The Prince Seminar
Part 1-Machiavelli’s views on the nature of man and rulers:
1. Are humans fundamentally good or evil? Consider what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘evil’ in this context during the time period.
Machiavelli sees humans as fundamentally evil. Even though he does point out some good attributes of humans, he gives more reason to believe that they are evil. In Chapter 15: Of Those for Which Men And Especially Princes Are Praised or Blamed, he states qualities that make somebody good or evil. “Someone is considered a giver, someone rapacious; someone cruel, someone merciful; the one a breaker of faith, the other faithful; the one effeminate and pusillanimous, the other fierce and spirited; the one humane, the other proud; the one lascivious, the other chaste; the one honest, the other astute; the one hard, the other agreeable; the one grave, the other light; the one religious, the other unbelieving, and the like” (Machiavelli, Page 61-62). Because of the qualities he listed above, I feel as though Machiavelli has a pretty good sense of what makes up a good and bad person. During this time period, people mainly saw evil in those who did not follow the Church, such as the Jews who were blamed for the Black Plague. Machiavelli touches on some of these qualities when he says “the one a breaker of faith, the other faithful...the one religious, the one unbelieving.” If you were a follower of God and followed the Church, then you were considered morally good. However, Machiavelli understands that a person can not possess all of the traits that make up a good person. He says, “I know that everyone will confess that it would be a very praiseworthy thing to find in a prince all of the above mentioned qualities that are held good. But because he cannot have them, nor wholly observe them, since human conditions do not permit it…”(Machiavelli, Page 62). In this quotation, Machiavelli is outright saying that humans can not be good because they can not posses all of these traits. When he says that “human conditions do not permit it”, he is saying that it is just human nature to not be good. People strive to be good, but because people can not fully have these good traits, they are not good. Another quotation that shows Machiavelli’s views on human nature is when he says “For one can say this generally of men: that they are ungrateful, fickle, pretenders and dissemblers, evaders of danger, eager for gain” (Machiavelli, Page 66). The attributes listed are not good qualities to have, which shows that he sees humans in a negative light. Now he does say “generally”, which shows that he understands that some humans are good, but he is saying that this is how he sees most of society. These quotations show that Machiavelli, for the most part, believes humans are fundamentally evil.
2. How should a prince rule? What personal qualities make a prince an effective ruler? What is the best type of state and why?
In Chapter three of The Prince, Machiavelli says that there are two ways to rule. He says, “For this has to be noted: that men should either be caressed or eliminated, because they avenge themselves for slight offenses but cannot do so for grave ones; so the offense on does to a man should be such that one does not have to fear revenge of it” (Machiavelli, Pages 10-11). He is saying that a Prince should either spoil their citizens, or destroy his citizens. In the second half of the quotation, Machiavelli explains how the prince must be careful of the extent of which he goes to destroy his citizens for the fear of revenge. It is good for a prince to eliminate his citizens far enough as he can without having the fear of revenge, and this is how he should rule. A quality that makes for an effective ruler is prowess. Prowess is defined as skill or expertise, and is what Machiavelli is implying when he talks about virtue on page 22. He says, “the result of becoming prince from private...
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