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Machiavelli and Plato

Like other Western philosophers, Machiavelli was influenced by the early Greek
philosophers, especially Plato. However, in many cases Machiavelli seems to be arguing
against Platonic philosophy. Plato believed in just rulers, who ruled via moral virtue.
Machiavelli believed in "Virtu'", whatever was best for the State was Virtu'. In Plato's
time, man served the state. According to Monarch notes on The Republic: The basic idea
referred to is the view that ethics and politics are the same, or at least co-terminous
(overlapping in essential features). There was no distinction between private life and
public life, as there is today. There was no such concept as the "invasion of privacy,"
perhaps because no Athenian felt that he had a private life that was to be kept distinct
from his public life.

However, in Machiavelli's time, as it is today, the States whole reason for being was to
serve the citizens, not vice versa. Machiavelli believed the only purpose for a ruler was to
make war, and protect its citizens from attacks by other states. The ruler, therefore, is
justified in doing whatever is necessary to maintain the country, even if it is unjust. Plato
argues a ruler can never be unjust.

Plato argues against the type of ruler, who rules solely by might in The Republic. The
argument stands as a defense against Machiavellian society: In practicing a skill, we do
not aim to go beyond, but only to hit the right point. Virtue is a kind of skill, and this
requires a knowledge of what is the right measure. The unjust man, therefore, is not
exercising much of a skill, is he? Nor is the tyrant doing much of a job at ruling. One
cannot claim to play a higher F-sharp than anyone else - since we all know that F-sharp is
F-sharp, and there cannot be higher or lower F-sharp's. It is the just man who knows the
proper note; it is the unjust man who exceeds it and goes out of tune in his life. It is
injustice, then, that is the fool's game. It destroys individuals, as it destroys states.(Plato,
The Republic. 349E, P. 35-36)

In spite of the fact, Machiavelli is greatly influenced by the Greek and Latin classics, and
by the bible, he takes a critical stance in dealing with the idea of morality. A Prince's main
duty is the preservation of his country and the protection of his subjects. "A Prince,
therefore should have no care or thought but for war, and the regulations and training it
requires, and should apply himself exclusively to this as his peculiar province; for war is
the sole art looked for in one who rules" (Machiavelli, P. 70). This is not far from what
we look for in Republican societies. Machiavelli believes a good leader's main
responsibility is to preserve his country first. According to Salmon: Machiavelli says that
rulers should be truthful, keep promises, and the like when doing so will not harm the

which pertains to rulers of states and can be at odds with moral virtue. when considering whether it is better to be loved or feared. and allowing them alone free leave to speak their minds on any matter on which he asks their opinion. the classical concept of civic virtue. he presents examples to show that actions which might seem at first glance to be cruel are merciful in the circumstances.state. when Machiavelli discusses the concepts of cruelty and mercy. he also exposes Monarchy as a fraud. should reflect and judge for himself. A true . he should not shrink from wrongdoing when the preservation of the state requires this. and vice versa. and on none other. 113) Machiavelli greatly admires the works of Plato and other sophists. The Rennaissance Man. Wherefore a prudent Prince should follow a middle course. and after hearing what they have to say. and that they should generally appear to have the traditional virtues. Thus. he first points out that it is desirable--though not easy--to be both loved and feared. Machiavelli is naive. Machiavelli employs the conditional patterns of argumentation developed by the Stoic logicians. He skillfully avoids being caught in false dilemmas. The Prince. He writes: For there is no way to guard against flattery but by letting it be seen that you take no offence in hearing the truth: but when every one is free to tell you the truth. "virtu". For Machiavelli virtu' out weighs virtue in times of need while Plato believes a just ruler must behave the same all the time. for example. Politics is a cruel game. is critically transformed in Machiavelli's concept of virtu'. and sometimes politicians must lie in order to ensure the utilitarian good. Merrilee H. For example. distinguishing. However. Similarly. Edited by Daniel Fader. between standards of discipline appropriate for military campaigns and for rulers when they are not commanding armies. But since the goal of the ruler is to conquer and preserve the state. But he ought to ask their opinion on everything. (Machiavelli. and in many ways promotes violence. respect falls short. if it justifies the ends to a means. Gorlier: New York P. but of what is best or the utilitarian needs of the country. which is a moral code applicable to rulers and subjects alike. Plato believed that the ruler without moral virtue was unjust. He frequently uses the dilemma form since this is useful for presenting alternative courses of action along with their consequences. Machiavelli warns that total honesty is not always what a good Prince needs to hear. however. Salmon says: Machiavelli critically analyzes the crucial characteristics of successful rulers. by choosing certain discreet men from among his subjects. and offers a way of separating morality or religion from politics. "Landmarks in Critical Thinking Series: Machiavelli's The Prince" ) Machiavelli's idea of virtu' is not of moral character then. but is a type of flattery that should be shunned. (Salmon. in so doing.

In Plato's era.ruler was just regardless of the circumstances. War is evil. making them more evil? It follows that justice involves the actual creation of evil. was a realist. are we not adding to their evil. He was concerned with how things were in reality. man based philosophy on utopian ideals and principles. P. a just ruler should not seek war. He had served as head of the second chancery of the Florentine republic. Machiavelli. Machiavelli tried unsuccessfully to use this treatise to gain an advisory appointment either to the papacy or the court of the Duke. not how things could be if the world was perfect. They were concerned with how things should be. but was dismissed after it fell in 1512. The death of a patient is not a triumph of medicine but a failure. and feels the Republic should have a standing Army of trained soldiers in order to defend the Republic. we will have a perfect society. Machiavelli are writing in two different eras. and "The creation of evil is not an accomplishment of justice. He does address war. and a Medici also sat on the papal throne in Rome. He was not concerned with moral virtue. if it meant the destruction and defeat of his state . By doing evil to those evil men. If we all behave this way. according to Plato. not how they were. because war is unjust." For Plato. however. (335 D. and a good ruler exists for only one purpose to make war. The Medici family was again ruling Florence. Yet no art can deliberately aim at a negative result. but a failure of justice. The Prince was an attempt to prevent form those failures being repeated in the future. 15-16) Therefore. a just ruler. this is his only concern. Machiavelli believes the state exists to make war. but a failure of justice. an ideal ruler would be just. He was greatly influenced by his failures in public life. The creation of evil is not an accomplishment of justice.