Knowledge, innovation and emulation in the evolutionary thought of Bernard Mandeville

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Of the early modern writers on the division of labour, Bernard Mandeville alone extended it to all aspects of human activity and emphasised its role in a cumulative process of evolution in which each generation modified and built on what had been achieved by earlier generations. This required exploration of the mechanisms through which new knowledge was developed as well as the means by which knowledge was transmitted between the generations. The present article examines Mandeville’s treatment of these mechanisms and explores their theoretical origins. It examines Mandeville’s understanding of the role of the division of labour in facilitating discovery and learning and the role of education and imitation in transmitting social knowledge. It shows that, for Mandeville, innovators were people of ordinary capacity who were alert to the opportunities and challenges of their environment. As a result of specialisation, they possessed tacit knowledge which was actualised in what they did rather than in theoretical propositions. Mandeville’s evolutionary thought influenced subsequent writers on political economy and evolutionary social thinkers. It may also have had some influence on Charles Darwin, though it is not, in itself, Darwinian.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-107
Number of pages21
JournalCambridge Journal of Economics
Issue number1
Early online date19 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2014


  • Knowledge
  • Evolution
  • Innovation
  • Emulation
  • Mandeville

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)

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