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The Thinkers' Club Message Board › Further discussion on The Prince

Further discussion on The Prince

A former member
Post #: 10
Although the discussion was interesting, it would have been better to stick more to the topic of human nature. In any case, here are some of my notes regarding the book. Feel free to respond to anything of interest:

1. While others at the discussion seemed to see relevance in The Prince to modern society, I don't see any use for it outside of armed conflicts. Military generals could certainly learn from it, but I don't see how it has any application in a nation in which the government is voluntarily created by the people to protect individual rights. Whether or not America is adhering to that specific notion of government is a separate topic of equal interest.

2. His purpose in writing this book was to get back into politics, to display his intelligence to those in power. He references this in the introduction, and in his final appeal. Given his characterization of man and his arguments throughout, his grab for power is laughable. He has trained his rulers not to trust those who think as he does--who seek power for themselves. If I were a ruler, receiving his book, reading about how he would kill off whole families when necessary, I would never give him a position in my administration. If I actually adhered to his book, I would probably have him killed immediately. He even tells me to do so; he also tells himself not to make an appeal such as he has done:

"whoever is responsible for another's becoming powerful ruins himself, because this power is brought into being either by ingenuity or by force, and both of these are suspect to the one who has become powerful."

So here we have Machiavelli not adhering to his own principles.

3. Any advocate of pragmatism should look to The Prince for the consequences of their philosophy when practiced by those in power. Your personal well-being - as a citizen - is left to chance. The ruler's goal is to stay in power and keep the majority on his side; anything goes when it comes to that pursuit. Thus, even if you - the citizen - work to act in accordance with the majority at all times, if it so happens that your existence inconveniences the ruler, while your nonexistence comes as no inconvenience, the ruler will choose the latter.

4. Machiavelli asserts the evil nature of man by cherry-picking historical examples. Indeed much of his argument and the apparent simplicity of his conclusions come from picking historical examples that match his situations exactly. We covered this somewhat in the discussion.

5. Machiavelli argues for the strict control of civilians based on the effectiveness of such control on soldiers, as if the goal is/should be congruent.

6. Regarding property: he says that a ruler should never fear taking and redistributing foreigner's property, but should fear taking and redistributing subjects' property, never considering that subjects might see his foreign plundering and conceive of it happening to them. For a ruler who so openly displays his disregard for principle shouldn't be expected to adhere to it in any specific circumstance. This all goes back to his notion of people as stupid and evil.

7. "Men will always do badly by you unless they are forced to be virtuous." He just states this, with nothing else to back it up. I'm interested in how others took this statement.
A former member
Post #: 11
Also, here is a link to the Machiavelli Personality Test:­

I scored 51/100, which they consider "low mach". They say most people score in the middle, but there are significant numbers on both extremes.
user 8342056
Twinsburg, OH
Post #: 16
I scored a 57 out of 100! Haha..I guess that means that I'm still within the "low Mach" range...

With regard to this test, I'm sort of wondering whether the organizational-industrial psychologists are testing for high Machs and low Machs on those career inventory tests you take...or the tests they have you take to see if you qualify for a specific position. Which would cause one to wonder whether - in some cases - hiring or promoting someone with a high Mach rating is desirable. One tends to think of high Machs as more ambitious...power hungry...although the questions on the test mostly seem to be asking whether your view of human beings is a positive or negative one. I would be interested in hearing more about the relationship between high Machs and their social standing/careers/level of socially-measured "success."

Perhaps, in response to the questions raised at the meeting, that might give us some way of "testing" whether Machiavelli's theory can be used as an instruction manual for attaining power or simply expresses an opinion that is not necessarily practical.

Maybe it is not that case that humans are evil by nature....but maybe it is the case that living one's life amorally and assuming that humanity is corrupt gives one the ability to attain/maintain power...and live perhaps one man's version of "the good life."

We have seen in contemporary times the same split-thinking: assuming a philosophical perspective or idea because it generates the results we desire...NOT because we can PROVE the the philosophical theory is valid/sound or ontologically accurate. Consider, for example, The Secret. Sorry to give away the Secret for anyone who has not read it, but basically the secret is that one's thoughs - good or bad - attract their reification....if you think something enough, it will come true. When reading the Secret, there is no ambiguity; the world is metaphysically structured so that you are literally pulling a conceived outcome toward you. Yet, the secret provides only testimonials citing in what incident this metaphysical rule played out. It does not provide a solid argument to support itself. There isn't even a comment on philosophical discourses on metaphysics. However, one might argue that it doesn't matter whether or not the world is metaphysically structured to bring one's thoughts into concrete realization; the point is that if you imagine good, positive thoughts you lead a more fulfilled, happy life, are more likely to remember one's goals, more likely to dream and desire, and less likely to be stunned in one's activity by depression. I see the same thing taking place in Machiavelli. He doesn't really say exactly why humans beings are evil - although we can assume that he is reacting to his own life experiences. He doesn't prove a proof to defend this view of human nature, although he does cite examples to suggest that he is right. But does knowing the actual nature of man - good, bad, indifferent - really matter? Machivelli is concerned with teleological - not deontological - ethics. Forming a connection between metaphysics and ethics doesn't really matter.

Another point to ponder: Who or what would be the ultimate "judge" of humans' nature anyways? After all isn't it either man or God (some Higher Power) that has a "judgement." You know guys, I just don't buy that the earth or the universe or the metaphysical structure or things or brainwaves "judge" anything at all - let alone who or what is "good" or "evil" if it is always humans or a Higher Power that is doing the judging, who really has the final word on whether human beings are good or evil. Isn't it (well except for maybe in the case of God/a Higher Power) always mere biased the opinion of Machiavelli, condemned to have to use examples to "prove" itself?
A former member
Post #: 8
My Mach score was 73. I guess I'll be running the world soon ;~>

As to whether big-Machers are desirable in the workplace, I will cite the argument of Robert J. Ringer in his thoroughly Machiavellian self-help guide, Winning Through Intimidation:

There are three types of people in business:
Type 1: Lets you know that he’s out to get all of your chips. Then he tries to do just that.
Type 2: Assures you that he’s not interested in getting your chips. Then he tries to grab all of your chips anyway.
Type 3: Assures you that he’s not interested in getting your chips, and honestly means it. However, in the end, he tries to grab all of your chips anyway.

Ringer says that Type 1 is the easiest and safest to you while Type 3 is the most dangerous. Why? Because Type 1 lets you know just how things stand. Type 2 will tries to deceive you, but he does it so consistently you can see through it. Type 3 is the one you'll be tempted to trust.

Does our experience bear this out? To the deontologist that doesn't matter: the rightness of an action depends on its intention, not its consequences. Can we dismiss deontological ethics as easily as Machiavelli?
user 3980228
Akron, OH
Post #: 13
so machivelli seems to be the antithesis of the author of The Secret , well at least his experiences and attitude were. Would demonstrating untainted altruism in babies and infants be some sort of proof that people are not evil by nature? Assuming that there are "good","bad", and "indifferent"men, well one might behave or act differently than the other even if they have the same goals. I find the whole good and evil thing is a bit tricky, I'm not even sure if I know what it means; I looked it up at work one day and its definitions made the dictionary seem like a thesaurus. Doctors and surgeons have the best intentions for their patients but not all of them make it, some patients are even worse than before treatment.
user 8342056
Twinsburg, OH
Post #: 17
In response to Richard: I can TOTALLY believe that you have a high Mach score! :). No offense; I think it just makes sense because you enjoy participating, vocalizing views, and having some level of control. In response to your comment, it seems as though any author of a book called "success through intimidation" would have to have the opinion that everyone is out to steal all the chips no matter what. I guess it seems as though most humans have the basic instinct to survive. if "chips" could be interpreted as food, shelter, clothing - or the money to pay for these basics of life - then yeah, I agree that most people are probably going to want those chips...and if it comes to it, then I think most people would steal or deceive to get those chips. I guess that the high Mach personality, though, assumes that we are all in a "win-lose" context: If I have chips, then it must be the case that someone loses their chips. If you have chips, it must be the case that you took someone elses. Thinking within this "black and white" context, they preemptively act so as to ensure that they are not the person in risk of losing their chips, which to them would necessitate taking them.

But, this is the question: Are all situations "win-lose" scenarios? Can't there also be "win-win" scenarios? I guess that I will cite Thomas Sowell, author of Basic Economics and Economic Facts and Fallacies. Sowell argues that economic transactions between two parties take place for the mutual benefit of those parties. Makes sense. If a tenant, party A, rents from a landlord, party B, then both parties are getting something out of the gig. Party A gets a nice warm place to stay, fufilling their basic need for shelter, and Party B gets money, which can be used to satisfy his/her basic needs. No one has to hold a gun to party A or party B's head to accept this transaction. Perhaps either Party A or Party B is getting the better end of the deal, but not so much as to prevent the other party from wanting to engage in the transaction. Indeed, economic transactions between two parties would not take place (save for the influence of a third party - the government) if it were not a "win-win" situation, to some degree, for both of them. Both parties are in positions of power; they can choose to accept of reject the offer from the other party. Even in economic situations that appear dubious - like in the case of the questionable mortgage sales that created the current economic condition we are in - the "victims" had a choice to either 1) read their mortgage documents before signing them, 2) wait until they repaired their credit and saved up more money for a down payment, 3) educate themselves about ARMs before making the largest purchase of their lives with one, 4) not buy a house at all, or 5) seek a better deal - OR - Not do any of these and blindly accept the deal. People choose whether to exercise the power they have to act on what is beneficial to them or to not. But the choice is there for them to make. These people choose to exchange monthly income for a home; both parties mutually benefited.

Any transactions between two parties involving "chips" are economic ones. If Sowell is right, then all transactions involving chips without a third party are actually win-win situations for the two parties in question. Is, then, the pattern of generalizing that most scenarios are "win-lose" sort of fallacious thinking? Please dispute this; I'm sure it's not the best argument ever!

The thing is, I think that if you take a look at Western, eurocentric, white, male, aristocratic philosophy - which is what we've been studying EXCLUSIVELY and which is the ONLY type of philosophy those in power deem to actually rightly be named "philosophy" - the "win-win" concept doesn't seem to get a lot of attention. Even the fact that we are debating whether human being are either good (white) OR evil (black) assumes that we have to make a pretty drastic choice between two distinctive options. Why can't we just admit that humans are neither good nor evil and that good and evil, as Jose mentioned, don't even exist as clear and distinct definitions? Why must we find universals? Why must we constantly generalize?

Here is something else to think about regarding this "black and white thinking": Has anyone ever heard of a psychologist by the name of Lawrence Kolhberg? Check Kolhberg out here on wikipedia. Anyways, this guy developed a six-stage scale to measure a human being's moral development. He claimed that he could empirically test whether or not a human being was morally insufficent or advanced in their ability to make proper moral decisions....humm...never mind that he didn't bother to think about whether or not he was the most adept at determining the criteria for what is or isn't "morally developed"....ANYWAYS, a pattern quickly emerges boys and girls are tested using Kohlberg's scale (probably because Kohlberg only used men in his reseach to create his moral theories): Boys were in general score between 4-6 (suggesting high moral development), but girls only test, in general, at 3s (suggesting that they're moral development is impaired somehow). If we adhere to Kohlberg's scale, we conclude that men as a rule are capable of "higher" moral reasoning than women.

Of course, Kohlberg has been the subject of criticism, particularly that of the female philosopher Carol Gilligan. The problem, she argues, with Kohlberg's scale is that it assumes that thinking in terms of universals (like catagorical impairatives) is necessary for making advanced (stage 6) moral judgements. One question asked in Kolhberg's test is "if you wife is dying of a rare form of cancer, would you steal the medicine from the druggist or let your wife die." The rationalization given by the respondant for their action determined their stage or moral development. Gilligan found that women respond to the question differently than men, concerning themselves not with abstracting a generalization from the situation but instead with exploring the details of the particular situation and seeking compromise/ a third alternative. This moral reasoning typical of women does not assume that one can separate morality from the context of the particular, whereas the moral reasoning typical of male respondants assumes that moral delimmas are either/or cases and that one can apply the same line of moral reasoning to all situations.

What I am trying to illustrate here is that different demographics of people - in general - may reason through ethical problems differently. I'm wondering what makes certain types of people think in black and white terms or universal terms but not others. I'm wondering if it is a product of our culture or history or individual experiences that makes us "win-win" thinkers or "win-lose" thinkers. I'm wondering whether high Machs are universalists more so than low Machs, or if it's mid-Machs that are the least universal in their thinking. I'm wondering whether asking if human nature is "good" or "evil" is a question that men or women or high or low or mid Machs are more likely to ask?
user 3980228
Akron, OH
Post #: 14
concerning the win-win, win-lose scenarios..there's a book out called Nonzero:the logic of human destiny by Robert Wright which appears to be a toned down version of game theory. Basically saying that one of the main reasons why societies have "progressed" is through these non-zero sum game transactions and gives various examples in history starting from single celled organisms, multicelled, then up to more complex structures like tribes,nations,empires. Maybe the reason why the "win-win" concept doesn't get a lot of consideration is well, as a western culture, we value individualism more than our eastern neighbors; we give a lot of merit to individual accomplishments in contrast to the team mentality. So what Gilligan was trying to say is that the reason why the males scored higher than females is that the latter have higher tendency to see the grey/gray areas? as a biologist I guess I can see the evolutionary advantage if it that were the case. But why all this dualism? Why are we limited to good and evil, right/wrong, black/white, 1 or 0?I have no clue.Maybe it makes the day go a lot easier having only 2 hemisphers of the brain to work with in space/time environment. I guess people can always resort to using Wittgenstein's truth tables but by the time he/she has figured out the "right" and the "not right" decision it would probably be too late. tongue
A former member
Post #: 13
Jose: on the contrary, if you could demonstrate untainted altruism in babies (by altruism, I mean the sacrifice of a higher personal value for someone else's lower value or a non-value) then I would say that's evidence of innate evil. However, I do not believe such a thing could be demonstrated, nor even if it could be, that it would be an argument against humanity as a whole. The fact that a newborn, who lacks a developed reasoning mind, acts one way or another should not affect what we think of adults with fully-developed faculties. It should not be taken as support for good or excuse for evil.

Note that by my definition of altruism, I would therefore not consider many things "sacrifices" that are commonly called "sacrifices". For example, a parent that saves money for their child's education is not sacrificing, because they are not favoring a lower value over a higher value - presumably they value their child more than the things with which they would have bought that money. So that's not altruism, nor a sacrifice.
user 8342056
Twinsburg, OH
Post #: 19
Brian: What would be an example of a true sacrifice then? I do agree that "altruism" - whatever that means - may not be the best indicator of "good" or "evil" human nature. I also think that we would have to consider what we mean by "nature" period. I once used the word "nature" in a philosophy paper and had to spend the next two pages explaining what exactly that meant.

I would wager to say that in Machiavelli's time, the subject of "nature" meant how one is from birth to death. Think about it. Social classes didn't flutuate as much; one's line - one's heritage - meant a lot more about one's life than it does today. Royalty generally only breed with other people of "royal blood." Locke's revolutionary concept of human beings being born as "blank slates" - if you will recall from Sophie's World - was about 200 years away. Modern psychology, the notion of "constructed" identies, and phenomenology's departure from "essentialism" were 19th and 20th century conversations. Foucault in his Discipline and Punish (written in the 20th century) would demonstrate that the notion of changing a citizens "good" or criminal nature would not develop as an idea until the 1800s. Remember, the history of philosophy is like the history of science. We cannot assume that developing a theory of relativity - the bending of time and space - was a "real option" for Newton! Nor can we assume that Machiavelli could have jumped a couple centuries to experience all the socio-economic, political, and cultural events (that prompt the unfolding of ideas) and inspired Locke to form his "blank slate" concept of human nature.

Still, we can critique Machivelli's ideas within a contemporary context.

...I don't know of a baby that is "altruistic." Babies are demanding; they cry if they aren't fed or if they need something to stay alive. Their purpose at that stage of life is simply to either stay alive or die. Certainly, a baby could possibly not cry and demand...maybe in today's society, where parents put their babies on eating and sleeping schedules, an "altruistic" baby could survive. But what if the baby became ill? In many cases, the only way a parent can tell if the baby is ill - and thus make attempts to cure the baby - is if the baby does something to draw attention to its discomfort. I'm goin to jump out on a limb and conjecture that most babies are little Machiavellis and are NOT very alturistic. But obviously, as time goes on, human beings learn to discipline their interactions with others. The displays of Machiavellian behavior are not nearly as noticable; does that mean that their "nature" changes as they grow older or do they just become more adept at hidding it?
If it is the case that human beings can change on a sliding scale of good and evil - as most contemporary philosophy would I think concur - then what does "nature" mean today? Habitual behavior for a fixed time period? How one behaves after achieving a certain age? Is it the case that a government or the mores of a nation or particular population could have been conditioned/constructed to behave better or worse on this scale of good and evil? And of course, what role does choice play in constructing oneself and one's "nature"?

Perhaps the last and most important questions to ask are 1) what methodology are we using to evaluate human nature and 2) what would constitute "good" or "bad" nature. I remember this about the meeting (as I think Richard pointed out): No one was really critical of machiavelli's tactics for his time period. Indeed, Italy needed a strong, dominating Prince to unify the nation, create order, and enforce the peace. One could argue that it would have been "evil" of any prince to NOT follow Machiavelli's instructions because only the Prince COULD create peace and order, without which anarchy would ensue and no one would be safe. What is "good behavior" or a "good nature" for a prince in 16th century Italy?

I think that Machiavelli's The Prince challenges the idea that we can have universal rules of moral behavior for everyone in every time in every society in every walk of life. Even though Machiavelli generalized from historical examples of leadership - ranging from ancient Rome to 16th century France to Moses, Machiavelli was creating an ethical code specifically for a prince - and a specific prince at that!
user 3980228
Akron, OH
Post #: 15
I agree with you there on the matter of altruism. By definition I dont even think it's possible since everyone has to have a little inkling of selfishness to survive. Maybe it is possible to have moments (intervals) of altruism? But that would be kind of difficult to show since feelings and intent can't be measured. I'm almost tempted to say well maybe if one gives up his/her life for the benefit of the many but that would be borderline since suicide bombings would be far from "good".
Mommy and daddy save money for kids' education, kids successfully completes education which contributes to their survival, genes live on to another generation. Not altruism at all if you look at it that way I guess..though I'm not really sure how utilitarians would define altruism/sacrifice.
Wasn't dualism really big in Machi's time? People fearing the church both spiritually and politically; if one wanted to go to heaven quicker they could always pay up at the local parish.
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