What does Machiavelli mean by virtue
- Pages: 7
- Word count: 1739
- Category: Machiavelli
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Men often speak of virtue without using the word but saying instead ”the quality of life” or ”the great society” or ”ethical” or even ”square’ ‘. But do we know what virtue is? And what virtuoso is? What steps does Machiavelli takes in order to explain virtue and virtuoso? What are they based upon? Machiavelli clearly claims that men are neither utterly wicked nor perfectly good. Having said that even the simplest human character is complex. Nobody is completely villain and heroes on the other hand are in some respect base.
Looking at human nature can be useful to see what Machiavelli mean by virtue. Every aspect of politics begins from human nature, its possibilities and limitations. What Machiavelli takes to be the primary motives that determine men’s actions. What do men want? What do men value? Answers to these questions determine not only what type of state, also the policy of the ruler. Before deciding on any issue men should well consider the objections and the dangers which it presents and should avoid it.
A general principle assumed by Machiavelli is the supreme importance in society of the ruler (lawgiver). What Machiavelli mean is a successful state must be founded by a single men, and the laws and government which he creates determine the national character of his people, for example Medici family. Moral and civic virtue becomes bigger than the law, and when a society becomes corrupt it can never reform itself, but must be taken in control by one lawgiver who can restore it. Machiavelli constantly praises free actions, actions which takes place in some social and historical context.
Necessity narrows the range of alternatives, but choices have to be made . Furthermore it is possible by reason applied to experience to make meaningful decisions and generalisations about how certain types of action, but even there is always Fortuna. Ideally men ought to be moved by a careful, objective and consideration of their own interests. Instead of jumping into first course of action. However it is not easy to say what is one’s best interest, most men are irrational.
What does Machiavelli mean, are they important to Political Thought? The idea of virtu and many other ideas, were very important for Machiavelli in explaining his political ideas on statecraft, often we hear people say he’s a man of virtue (honour). The words Machiavelli uses work best if they are not translated, words such as virtu, fortuna, liberta, virtuoso and necessita. These words have very specific meaning to him and others. They are linked with their old Latin meanings, and also linked with contemporary historical experiences of politics.
The prince and indeed all his works were written in Italian, and not in Latin as they should have been in earlier centuries. Virtu means something like manly virtues, the virtues of the old Latin thinkers, excellences of character a craft such as good doctor to make people to feel better, the virtues of the statesman. It encompasses both strength and virtuosity. It has a much more complicated and subtle meaning than at first appears when baldly translated, as Crick argues in the Introduction to the Discourses. Machiavelli, 1983, 57). The notion virtu is a difficult one, for Machiavelli seemed to have various definitions of the term, and used it both to describe legitimate means of acquiring and holding on to states, and criminal means of gaining power. Looking at this example Machiavelli cite Agotholes, in the many historical figures that he draws upon throughout the Prince, who became king of Syracuse while always keeping to a life of crime at every stage of his life and career. (Mansfield, 1996, 6).
Machiavelli states that it cannot be called virtue to kill one’s citizens, betray one’s friends, to be without faith, without mercy or without religion. He draws his virtue concept from Christian values such as humility, generous (bad quality according to Machiavelli), glory of the world (image), peace, and virtuos, prince must learn to be virtuos in other words excellent, great skill different from virtue. Non Christian swift and effective when to be violent. Whereas reason and rationality seemed not to be very important to Machiavelli.
Coming back to Agotholes, Machiavelli speak of the virtu of him. A prince must not depart from good when possible but know how to enter into evil when forced by necessity. Machiavelli’s notion of virtue is a major one an historical one. Machiavelli sees virtue rooted in the Roman period rather than the Greek Aristotelian period. In The Prince he refers to the “virtue and prudence” of the Romans, as opposed to the “wise men of our time”. In The Discourses he uses the phrase “Roman virtue” four times.
Machiavelli views virtu not necessarily as a good thing as the church did, or as Aristotle did in his Nicomachean Ethics, where he talks about human excellence causing a man to perform his function well in a mean or average manner (Aristotle, 1976, 100), but rather an ability involving specific characteristics of behaviour such as skill, energy, determination, strength, spiritedness, courage or prowess to hold on to or acquire power through high office in the form of principalities or republics. Machiavelli, 1988, 5 & 103) Crick says “The Discourses makes clear that republics are to be preferred if you can get them. ” Machiavelli considered that republics were superior in the long term, and that principalities were better for short-term advantage, e. g. ease of setting up from scratch. (Machiavelli, 1983, 22) The idea of Liberta is linked with republicanism, which Machiavelli obviously would have preferred, according to his writings.
The very first line of The Prince is “All the states, all the dominions that have held sway over men, have been either republics or principalities. (Machiavelli, 1988, 5) This shows the meaning, to Machiavelli, of liberta, and the contrast between his idea of a state ruled by a leader and one ruled by its people. But liberta did not mean what it means to us: a democratic rule by the people. Liberta meant not necessarily freedom to rule over oneself, but maybe just freedom in the sense of security, i. e. freedom from oppression by someone else. more powerful. So, The Prince is not in complete contrast: a prince could rule benevolently and give his people liberta in Machiavelli’s meaning of the word.
A republic might not always be better than a principality when this meaning is considered. The ending of that first paragraph (Machiavelli, 1988, 5) says: ” States thus acquired are either used to living under a prince or used to being free: and they are acquired either with the arms of others or with one’s own, either through luck or favour or else through ability. ” (virtu here being translated as ability) Another important concept for Machiavelli was that of necessity. The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” sums up his philosophy. For whatever is necessary, to hold on to power or gain territory, should be executed.
Machiavelli seemed rather keen on public executions which should be memorable and teach people a lesson not to commit wrong doing again. In effect the loser should be executed to set an example and cement his power base. Ruling by fear in effect. ) To form a new state where none existed before, or conquer a state that is heavily guarded is difficult, and requires necessary actions to be taken to be successful. The necessity to perform “evil” actions for the good of the state. The more difficult it is, the better, as the prince will have to use all his ability – his virtue – to win through by all necessary means.
Machiavelli wrote much of his work in secret: at the end of his life, when the Medici family was overthrown (Chanel 4,11. 12. 04), he was disgraced and ended his life in poverty and enforced retirement. He was, and is, unusual in that he tried to free his thought from moral strictures, and he is often considered to be immoral rather than amoral, which is why he was so controversial. The Prince shocked and horrified many people because of its realism. A good ruler was not necessarily a person who acted according to moral rules: but simply one who achieved the end of a well-run state, by whatever means.
The Prince treats of various ways of running states by fairly autocratic methods, and the Discourses covers more the ground of republicanism and liberta, as in the ancient Roman empire. To Machiavelli politics is a practical craft, not connected with Christian morals or theoretical musings. If something works for a ruler, however cruel or forceful, then do it: if it doesn’t work, then however high-minded or well-meaning, don’t do it. It is a work written to be read aloud: in oratorical style, using persuasive arguments and manipulative verbal methods.
Machiavelli cites various different city states, and says that a man can become a prince by several means: force of arms, good luck, others’ force of arms, criminal means, chosen by fellow-citizens, or elected pope. He is really talking about the situation in Florence: contemporary readers would have been able to understand all the hidden meanings and allusions which we cannot grasp. One of his main conclusions was that force is necessary for good government, but that cruel or inhumane force is self-defeating so should not be used.
This is a good example of his amoral arguments. From a contemporary point of view, The Prince is a remarkably candid and perhaps honest treatise on statecraft, which coldly and clinically discusses the means to gain or hold on to power using “evil” means when necessary, which by today’s standards would hopefully be totally unacceptable. Machiavelli talks about destruction and death of enemies in a detached manner as if these activities were quite normal for an aspiring ruler or prince. Indeed Machiavelli was himself tortured by the Medici regime for plotting against them.
For a person who had had first hand experience of the virtues of a good ruler, he was remarkably sanguine. But Machiavilli’s aim was to create a society, a state being a monarchy or a republic, in which people could live as citizens in liberty to pursue the common good. To save the life and preserve the freedom of one’s country requires a momentary setting aside of considerations of justice, kindness and praiseworthiness. For Machiavelli people were dispensable, but the state, a strong powerful state able to defend itself and acquire new territory, was all important.