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A Letter to Dion

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The Letter to Dion, Mandeville's last publication, was, in form, a reply to Bishop Berkeley's Alciphron: or, the Minute Philosopher. In Alciphron, a series of dialogues directed against "free thinkers" in general, Dion is the presiding host and Alciphron and Lysicles are the expositors of objectionable doctrines. Mandeville's Fable of the Bees is attacked in the Second Dialogue, where Lysicles expounds some Mandevillian views but is theologically an atheist, politically a revolutionary, and socially a leveller. In the Letter to Dion, however, Mandeville assumes that Berkeley is charging him with all of these views, and accuses Berkeley of unfairness and misrepresentation.

Neither Alciphron nor the Letter to Dion caused much of a stir. The Letter never had a second edition, and is now exceedingly scarce. The significance of the Letter would be minor if it were confined to its role in the exchange between Berkeley and Mandeville. Berkeley had more sinners in mind than Mandeville, and Mandeville more critics than Berkeley. Berkeley, however, mere than any other critic seems to have gotten under Mandeville's skin, perhaps because Berkeley alone made effective use against him of his own weapons of satire and ridicule.

Berkeley came to closest grips with The Fable of the Bees when he rejected Mandeville's grim picture of human nature, and when he met Mandeville's eulogy of luxury by the argument that expenditures on luxuries were no better support of employment than equivalent spending on charity to the poor or than the more lasting life which would result from avoidance of luxury.

Of the few contemporary notices of the Letter to Dion, the most important was by John, Lord Hervey. Hervey charged both Berkeley and Mandeville with unfairness, but aimed most of his criticism at Berkeley. He claimed that Alciphron displayed the weaknesses of argument in dialogue form, that it tended either to state the opponent's case so strongly that it became difficult afterwards to refute it or so weakly that it was not worth answering. He found fault with Berkeley for denying that Mandeville had told a great many disagreeable truths—presumably about human nature and its mode of operation in society—and with Mandeville for having told them in public. He held, I believe rightly, that Mandeville, in associating vice with prosperity, deliberately blurred the distinction between vice as an incidental consequence of prosperity and vice as its cause: vice, said Hervey, "is the child of Prosperity, but not the Parent; and ... the Vices which grow upon a flourishing People, are not the Means by which they become so."

T. E. Jessop, in his introduction to his edition of Alciphron, characterizes Berkeley's account of the argument of The Fable of the Bees as "not unfair," and says: "I can see no reason for whitewashing Mandeville. The content and manner of his writing invite retort rather than argument. Berkeley gives both, in the most sparkling of his dialogues. Mandeville wrote a feeble reply, A Letter to Dion." F....