Bernard Mandeville on Honor, Hypocrisy, and War

Heythrop Journal 60 (2):205-218 (2019)
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Authors from Cicero to Smith held honor to be indispensable to make people see and do what is right. As they considered honor to be a social motive, they did not think this dependence on honor was a problem. Today, we tend to see honor as a self‐regarding motive, but do not see this as problematic because we stopped seeing it as a necessary incentive. Bernard Mandeville, however, agreed with the older authors that honor is indispensable, but agreed with us moderns that it is a self‐interested motive. Honor might be necessary to keep society functioning, but that does not make it less self‐serving. Mandeville thus combined the classical preoccupation with honor and the modern view of man as self‐seeking. That our motivations are self‐serving is something we wish to hide from others and ourselves; society benefits because we generally behave well in order to live up to this inflated (self‐)image. Hypocrisy is the price we pay for living together peacefully. It is this sobering view on honor that sets Mandeville apart from later authors on the subject, particularly David Hume and Adam Smith.

Author's Profile

Peter Olsthoorn
Netherlands Defence Academy


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