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Bernard Mandeville : the importance of women in the development of civil societies Gibson, Carol Jean


This study examines a relatively unacknowledged feature of Bernard Mandeville's writing - his discussion of women and women's issues and the significance of this discussion to his larger thesis. The work is intended to demonstrate that the essential elements in Mandeville's developed thinking, fully argued by him in The Fable, were first discussed in his earlier reflections on women. By examining some of Mandeville's earlier, less well-known writing, in particular The Virgin Unmask'd and The Female Tatler, the study attempts to demonstrate that in them Mandeville lays out the essence of his argument, which is only later developed fully in The Fable of the Bees. The study, by concentrating on the role of women in the civilizing process, is intended to bring to the fore a number of neglected features in Mandeville's writing. By closely scrutinizing Mandeville's theory of the psychological basis of all social relations, and the role of the passions, particularly pride, in the development of materially prosperous societies, the study attempts to demonstrate that the ideas and arguments that provoked Mandeville to develop his own comprehensive theory of the genesis and development of economically advanced societies were first articulated in the context of a discussion of female roles and feminine psychology. Further, that the formulation of Mandeville's ideas concerning the basis of society and social improvement did not originate as a ridicule of Richard Steele's priggish Squire Bickerstaff, his persona in The Tatler, as M.M. Goldsmith claims, but rather that these conceptions were present as early as The Virgin Unmask'd, written, it is argued, before Steele's Tatler was published. The Introduction surveys the current scholarship on Mandeville and his significance as a social and economic theorist, and reviews scholarly opinion about the motives which may have prompted him to develop his controversial theories. Chapter One discusses the elements and significance of Mandeville's social theory. The chapter begins with a review of Mandeville's life, sketches out the development of the ideas presented in his writing, the effects these ideas had on his contemporaries, and his importance within a broad range of speculation in the early eighteenth century about the impulses which propel individuals to seek private gain. Because the passions, particularly pride, play a dominant role in Mandeville's theorizing, Chapter Two is an examination of Mandeville's theory of pride and its role in the civilizing process. Mandeville's intellectual predecessors and his place within a long line of moral argument concerning the role of the passions in the development of society are examined. The argument proper begins in Chapter Three with a discussion of the intellectual inheritance about women. Special attention is given to two elements of Mandeville's argument concerning the establishment of civil societies, the creation of chastity as a moral virtue and the development of marriage as a civil institution. Mandeville's own attitude towards women and his ideas concerning sexuality and marriage and the significance of both to his theorizing are reviewed at some length. The chapter concludes with an analysis of Mandeville's economic theory and the importance of women to it. The conclusion reached is that Mandeville's speculations on women are an important, but neglected, feature of his social thinking, without which his Fable would not be the powerful book it is.

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