In the late 17th century, ideas about society and the nature of humanity were developing in the Netherlands and England. The scientific revolution led people to believe that the world was governed by natural laws rather than the direct intervention of a higher power. This led to questions about the nature of humanity and society, and whether it was possible to design better people, ethics, and societies. Some people believed that humans were naturally social and virtuous, while others believed that humans had an innate moral sense.
One book that became popular and controversial during this time was "The Fable of the Bees" (1705) by Bernard Mandeville. The book is a story about a beehive whose inhabitants have human-like characteristics and engage in various dishonest and self-serving activities that ultimately benefit the hive as a whole. However, when one bee starts a crusade against corruption and promotes honesty, the hive's economy collapses, leading to the conclusion that vice is beneficial.
Mandeville (1670-1733) was a Dutch physician who moved to England and was known for his intelligence, knowledge of classical literature, and deep understanding of human nature. Though he was known for his kindness and humanity as a doctor, he was also self-interested and preferred to do things in his own way. He admired people who were able to work tirelessly in their professions and put the needs of others before their own.
In "The Fable of the Bees," Mandeville argued that the rules and laws that govern society are the result of chaotic and irrational human desires. He believed that society functions like the human body, with all of its dirty and unpleasant parts working together to maintain order. Mandeville believed that the natural state of man is to be a slave to his passions, and that civilization has only added more desires. He believed that virtue and vice are necessary to maintain a functioning society, and that waste and extravagance are actually beneficial to the economy. He believed that a government must find a balance between necessary investment and unavoidable waste. He believed that moral improvement of humanity is impossible and that society should accept this fact and focus on maintaining the status quo.
The thesis of "The Fable of The Bees" became known as "The theory of spontaneous order" and influenced ideas about the division of labor, the free market, and the philosophy of utilitarianism, and had a significant impact on the thinking of Scottish Enlightenment figures such as David Hume and Adam Smith.