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Machiavelli: Do the Ends Justify the Means?

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Niccolo Machiavelli, arguably the finest political theorist of his time, wrote in his famous work “The Prince” that a ruler use any methods available to him to maintain stability, for even though some methods might seem abusive and purely attempts toward staying in power, in reality they benefit the people because the ruler manages to maintain stability which is all the people could ask for. If another country is about to attack yours and your people are at risk, would you even hesitate in bribing the other country’s ruler or diplomat to prevent escalation? True, the ethics are questionable, but being that the ends are so positive, it would be futile to look at it otherwise.

Plain and simple, the means are irrelevant if the ends are positive enough to trump them. Machiavelli defends these conclusions using both explicit and implicit language.

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Machiavelli states, “Therefore, a prince must not worry about the reproach of cruelty when it is a matter of keeping his subjects united and loyal…”.

There he is using “the ends justify the means”. He’s saying that it is okay to use cruelty (considered bad means) in order to keep his subjects united and loyal (a good end).

Machiavelli also states, “A Prince, therefore, unable to use this virtue of generosity in a manner which will not harm himself if he is known for it, should, if he is wise, not worry about being called a miser; for with time he will come to be considered more generous once it is evident that, as a result of his parsimony, his income is sufficient, he can defend himself from anyone who makes war against him, and he can undertake enterprises without overburdening his people…”. Again, “the ends justify the means”. It’s okay for the prince to be considered a miser (bad means) if in the end he is financially able to support his country in a time of war, or on other enterprises (good ends).

More explicit language taken from Machiavelli’s essay states, “I conclude, therefore, returning to the problem of being feared and loved, that since men love at their own pleasure and fear at the pleasure of the prince, a wise prince should build his foundation upon that which belongs to him, not upon that which belongs to others: he must strive only to avoid hatred, as has been said.” For the third time, “then ends justify the means” comes into play with what Machiavelli is trying to put across. If being feared (the bad means) allows him or her to rule his or her country better and with more power (good ends), then let it be!

Machiavelli also talks about how a prince should keep his word, in this section he states, “How praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his word and to live by integrity and not by deceit everyone knows; nevertheless, one sees from the experience of our times that the princes who have accomplished great deeds are those who have cared little for keeping their promises and who have known how to manipulate the minds of men by shrewdness; and in the end they have surpassed those who laid their foundations upon honesty.” In conclusion, Machiavelli talks about how nice it would be for a prince to keep his or her word, but in reality, that doesn’t work out very well. So not keeping his or her word (the bad means) is okay as long as the result is better for his or her country. Aka, “the ends justify the means”.

Finally (and this is the long quote) Machiavelli states, “Therefore, it is not necessary for a prince to have all of the above mentioned qualities, but it is very necessary for him to appear to have them. Furthermore, I shall be so bold as to assert this: that having them and practicing them at all times is harmful; and appearing to have them is useful; for instance, to seem merciful, faithful, humane, forthright, religious, and to be so; but his mind should be disposed in such a way that should it become necessary not to be so, he will be able and know how to change to the contrary. And it is essential to understand this: that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things by which men are considered good, for in order to maintain the state he is often obliged to act against his promise, against charity, against humanity, and against religion. And therefore, it is necessary that he have a mind ready to turn itself according to the way the winds of Fortune and the changeability of affairs require him; and, as I said above, as long as it is possible, he should not stray from the good, but he should know how to enter into evil when necessity commands.” The gist of all the mumbo jumbo is that a prince may not have all the above qualities, but he must act as if he does. To the public he or she should put up a facade of the “better” qualities (bad means), but behind closed doors he or she should be able to have the qualities of a real prince (good ends). The prince, therefore should be able to change with different circumstances.

To conclude, I agree that the ends do justify the means. If the ends are positive for the mass majority of people, then the means of getting there should not matter, whether they be bad or good.

Cite this Machiavelli: Do the Ends Justify the Means?

Machiavelli: Do the Ends Justify the Means?. (2016, Jul 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/machiavelli-do-the-ends-justify-the-means/

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