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Virtue According to Machievelli

Virtue According to Machievelli



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Published by: Chris Jaroslaw Rusyniak on Jun 21, 2007
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Rusyniak 1Christopher Rusyniak Professor BrownPerspectives: PL09008February 9, 2008In the Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes states the principal means for differentiating man and beast is his faculty of speech. Speech, unfortunately, is often abused; a fine example is rhetoricaldevices that can be used to craft intentional misunderstanding. “Virtue”, the term, in its varioustranslations in the human language is as ambiguous and misleading as any.Machiavelli, in The Prince, and Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, both had their owninterpretation of this word, its meaning, and its ultimate goal. The underlying threads in eachwork are in stark contrast with one another, and yet in the end they are at least slightlyreconcilable. Never in The Prince does Machiavelli explicitly mention that he is mentioning virtue.The translators often uses the terms strength, cunning, power interchangeably with the Latinword for virtue, virtu. In general the term virtue was most nearly associated is maintaining and bettering (which is often just a method of maintenance) ones position of power. A typicalexample is just as follows. Machiavelli illustrates a folly and then proceeds to explain why it isnot virtuous. “He who is the cause of someone else’s becoming powerful is the agent of his owndestruction…” (Machiavelli 14) One of Aristotle’s most cardinal virtues are used by Machiavelliin the pursuit of power, that ancient virtue is “prudence.” “But the scanty wisdom of man, onentering into an affair which looks well at first, cannot discern the poison that is hidden in it, as Ihave said above of hectic fevers. Therefore, if he who rules a principality cannot recognize evilsuntil they are upon him, he is not truly wise; and this insight is given to few.” (Machiavelli 45)
Rusyniak 2His path with Aristotle quickly diverges when he states that it matters not whether or not you aretruly virtuous, truly generous, or truly brave, so long as you have that reputation and continue toappear that way. “Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I haveenumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, thatto have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful;to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framedthat should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.”(Machiavelli 54)Machiavelli is quick to state that success is not entirely subordinate to chance, rather,circumstance can be manipulated in order to attain this success. “I compare her to one of thoseraging rivers, which when in flood overflows the plains, sweeping away trees and buildings, bearing away the soil from place to place; everything flies before it, all yield to its violence,without being able in any way to withstand it; and yet, though its nature be such, it does notfollow therefore that men, when the weather becomes fair, shall not make provision, both withdefences and barriers, in such a manner that, rising again, the waters may pass away by canal,and their force be neither so unrestrained nor so dangerous. So it happens with fortune, whoshows her power where valour has not prepared to resist her, and thither she turns her forceswhere she knows that barriers and defences have not been raised to constrain her.” “Machievelli74) Once again virtue is the faculty to prevent chance from getting out of hand and being prepared for any circumstance.Whereas the interpretation of “virtue” in Machiavelli’s work is fairly loose and vague theAristotle’s is much more simply demonstrated. “There are three kinds of disposition, then, twoof them vices, involving excess and deficiency respectively, and one a virtue, viz. the mean, and
Rusyniak 3all are in a sense opposed to all; for the extreme states are contrary both to the intermediate stateand to each other, and the intermediate to the extremes; as the equal is greater relatively to theless, less relatively to the greater, so the middle states are excessive relatively to the deficiencies,deficient relatively to the excesses, both in passions and in actions” (Aristotle 48) The meantherefore is the virtue. Aristotle goes on to list a good amount of virtues and their extremes, oneof the most notable being the virtue of courage. Courage is surrounded by the flaws, rashnessand cowardice. There are several other characteristics that define a virtue, or virtuous behavior.It must be habitual as virtue can only be gained by experience. A once high-scoring lucky handin poker does not make you a virtuoso card player if you lose every other time. To be virtuousone must habitually
prudent, not only
appear to be
prudent.Fundamentally the approaches to virtue are different because of their different aims andgoals. Mutually dependant on their aims is the audience they cater to, the purpose for thataudience, and the perspective they can offer. Aristotle’s aim was clearly to find happiness, he barely mentioned rulers nor did he make specific recommendations to them, he therefore couldwrite an idealist work to suit that purpose, assuming humans are generally good. Quite literallyon the opposite hand, Machiavelli was (officially) writing to a solitary ruler of Italy. Hetherefore assumed the practical realist role, aiming to teach people to rule. For this he made theassumption that all people are innately evil and driven by vice. The chief difference is thereforecapitulated by this idea in The Prince: “Hence it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his ownto know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.” (Machiavelli 48)He alleges that the most horrific crime would be not committing an evil if it would benefit thestate as a whole.

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