egotistical actions—are conditions of possiblity for public prosperity. Without the consideration of the self that these vices embody, apathy would reign, and progress would not occur. Instead of being signs of man's higher being, virtues like law, order, and morality are side effects, created as goods by those who seek to falsely imagine themselves beyond brutes. The Fable of the Bees consists in part of a prose commentary on an earlier philosophical satire in verse by Mandeville, entitled The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn'd Honest (1705)—described in the preface as “a fix penny pamphlet” that was “foon after pyrated, [and] cried about the streets in a halfpenny sheet” (A2r). This poem was reprinted in the Fable.

Marymount University's Gomatos Collection contains a copy of the ninth edition, published in 1755 by the Edinburgh printers Gray and Peter--notorious pirates, they are discussed in Richard Scher's The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland and America. Unfortunately, the Marymount text is incomplete, containing only the first book of what was originally published as a two-volume work. Missing is the second volume, in which Mandeville discusses the necessity of the division of labor.

As it is not difficult to see, The Fable of the Bees was the subject of as much debate and criticism as piracy and purchase. Several scholars have taken up the central problematic of Mandeville's infamous text in literary, economic, political, and philosophical terms, and interested readers can learn more by examining the brief bibliography below.

Edition Information

9th ed., to which is added, "A vindication of the book from the aspersions contained in a presentment of the Grand Jury of Middlesex, and an abusive letter to the Lord C."

Vol. 2 has title: The fable of the bees, part II. Includes indexes. Imperfect: lacking vol. 2, containing six prose dialogues in which the author further amplified and defended his doctrines.

Further Reading

Clark, Henry C., ed. Commerce, Culture, and Liberty: Readings on Capitalism before Adam Smith. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003.

Hjort, Anne Mette. "Mandeville's Ambivalent Modernity." MLN. 106.5 (Dec 1991): 951-966.

Mandell, Laura. "Bawds and Merchants: Engendering Capitalist Desires." ELH. 59.1 (Spring 1992): 107-123.



Edinburgh : Printed for W. Gray and W. Peter




Howe, Tonya


Book, 2 v. ; 17 cm. Library has vol. 1 only.





Mandeville, Bernard, 1670-1733. , “The Fable of the Bees,” John T. and Agnes J. Gomatos Special Collections Room, accessed April 17, 2021,

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