Virtue By Vice Essay

1573 words - 6 pages

Virtue is not an ambiguous term. It has strong ties to moral excellence. There are minor variations among virtues according to different, usually religious, value systems. However, virtuosity at its essence does not change. Virtue is the polar opposite of vice. This generally agreed upon definition is the one used in More's Utopia. Machiavelli redefines virtue and vice by extracting the element of morality from both. Doing good, or being virtuous is gaining power and maintaining the state. (Machiavelli,58) A prince must use vices as a means to do good. Vices are either looked at favorably or unfavorably according to public perception. A prince with virtue knows how to balance the two types of vices to maintain stability and attain power. It is important to understand that Machiavellian virtue has no moral imperative. The favorable and unfavorable vices are looked at equally in that they serve as functions of achieving an end.Machiavelli talks about ways to acquire power through either ability or good fortune. In explaining virtue, he mentions mythical and historical leaders who attaint power. "those who came princes by their own virtue and not because of them [fortune]. Id say the most excellent ones are Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, Theseus, and the like." (Machiavelli,21) Moses, although discredited as merely following orders of God, gains power through the trust of Israeli slaves in Egypt. Cyrus gains the trust of Persian citizens and takes over the Median Empire becoming King of Persia. Romulus came to power by killing his brother, Remus, for leadership of Rome. Theseus, after a long journey of battling a series of underworld beings, uses conquest and personal influence to gain the support of the Athenians, under the rule of King Minos. (Britannica) Using these figures, Machiavelli makes it clear that sensing opportunity and acting upon it, especially with violence, is virtuous. "Their excellent virtue enabled them [these men] to recognize that occasion whence the fatherland was ennobled and became very happy." (Machiavelli,22) The men he is talking about, exploited citizens, who, being oppressed, were looking to anyone for change. The Israelis were oppressed by the Egyptians, just as the Persians were by Astyages (Median King), the Romans were by Remus, and the Athenisans were by King Minos. The vice of exploitation is used as a means for gaining power. As exploitation appears bad in the public eye, Machiavelli would say that one must use it sparingly in order to maintain stability in a state. Citizens would hate a ruler if they knew they were being exploited. It is better for a prince to be feared than loved, but most of all he must not be hated. (Machiavelli,62) The man who can balance, the vices of exploitation and fairness is one that is virtuous. The key is in the public eye. The prince does not have to be fair, as long as the citizens see him as fair. Just as he used exploitation to gain power, he uses fairness as a means to an ends, gaining...

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