Hobbes Machiavelli and Aristotle

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Unlike the idealistic ancient philosophers such as Plato, who discusses politics in “the context of things above politics” (Machiavelli vii), the modern philosophers, Niccolò Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes, take a realistic approach in explaining political actions and outcomes. Considered to be among the first social scientists, they both try to delve deep into the nature of mankind and its relationship to politics. In the course of doing so, both authors seem to believe that virtue and morality, good and bad, just and unjust, are all abstract concepts that exist only because of perception and consequences. However, each of the authors resorts to different approaches in exploring the origin and nature of virtue and morality, and in explaining what is meant by “good” or “bad”, and “just” or “unjust.” While Hobbes’ view on virtue and morality is deeply rooted in self interest, which can be realized through covenant and guided laws, Machiavelli believes that self-reliance is a necessity for virtuous acts which are desirable but not necessary. The concepts of virtue, morality, good or bad, just or unjust are all linked together almost like an undecipherable mesh. One can hardly talk about one of these concepts without including the other since they all appear to be synonymous. The idea of virtue, in particular, which seems to encapsulate all the other concepts, has been at the center of the interests of both ancient and modern philosophers, including Machiavelli and Hobbes. For the purpose of our argument, we will assume that whatever is held to be virtuous is, by definition, good, just and moral. The absence of virtue implies the presence of vice, which is held to be bad, immoral and unjust. Bearing this philosophically reasonable assumption in mind, we will proceed to analyzing the views of both authors with regard to the aforementioned concepts. The notion of virtuous acts is relative and is based on one’s perception. As opposed to earlier philosophers such as Aristotle who associate virtue to the attainment of the highest good (Carmola spring 2009), Hobbes and Machiavelli consider virtuous acts as simply qualities that attract praise from others. In other words, both authors are concerned with ends rather than means. For instance, in chapter 15 of The Prince, Machiavelli highlights certain characteristics for which “men and especially Princes are praised or blamed” (Machiavelli 61). Honesty, for example, is considered a virtue only because other people praise it. This implies that Men are generally praised for what are perceived as virtuous qualities and are blamed for what are held as vices. Machiavelli argues that “since human condition do not permit” one to have all these qualities, it is necessary for one “to be prudent so as to avoid those vices.” Chapter 15 seeks to portray the fact that men are generally impressed by appearance and they tend to praise virtue even though most of them might not posses it. So it is the onus of the Prince and everyone else to be able to manipulate the perception of people in order to maintain self preservation. This in essence, is a clear manifestation of Machiavelli’s seemingly pragmatic understanding of the origin and nature of virtue. Hobbes argues that it is in the interest of man, whose natural condition is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” to enter into “covenant” in order to exercise or experience virtuous acts that are guided by law and order (Hobbes 186). He believes that the idea of virtue has no place outside a civil state where man’s actions are marred by “competition, diffidence and glory” – whose end result is nothing but perpetual war and quarrel (Hobbes 185). In such a life, nothing can be virtuous since any man and every man has the right to everything. Therefore, Hobbes believes that the concept of just and unjust (seen as virtue and vice respectively) can only make sense when there is some kind of a “coercive power to compel...
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