Hume and Mandeville

In the year 1984, concluding the first part of Hume’s Moral Scepticism, devoted to the genesis of the Treatise, to its structure and to the sceptical conclusion of book one, I wrote: ‘It is not a case of discovering even in Mandeville a favoured source of Hume, but to rebalance the existing literature that conceded too much to Hutcheson and too little to Mandeville’ (p. 99).

In the year 2013 Mikko Tolonen’s Mandeville and Hume anatomists of civil society analytically dispelled any reasonable doubt about Mandeville’s influence on the third book of the Treatise of Hume (p. 22) and on the basis of Mandeville’s fundamental distinction between self love and self liking has explained respectively Hume’s treatment of justice and politeness.

 (Mikko Tolonen has also established a radical distance between the Hobbesian and immoralist Mandeville of the Fable of the bees and  Mandeville’s conjectural history of the six dialogues of Part II – a title due to the editors rather than the author. (‘After all, the two parts are intellectually apart’, p. 145).However, I do not think that the influence of Mandeville should be limited to the dialogues of Part II. At p. 99, I was referring to ‘the disenchanted way in which Mandeville deals with speculative topics. At the core, Mandeville (and, for the most part, his mentor Bayle) anticipates the careless philosopher that Hume presents in the first book of the Treatise as in the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion’(p. 99).

Hume’s letter to a Scottish Physician  as well as his talking of animal spirits (T. p. 61) keep on traces of his reading  of Mandeville’s Treatise of the Hypochondriack and Histerck Diseases (see my book pp. 35-36, 43-50, 59-60 ). My pages 131-132 and 137 refer to a probable reading of Mandeville’s Essay on Charity, and Charity Schools, and p. 169 to A search into the Nature of Society.  See also pp. 172, 178-180, 182-183 and 192-193. I also think that, in stressing the distance between the Mandeville of the Fable and the Mandeville of the Part II, Tolonen neglects what is a constant of his treatment. Not only does Mandeville emphasize that self love and self liking are morally neutral, but also the distance between his perspective and current morality. To explain myself with an example, in Part ii Cleomenes states: ‘All the precepts of good manner throughout the world have the same tendency, and are no more than various methods of making ourselves acceptable to others, with as little prejudice to ourselves as it possible’. Tolonen underlines the universal character of the tendency, but neglects the italicized part where the connection is reaffirmed with self love (and perhaps its prevalence)(see Tolonen, p.92 and Mandeville, Part II, 147.

Moreover, if Tolonen’s excellent study constitutes a reliable guide to read the second part of the third book and the chapter on the Greatness of mind, much of the third book of the Treatise remains outside this discussion: the role of sympathy in the formation of moral approval , the criteria of utility and  pleasure on which Hume insists so much are not justified in this examination, neither the whole Part I of the book Of Morals. Hume’s     predominantly descriptive intent does not avoid the problematic aspects of moral approval.