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Points to Ponder

Machiavelli's political allegiances were a matter of some dispute in his own time. After working for the Florentine republic, he attempted to gain a political position at the court of the men who destroyed that system. He wrote a treatise on republics, The Discourses, as well as his handbook for single rulers, The Prince. Are there suggestions, even within The Prince itself, that Machiavelli doesn't actually like princes very much? If not, should we consider Machiavelli a hypocrite? If so, then should the entire book be taken ironically?

From his time up until the present day, Machiavelli has often been considered an immoral theorist, one who was prepared to suggest that the ends always justify the means. But readers who wish to spare Machiavelli from accusations of "immorality" cite his example of Agathocles the Syracusan as an instance when the ends do not seem to justify the means. Since Machiavelli presents Agathocles in such a negative light, does this suggest that there is some political behavior that is simply unacceptable on any terms? Does Machiavelli object to the cruelty of Agathocles on ethical grounds? If so, does this destroy his notion, expressed elsewhere, that there is no absolute standard for judging political action?

The word virtu, so prevalent in The Prince, never seems to mean the same thing twice. How many definitions for this term can you find implied in Machiavelli's argument? Do any of these definitions contradict each other? Why do you think that Machiavelli placed so much emphasis on a word which resists stable definition? What implications does the slipperiness of this term have for his larger argument? What is the point of writing a "how-to" that avoids making concrete recommendations?

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Important Persons
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Summary of the Argument
Prefatory Letter
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapter 3
Chapters 4 and 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapters 9 and 10
Chapters 11 and 12
Chapters 13 and 14
Chapters 15 and 16
Chapters 17 and 18
Chapters 19 and 20
Chapters 21, 22, and 23
Chapters 24, 25, and 26


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