A moralistic failure: Mandeville and the obscene origin of economic thought

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Bernard Mandeville is remembered mainly for his formulation of the moral paradox of capitalism. Reading him as an economist, this article finds a theoretical possibility from which economics recoiled. It was not simply the idea that humans are driven by passions, but that passions are social in nature, existing between subjects. This idea conferred an irrevocable obscene nature on Mandeville’s notion of economy. Its repression marked the birth of modern economic thought with a moralistic failure. Beginning with Adam Smith, economic thought theoretically reconfigures the concept of economy, in order to avoid Mandeville’s moral scandal. It encloses passions within individuals and in parallel denies the social aspect of goods as sites of imagination.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-595
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes


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