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Morals And Ethics In The Prince By Niccolo Machiavelli

1501 words - 7 pages

In The Prince, Machiavelli discusses morality and ethics concerning secular powers, specifically principalities and secular government. On the other hand, Erasmus discusses the role of morality and personal ethics with regards to religious institutions, specifically the church. While both address different institutions, both express similar viewpoints on many issues. Both agree that personal ethics and morals run thin in the institutions. However, while Machiavelli attempts to completely decouple the actions of good rulers from personal ethics, Erasmus argues that the church has lost track of its original principles down the line.
In The Prince, Machiavelli attempts to completely ...view middle of the document...

It is important to note, however, that many of these traits Machiavelli seems to pull out of thin air, in contrast to his usual extremely thorough historical proofs of his advice.
One thing which Machiavelli advocates based on this human nature is a necessary use of cruelty. A prince should not necessarily avoid vices such as cruelty or dishonesty if employing them will benefit the state. Cruelty and other vices should not be pursued for their own sake, just as virtue should not be pursued for its own sake: virtues and vices should be conceived as means to an end. To this point, Machiavelli states “At this point one may note that men must be either pampered or annihilated. They avenge light offenses; they cannot avenge severe ones; hence, the harm one does to a man must be such as to obviate any fear of revenge.” This quote means that a prince must above all be decisive in his actions, especially when pursuing cruelty as the end to a means. Should a prince choose to use cruelty to reach his goal, he must make sure that he is so cruel that anybody affected is left virtually decimated, with no possibility of rising back up in opposition. This reinforces one of the major themes throughout the work, every action a prince takes must be considered in light of its effect on the state, not in terms of its intrinsic moral value.
Another thing Machiavelli uses human nature to argue that it is better to be feared than loved, stating “it is answered that one would want to be both; but, because it is difficult to force them together whenever one has to do without either of the two, it is much more secure to be feared than loved”(62). Machiavelli then goes on to explain that mens alliances are flimsy, they may be “broken without utility upon occasion”(62). If friendship or love is the only thing preventing someone from breaking one of these alligences, they will not hesitate to do so if need be. However, if there is the threat of pain, that bond is much less likely to be broken because it “is secured by fear of punishment which never lets you go”. (62) Machiavelli also argues in this section that a ruler may be feared, but he must not be hated. Being hated, he contests, can cause a prince’s downfall. This assertion might seem incompatible with Machiavelli’s statements on the utility of cruelty, but Machiavelli advocates the use of cruelty only insofar as it does not compromise the long-term goodwill of the people. The people’s goodwill is always the best defense against both domestic insurrection and foreign aggression. Machiavelli warns princes against doing things that might result in hatred, such as the confiscation of property or the dissolution of traditional institutions. Even installations that are normally valued for military use, such as fortresses, should be judged primarily on their potential to garner support for the prince. Indeed, only when he is absolutely sure that the people who hate him will never be able to rise against him can...

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