Machiavelli's Understanding of Virtue By Candidate’s Name 2011 FACULTY OF ART, DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY (This page intentionally left blank) It is possible to suggest that Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) was the most famous and controversial figure in the history of political thought whose works shocked sixteenth-century audiences accustomed to seeing Christian and civic virtue as interchangeable because Machiavelli’s version of the truth is at odds with Christianity and its rules.1 In his work The Prince, Machiavelli overturns traditional morality influenced by an ethical framework that draws from ancient rhetorical theory to present complex political ethics…
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In his work The Prince, Machiavelli suggests that he has authored something of practical value for anyone who understands it, and it will appear that he strives for practical utility rather than abstract or religious notions of goodness or virtue.3 Although tradition and religion equated effective rule by a ruler with upright behaviour and virtue, requiring a ruler to be a good Christian, Machiavelli goes forth to suggest boldly that any ruler who took such advice was staring at ruin. In Machiavelli’s opinion, it is far more important for any ruler to save the state than to worry about vices. Thus, according to Machiavelli, a ruler or a prince should only appear to possess conventional virtues such as liberality, mercy, trustworthiness, and piety.4 Machiavelli states that it is likely that the people will take for granted generosity in a ruler and then proceed to demand generosity. Thus, it is best to avoid generosity because this virtue is likely to force a ruler to burden the people with taxes to make the ruler unpopular.5 Machiavelli argues against the bad use of mercy by a ruler because it is impossible to keep a people united and prepared for action towards progress without a fear of the ruler.6 In Machiavelli’s opinion, it does not make sense for a wise ruler to keep his word if the consequences of this were to cause the ruler harm because all men are wicked and self-interested creatures who do similarly.7 Thus, Machiavelli argues only for appearances of virtues in a ruler because such appearances serve best, but in reality, a ruler must do that which benefits the ruler most.8 In all his arguments presented in his work The Prince, Machiavelli maintains a focus on the growth of the state, with a ruler or prince having a need for recognising that states grow, or they may end. Thus, although Machiavelli does not dismiss Christian virtues, recognising their appeal and prestige, he urges the ruler to adopt a proper use of traditional virtues. According to Machiavelli, if times are peaceful and all men virtuous, a ruler can afford the luxury of moral practice, but a ruler should be prepared to cultivate an appearance of virtue while exercising its opposite to ensure that the state will remain secure. Machiavelli maintains in The Prince his stance that a prince or a ruler, especially a new ruler, cannot maintain all things good and virtuous because of a need for maintaining the state by acting against faith, charity, humanity and religion when the situation demands this.9 Thus, it will appear that according to Machiavelli, practical utility and success are far more important than any loyalty to notions of virtue or good. In his work The Prince, Machiavelli observes that the remarkable deeds of Hannibal, involving a tortuous logistical movement of men and elephants over tall and virtually impassable mountains, was cruel but practically necessary for success, and this is what he expects from his prince.10 Machiavelli’
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Great philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates and Plato had their propositions about what morality entails. Aristotle asked, “What is the good of man?”, whereas Socrates, Plato and others asked, “what
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