There are many discussions and contradictions in the attempts to understand what virtue can mean and how it can define the quality of a human life. The ideas developed by Aristotle seem to be one of the oldest examples of how people should behave in regards to the virtues they identified. However, in spite of the fact that the discussions of Machiavelli were offered many centuries after, his ideas also captivate and make people think about the worth of virtue. This paper aims at discussing the essence of virtue, its goals, and contradictions in terms of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Machiavelli’s Prince.
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Virtue by Machiavelli
In The Prince, Machiavelli does not aim at introducing a clear definition of virtue and providing the examination of its peculiar characteristics. Machiavelli tries to use clear examples in order to prove the importance of virtue as an opportunity that brings people the material that can be used in the most appropriate form in order to lead people and achieve success in ruling (23). Virtue is something intangible and cannot be caught or replaced; still, it is always possible to scarify virtue in case it harms a person (a ruler) and a state. The point is that the ways people live and ought to live differ considerably. The effects of such differences have a tendency to ruin a life instead of preserving it because “for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil” (Machiavelli 71).
Virtue by Aristotle
Despite the fact that Aristotle offered his visions in Nicomachean Ethics more than 1500s years ago, Machiavelli was confident in the power of his ideas. The position of Aristotle differs from the one offered by Machiavelli. If Machiavelli is introduced as a powerful politician with an intention to defend virtue as a political opportunity, Aristotle performs the role of a prime philosopher, who introduces a code of ethics according to which virtue is a superior concept that can be possessed by people anytime or remains to be inactive during the whole life (7). Virtue is a golden “useful” middle of everything with the “the right amount”, “right moment”, “right locality”, etc. (Aristotle 8).
Tones and Norms of Virtue in Machiavelli’s and Aristotle’s Works
The differences in definitions of virtue may be explained by the different tones and norms used by the authors. For example, it seems that Aristotle’s tone and norms of virtue are influenced by his personal opinion and experience and the achievements made by Pythagoreans. Aristotle thought about his vision of virtue and used a person as the main source of inspiration. Machiavelli’s work is based on the activities made by the princes and other leading people. The tone of Machiavelli is more progressive and based on the political points of view where the success of a state plays an important role. Aristotle’s work is a guide that helps to understand when virtue takes place, and Machiavelli’s work is the evaluation of the results when virtue is considered by a person. At the same time, the combination of tones helps to evaluate virtue from different perspectives and use it as a goal to be achieved and as a means to be used.
Goals of Virtue in Machiavelli’s and Aristotle’s Works
Besides, Aristotle and Machiavelli discuss different goals of virtue and its abilities to define the quality of a human life. Aristotle admitted that the goal of virtue was to become everything a person could be as a human being. In other words, it is necessary for a person to use all possible skills, methods, knowledge, and resources to become the best possible human representative. If Aristotle supported the idea of the excellent condition and the possibility to achieve harmony of emotions, Machiavelli’s chose another radical approach. This thinker connected the concept of virtue with a political life. Machiavelli tried to set a number of reachable goals. People should have a chance to use real possibilities and attainable materials to meet the traditional morals. The goal of Machiavelli’s virtue was to judge the goodness by means of reality but never use goodness to challenge the reality. There is no need to become the best. It is enough to be good and meet personal needs.
Possible Disagreements between Aristotle and Machiavelli
I think that the contradictions between Aristotle’s and Machiavelli’s positions are evident and cannot be neglected. The basis for Aristotle’s disagreement could be the inability to interpret virtue as a philosophical concept only. Aristotle should underline the duty of a philosopher to guide people and evaluate their lives using common requirements and general expectations. Machiavelli’s main mistake is the desire to use virtue on the basis of human inequality. Only rulers (the princes) can take virtuous actions. No attention is paid to the possibilities of ordinary people to be virtuously approved.
In general, the positions of Aristotle and Machiavelli are reasonable and captivating. The philosophers teach the reader to respect the fortune try to become better. Still, people should realize what goals they want to achieve using virtue as the basis of their activities.
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Aristotle 2000. Nicomachean Ethics. Web.
Machiavelli, Nicolo n.d., The Prince. Web.