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Machiavelli and a Notion of Virtue as an Innovation Essay

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Updated: Dec 21st, 2018

Morality has been discussed and defined for a very long time and there have been many philosophers and thinkers who offered their understanding of the moral laws and regulations. Both individuals and societies govern themselves according to rules and laws of morality, ethics and more specifically, virtue, which play an important role in the lives of people and nations.

Machiavelli has written a lot about virtue and how it is related to the government and more particularly, to a single ruler. The character qualities that a person has are important to themselves and the people who they are in charge of. Machiavelli looks at virtue from a different side, creating an innovative look on what it means to have a virtue in regards to other people, societies and ruling.

In his book titled “The Prince”, Machiavelli examines what virtue is when compared to different people—political rulers, soldiers and army leaders. His view is thought to be innovative and different because he describes things that not many people think about (Mansfield 3).

Not a lot of philosophers have discussed the specific details that Machiavelli looks at. It is almost that he is very negative in his understanding and examination of virtue. What makes him stand out among other thinkers and philosophers is the he makes morality seem immoral. He is often criticized as being very negative but other people say that he is being truthful and that the real world is very different from standards of kindness and love, things that people usually talk about.

Machiavelli wrote about this a long time ago and so, many people of the modern world are surprised that very unwanted and hidden things of the present world, he mentions and openly describes in his writings. One way to think of virtue as an innovation is when judging by the time he was writing in. Many people have not concerned themselves with the deeper personal and public qualities of the relationship between people of high authority and citizens or society in general.

It was the time when people had laws that were not as liberal and human as they are today, and anyone who had a different world view was in danger of being killed or imprisoned. Also, in Machiavelli’s time, virtue could be seen as an innovation because people’s harsh, strict and strong nature was thought to be more important than kindness, honesty and sensitivity. In the modern times, virtue can be thought of as a “lost” innovation because the business world and the politics are more centered on making money.

The society has become very greedy and power hungry because the possibilities and control are now greater and more global, so moral rules, ethics and kindness are thought of rarely and by few people. But in order to better understand what Machiavelli meant, his works must be closely analyzed.

In “The Prince” Machiavelli talks about how virtue can sometimes be unwanted. He states that anyone in a position of authority or political power cannot be successful if they do things according to morality, honesty or virtue. For rulers and anyone with a lot of power, there are very many opportunities to steal and deceive.

They are surrounded by others who are corrupt and do not hesitate to lie and become more powerful. Greed and own interests will always be stronger than the public good or happiness of another individual. So, Machiavelli says that anyone who has virtue and other good qualities will become like the rest, who are greedy and selfish (Mansfield 21).

One reason is that a person who is morally good will be surrounded by all the negative influences and luxury and because an individual is not strong to fight against the majority, they will become the same. It can either happen because they are weak and alone, so they cannot go against a large number of people. Or it might happen because they have never seen so many benefits and opportunities and they like it, the rich lifestyle and power. Of course, it could also happen in case they are threatened by others and are forced to be the same.

The best way for someone to act in such a situation, would be to make it look like they are like the rest but in reality, continue doing good deeds and selfless acts. But unfortunately, Machiavelli argues that anyone who wants to keep their position of power and most people do, they cannot be kind because it will be seen as a weakness and they will lose all their power and authority. This will lead to them being poor and hated by others and no one wants for this to happen.

It is possible to see that people in the past almost had no choice but to become like the rest and have negative qualities. Machiavelli can be said to be innovative because he describes the real world and the truths most people want to hide or pretend that they are not there. It is a very fresh and different way of thinking and writing because Machiavelli is not afraid to gain enemies or people who will criticize his views.

He wants the readers and people to know the true matter of things and because of this, he creates a very unique connection with those people who read his works. Any intellectual writings are supposed to make the reader think and continue the thoughts and concepts that the author writes about.

It is obvious that Machiavelli makes a clear connection between a person’s individual beliefs and characteristics and their own views of themselves, as a ruler of a society or people who are under his command or authority. But he also mentions a more personal side, the way someone thinks of themselves in private and how they chose to be in their life. This can be seen when Machiavelli talks about faith and how a person must possess qualities that can quickly adapt to the changing surrounding environment.

People are mostly civilized beings and kindness and morality are welcomed. But sometimes, there are situations where a person must cover up and forget their good side and become like the rest (Skinner 60). Presently, people often use the saying that if you live with the wolves, you must behave like them in order to survive. Even if someone is good in their heart, sometimes the circumstances force the person to act badly.

A clearer link can be seen when Machiavelli talks about the ends and the means. His view is that sometimes there are things that must be done necessarily for the greater good. Even if they are considered evil or unacceptable by most, a person has to overcome the negative reputation and do what is necessary. It is almost as if they are making a sacrifice of their own reputation and wellbeing for others.

From one perspective it is possible to see as unacceptable because someone who is morally correct and virtuous will never commit an act that is wrong and immoral. Even if no one knows about this, a person will stay true to themselves and not do the bad deed. But Machiavelli states that it is better to do several “seemingly” wrong acts and hurt a few people, than to stay correct and moral the whole time and cause more problems to the greater number of people.

This comes out of a personal strength and virtue, when looking at how far a person is prepared to go. Here, virtue can be defined as action versus inaction. If a person must punish someone and make an example of it or create a reputation of strength and respect, so that others will fear, then it would be better than being inactive in their kindness and letting a whole nation down, by allowing an enemy to think that the ruler is weak and thus, leading to an attack and causing there to be more victims.

The fact that virtue is such a changing concept that it can mean several things in different situations makes the person in charge of that situation responsible. It is for everyone to decide how they must behave and it must be aligned with their inner self and moral rules and laws ((Skinner 86).

Overall, it is easy to see that Machiavelli wanted people to understand that there are very many perspectives in the world and their number greatly increases when a person’s position in society changes. For example, someone who is the head of a family, they are in charge of providing food and shelter and other much needed things for the family.

They maybe have to be strict with the children and so, virtue will be defined by action, strictness towards raising the children and showing them the true ways of the world. For someone who is in charge of a country or nation, virtue could be sacrifices of personal wellbeing for the greater good of the majority of people. It is interesting that the changing quality of virtue stays new and different throughout time.

Even though Machiavelli was writing so many years ago, the qualities and conditions that he described still raise questions and discussions today. This does not mean that the rules and laws of morality, ethics and kindness change over time. Something that is morally correct will always be the same: hurting someone for no reason, being greedy and selfish will always be wrong.

The modern world has created more opportunities for people to be morally correct and have great amounts of virtue towards others and the self. The laws, liberal treatment and development of civilization has made it is easier for virtue to exist and be rewarded. It would be difficult for Machiavelli to predict such big changes to society but he will always stay right in the fact that it is possible for evil to leak through and take advantage, even of most virtuous and moral people.

Works Cited

Mansfield, Harvey. Machiavelli’s Virtue. Chicago, United States: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Print.

Skinner, Quentin. Machiavelli: The Prince. New York, United States: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Print.

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