An Argument for Morality: a Critique

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A New Argument for Morality: A Critique The Prince, one of the first works of modern philosophy, was written in the genre of political doctrine: the Mirror of Princes. This style was reflected in the works of many writers of antiquity, such as Seneca and Isocrates, extending as far back as to the apices of traditional Western culture and civilization in Rome and Greece. As The Prince derives its thought from classical roots of political thought, its originality is questionable.

The third chapter of The Prince was the foundation of Rafael Major’s argument in A New Argument for Morality as it is “a kind of intellectual cornerstone for all modern political thought. ” It must be analyzed in an attempt to evaluate the moral teaching of the entire book. It remains one of the only places in the book to describe the actions of the prince to be limited and guided by natural necessities and desires.

Through the observance of this chapter, Machiavelli must be compared to the writers of antiquity to heighten awareness of his lack of originality. We are forced to re-examine both the “realism” exuded in The Prince and the “idealism” Machiavelli so opposed in the ancients as he himself claimed that they also taught many of the same lessons found in his book.

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Through such examinations, we must ultimately judge the character of Machiavelli’s pursuit to expose the “harshest truths of political life. ” However, one must begin by revisiting the actual thoughts of antiquity, its neglected realism, and supposed “idealism. ” Major accomplishes this by composing a parody of The Prince by concatenating many sources of ancient texts regarding political philosophy into a work closely resembling the teachings in The Prince.

For instance, in Plutarch’s history of Crassus it is written: “We should not worry too much about being feared because many have been feared and popular-but being feared is more powerful even when not popular,” which bears a resemblance to Machiavelli’s claim that “one should like to be both [loved] and [feared], but as it is difficult to bring them together, it is much safer to be feared than to be loved if one of the two has to be lacking. ” As such an example of a passage from one of the ancient authors indicates, many of them were completely aware of the realism associated with political life.

Thus, Major concludes that Machiavelli’s assessment of human nature does not suggest original thought and that Machiavelli possessed no more realism than any other classicist author. From the suitable extrapolations from ancient works of literature in Major’s parody, one can well be convinced of his reasonable claims. His examples are varied and many; they are not solely the works of a few authors. Whereas Machiavelli was too selective in the historic examples that he employed, Major has implemented as many as would make one think that he was not being selective.

The crux of Major’s evaluation of the moral teaching of The Prince rests in the third chapter. In order to benefit from Machiavelli’s “moral suasion” it is imperative that one understands this chapter, which begins with the assertion of “two fundamental truths or natural conditions of political life in newly acquired characteristics. ” The first natural difficulty is that in every principality, there are citizens who would willingly take arms up against their prince in the belief that they would fare better with a new prince.

Machiavelli suggests that being cruel is a “natural” necessity in order to maintain the stability of a state. Major contradicts this assertion through a magnification of the first passage of chapter three. The obscurity of Machiavelli’s language makes it “impossible to discern that the second natural and ordinary necessity has even been specified,”as “the reader is only told that the second necessity of political life ‘requires that one must always offend those over whom he becomes a new prince. ” The rest of the chapter, however, seems to indicate that the second natural and ordinary necessity must be similar to self-defence. The threat of inevitable foreign invasion establishes the necessity of preservation of one’s state by “necessary immorality. ” Chapter three also introduces a change in perspective from an individual prince to the Romans. Machiavelli exemplifies the Romans as the standard for a wise prince, who ought to anticipate all present and future troubles; this is his foundation for all wise judgement.

However, the Romans also had to anticipate foreign threats; thus all cruelty is excusable under the necessity of protecting themselves. Self-defence from an invasion is both a response to classical and Christian moral thinking, according to Major. It can become a “limitless licence of action,” though only prudence and vigilance offer true protection from the “natural difficulties of political life. ” At the heart of Machiavelli’s political philosophy is the solution to such difficulties of political life: moral eaching. But the writers of antiquity, though they were realistic, envisioned an order of morality, that, according to Major, offers hope that a non-Machiavellian approach to politics exists. Rafael Major was effective in proving his thesis. Every one of his claims had textual evidence, specifically from The Prince, as support. The selection of textual support was indeed diverse; one would not be able to accuse such a varied source of texts as being selective. His argument was uniform and consi tent. Thus, I am convinced of the justice of his assertions. -------------------------------------------- [ 1 ]. Rafael Major, “A New Argument for Morality: Machiavelli and the Ancients,” 53. [ 2 ]. Major, 52. [ 3 ]. Major, 54. [ 4 ]. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, in The Prince and Other Writings, trans. Wayne A. Rebhorn (New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003), 71. [ 5 ]. Major, 55. [ 6 ]. Major, 57. [ 7 ]. Machiavelli, 10. [ 8 ]. Major, 57. [ 9 ]. Ibid. 58. [ 10 ]. Ibid. 58.

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