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Niccolo Machiavelli’s insertion that ‘the ends justify the means’ has coined numerous reactions and controversies in regard to its morality stand. His work, ‘The Prince’, is associated with trickery, duplicity, disparagement and all other kinds of evil (Machiavelli and Marriott, 2009). According to him, his view that ‘the ends justify the means’ implies that the rulers eliminate any hindrances that they are bound to encounter during their reign. It is for this reason that his work has been met with lots of criticism. Most of his critics associate him with ‘ruthlessness’ and condemn his work as being immoral. However, other philosophers who have developed a deeper acquaintance with Machiavelli’s work have elicited a different reaction from his critics. This paper will therefore bring out both arguments with the aim of ascertaining whether Machiavelli’s philosophy that ‘the ends justify the means’ is actually an immoral doctrine.
Machiavelli’s Philosophy As Immoral
Machiavelli’s philosophy has received considerable amount of criticism. The ‘acceptable’ actions contravene the acknowledged standard of ethical behavior hence declaring the philosophy immoral. His assertion that, ‘A prince wishing to hold his own must be aware of how to do wrong’ is seen as upholding immoral activities in a bid to preserve political power. He avers that the prince should avoid two things in the course of his reign. First, the prince should ensure that he avoids internal rebellion by his subjects and secondly, any external hostility by alien powers.
How then is his principle viewed as immoral? According to Machiavelli, it is the duty of the prince to protect his realm and to further enhance his sovereignty. He provides various ‘means’ that the prince need in order to achieve his goal and it is these ‘means’ that the critics view as being immoral. One method that Machiavelli upholds as important is the ability of being greedy. He asserts that a prince should not be generous when spending the State’s wealth as generosity results to his collapse and that of the principality. Although he argues that at times generosity may act in favor of the ruler, he highly discourages it and accredits it to a failed political framework. The greedy nature of the ruler ensures that he saves enough funds to finance the military. The major source of power is through acquisition of military defense which ensures that his reign is defended from any kind of attack. This approach is criticized as lacking in morality as the ruler is said to be governed by his desires and interests hence disregarding those of his subjects.
The prince, by using state’s money to fund the military in order to ensure perpetual power, is an immoral conduct that the society views as ‘bad’. According to Machiavelli, the interests of the ruler differ with those of his subjects hence the need to acquire total power. The philosophy therefore encourages the prince to take away the societal freedoms and privileges by being cruel and greedy. He asserts that, “As long as the prince maintains a sense of unity and loyalty he ought not to care about the reproach of cruelty”. What this implies is that the means of being cruel justifies the ends of achieving some sense of civil orderly. This assertion promotes immorality in the sense that it breeds antagonism and vengeance. Cruelty cultivates hatred and fear, the very same traits that Machiavelli tells the prince to be wary of. The critics condemn Machiavelli’s argument in regards to the existing relationship between the prince and his subjects. According to them, a cordial relationship can be achieved through social contracts hence promoting security and justice.
Machiavelli’s Philosophy As Amoral
The amoral structure of deliberation in Machiavelli’s work has been argued as being neither ‘moral’ nor ‘immoral’. It assumes an ‘amoral’ context whereby his assertions are said to be ‘absent of morals’. This does not render his assertions immoral. This is evident from the political guidance that he gives to the prince. According to him, any action that the prince decides to dwell on in an attempt to reach his goal is automatically justified, whether the action is judged as good or bad. His concept of amorality provides that in certain circumstances faced by a ruler, the rules of supremacy precede those of ethics and morality. According to him, the leaders are governed by the ‘ends’ hence resulting to various ‘means’. He further asserts that the actions of the rulers are determined by the humankind who he describes as being ‘basically inflexible and incapable of proving any advancement’.
His advice therefore allows for some flexibility as long as the course of action adopted by the prince is suitable to ensure his success. He is careful not to differentiate between moral and immoral actions. A good example is the fact that his philosophy that ‘the ends justifies the means’ provides a very important restraint that he calls upon the rulers to exercise if they want to protect their power. The rulers should exercise control over his subjects’ women and property. The unjust enrichment is bound to yield hatred and contempt that the prince should inherently avoid. Failure to comply can end the reign of the prince. However, though this argument can be said to have a moral standing, it is by all standards amoral. The need for the prince to restrain himself is not meant to convert him to be morally upright, but to make certain that he protects and secures his reign.
Accordingly, immense virtue is crucial if the ruler is to accomplish his quest of protecting and maintaining his reign whilst attaining respect and grandeur. However, Machiavelli’s ‘virtue’ is not the same as the virtue that highlights the morality of a trait. His kind of ‘virtue’ includes various traits such as greatness, deception and greediness. A good example is his appraisal of the deceptive virtue adopted by Septimius Severus who sought to eradicate impending usurpers of the Roman territory. On the other hand, he detests the excessive action of deceit taken by Agathocles to exercise his power. The implication derived from this argument is the fact that virtue is a notion that challenges morality’s definition of ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’. For example, the notion of deceit according to Machiavelli can be declared as being either legitimate or illegitimate depending on the ruler’s situation. This renders his argument in regards to virtue as being amoral.
Machiavelli’s Philosophy As Moral Utilitarianism
The application of utilitarianism is vital to ascertain morality. Machiavelli’s proponents argue that his critics fail to interpret his work and are therefore quick to jump into unwarranted conclusion. For example, the notion that Machiavelli encourages meanness and deceit is not true. According to his proponents, Machiavelli only asserts that the notions of meanness and deceit should only be applied when necessary. He views the ultimate goal as being the determining factor of adopting a particular method of governance. In what extent is the philosophy considered as being moral?
The proponents argue that Machiavelli’s principle concerns are ethical in nature. His philosophical policy is attributed to a non-consequential description of morality. His contribution towards the moral duties and values such as companionship and impartiality is evident. Accordingly, he does not give an option of transgression but rather, he demands for compliance. Further, Machiavelli does not disregard the conventional values in his argument, but rather raises questions in regards to their usage.
This does not render his philosophy immoral. What of his definition of ‘virtues’? Machiavelli’s critics have been dismissed in their assertion that his philosophical ‘virtues’ promote immorality. However, it is arguable that his virtue doctrine should not be completely distanced from the moral field. Machiavelli regularly criticizes a prince who fails to correctly use his power for the good of human kind as being either immoral or amoral. According to him, virtue can either be good or bad depending on the situation that the prince decides to apply it. This renders this particular virtue to be viewed as solely utilitarian hence gaining a moral standing.
Further, Machiavelli’s principles are actually practical. This is evident in the fact that his political system does not rely on any predetermined moral codes. For example, critics seem to capitalize on his ‘hypocrisy’ insistence. However, they disregard the fact that Machiavelli treats the term solely as a political tool hence lacking any moral element. According to him, “The prince must be willing not only to engage in bad actions whenever necessary but to also pretend to be good in the event he results to bad deeds. Hypocrisy is efficient, while candid knavery would not be.” Generally speaking, Machiavelli only advocates for unethical behaviors only in situations where the prince is faced with no available option and this action is morally justifiable. Humankind is naturally viewed as evil and conniving and a political ruler should not allow himself to be trapped.
Machiavelli’s argument therefore renders him to be viewed as a ‘utilitarian’. According to him, he avers that the worthiness of a moral deed is primarily established by its involvement to overall efficacy thereby concluding that ‘the ends justify the means’.
Is Machiavelli’s philosophy an immoral doctrine? In arguing that the ‘ends justify the means’, Machiavelli provides a practical guide to princes in a bid to achieve their success. It is therefore important to fairly tackle this question by viewing Machiavelli’s work as being less of a philosophical discourse than a mere political guide. Machiavelli’s main concern is to bring to fore his primary suggestions hence disregarding their logical foundation. Further, the ‘means’ that are highly regarded and justified by Machiavelli would benefit any ruler who seek to abide by his advise. However, this fact does not render the aforementioned philosophy credible. It is manned by various flaws in its utilitarian thinking, political objectives and meticulous tactics. It can be argued that this particular philosophy was premised in the context of utilitarian morality. Thus, an action that a ruler decides to take is excusable if the same justifies its ends. He also relies on the conception of incontrovertible rulers in incontrovertible principalities without worrying of any impending variance between the two. Further, his recommendable advice seems to justify immoral behaviors. In conclusion, it is therefore safe to declare that the philosophy is an immoral doctrine.
Machiavelli, N., and Marriott, W. (2009). The Prince. New York: Veroglyphic Publishing.