Machiavelli's Ethics

Machiavelli's Ethics

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Machiavelli's Ethics challenges the most entrenched understandings of Machiavelli, arguing that he was a moral and political philosopher who consistently favored the rule of law over that of men, that he had a coherent theory of justice, and that he did not defend the "Machiavellian" maxim that the ends justify the means. By carefully reconstructing the principled foundations of his political theory, Erica Benner gives the most complete account yet of Machiavelli's thought. She argues that his difficult and puzzling style of writing owes far more to ancient Greek sources than is usually recognized, as does his chief aim: to teach readers not how to produce deceptive political appearances and rhetoric, but how to see through them. Drawing on a close reading of Greek authors--including Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, and Plutarch--Benner identifies a powerful and neglected key to understanding Machiavelli. This important new interpretation is based on the most comprehensive study of Machiavelli's writings to date, including a detailed examination of all of his major works: The Prince, The Discourses, The Art of War, and Florentine Histories.
It helps explain why readers such as Bacon and Rousseau could see Machiavelli as a fellow moral philosopher, and how they could view The Prince as an ethical and republican text. By identifying a rigorous structure of principles behind Machiavelli's historical examples, the book should also open up fresh debates about his relationship to later philosophers, including Rousseau, Hobbes, and Kant.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 544 pages
  • 152 x 235 x 33.02mm | 482g
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 0691141770
  • 9780691141770
  • 927,098

Back cover copy

"Machiavelli's Ethics is a superb scholarly book. Erica Benner does truly impressive work in analyzing Machiavelli's views on the most fundamental ethical issues--including necessity and virtue, justice and injustice, and ends and means. She shows, with very solid evidence, that Machiavelli did in fact worry a lot about justice and that he put it at the core of his republican theory."--Maurizio Viroli, author of Niccolò's Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli

"Machiavelli's Ethics is excellent--learned, subtle, highly original, and a constant pleasure to read. And, since it is really a study of Machiavelli's thought in its entirety, it is also the first book of its kind. Its originality lies in taking seriously the claim by some sixteenth- and seventeenth-century readers--notably Bacon, Spinoza, and Alberico Gentili--that Machiavelli was essentially a moral and political philosopher. Erica Benner does a brilliant job of resurrecting this neglected Machiavelli."--Giulia Sissa, University of California, Los Angeles
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Table of contents

Acknowledgments xiii Abbreviations xv Introduction 1 Arguments: Philosophical ethics and the rule of law 5 Sources: Greek ethics 8 Part I: Contexts Chapter 1: Civil Reasonings: Machiavelli's Practical Filosofia 15 1.1. Florentine Histories: Decent words, indecent deeds 16 1.2. Flawed remedies: Rhetoric and power politics 25 1.3. Flawed analyses: Self-celebratory versus self-critical histories 30 1.4. Philosophy and the vita activa in Florentine humanism 37 1.5. What is, has been, and can reasonably be: Machiavelli's correspondence 43 1.6. The Socratic tradition of philosophical politics 49 1.7. Forming republics in writing and in practice: The Discursus 54 Chapter 2: Ancient Sources: Dissimulation in Greek Ethics 63 2.1. Constructive dissimulation: Writing as civil "medicine" 64 2.2. Inoculation for citizens: Words and deeds in Xenophon's Cyropaedia 71 2.3. Conversations with rulers: Plutarch and Xenophon on purging tyranny 78 2.4. Dissimulating about deception: Xenophon's Cambyses 84 2.5. Dissimulating about justice: Thucydides' Diodotus 88 Part II: Foundations Chapter 3: Imitation and Knowledge 101 3.1. The ancient tradition of imitating ancients 101 3.2. Inadequate imitation: The "unreasonable praise of antiquity" 107 3.3. Historical judgment: Criticism of sources and self-examination 111 3.4. The Socratic metaphor of hunting 116 3.5. Ethical judgment: The "true knowledge of histories" 124 3.6. Machiavelli's dangerous new reasonings 132 Chapter 4: N ecessity and Virtue 135 4.1. The rhetoric of necessity 136 4.2. Necessita as an excuse 140 4.3. Necessita as a pretext 142 4.4. Imposing and removing necessita 147 4.5. Virtu as reflective prudence: Taking stock of ordinary constraints 150 4.6. Under- and overassertive responses to necessity 153 4.7. Virtu as self-responsibility: Authorizing constraints on one's own forces 156 4.8. Virtu as autonomy: Imposing one's own orders and laws 161 4.9. Necessita and fortuna 166 Chapter 5: Human Nature and Human Orders 169 5.1. Fortune and free will 170 5.2. How to manage fortuna: Impetuosity and respetto 175 5.3. Practical theology: Heavenly judgments and human reasons 180 5.4. Practical prophecies: Foreseeing the future by "natural virtues" 184 5.5. Moral psychology: The malignita of human nature and the discipline of virtu 190 5.6. Human zoology: The ways of men and beasts 197 5.7. Human cities, where modes are neither delicate nor too harsh 201 5.8. Who is responsible for the laws? Human reasoning and civilita 206 Part III: Principles Chapter 6: Free Agency and Desires for Freedom 213 6.1. The Discourses on desires for freedom in and among cities 214 6.2. The Florentine Histories on freedom and the need for self-restraint 221 6.3. Are desires for freedom universal? 226 6.4. Inadequate conceptions of freedom 231 6.5. The rhetoric of liberta in republics 239 6.6. Free will and free agency 244 Chapter 7: Free Orders 254 7.1. Priorities I: Respect for free agency as a condition for stable orders 255 7.2. Priorities II: Willing authorization as the foundation of free orders 259 7.3. Conditions I: Universal security 262 7.4. Conditions II: Transparency and publicity 266 7.5. Conditions III: Equal opportunity 269 7.6. Foundations of political freedom: Procedural constraints and the rule of law 279 7.7. Persuasions: Why should people choose free orders? 287 Chapter 8: Justice and Injustice 290 8.1. Justice as the basis of order and liberta 291 8.2. Partisan accounts of justice 299 8.3. Non-partisan persuasions toward justice 306 8.4. Why it is dangerous to violate the law of nations 309 8.5. Forms of justice: Promises, punishments, and distributions 314 8.6. Ignorance of justice: Who is responsible for upholding just orders? 320 Chapter 9: Ends and Means 325 9.1. Responsibility for bad outcomes: The dangers of giving counsel 326 9.2. Judging wars by post facto outcomes 331 9.3. Judging wars by anticipated outcomes 335 9.4. Reflective consequentialism or deontology? 340 9.5. Problem 1: Unjust means corrupt good ends 343 9.6. Problem 2: Who can be trusted to foresee effects? 347 9.7. Problem 3: Who can be trusted to identify good ends? 351 9.8. Problem 4: Corrupting examples 357 9.9. Corrupt judgments: Means and ends in the Prince 360 Part IV: Politics Chapter 10: Ordinary and Extraordinary Authority 367 10.1. The antithesis between ordinary and extraordinary modes 367 10.2. Are conspiracies ever justified? 373 10.3. Extraordinary and ordinary ways to renovate corrupt cities 380 10.4. Unreasonable uses of religion: Easy ways to acquire authority 386 10.5. Reasonable uses of religion: Fear of God and fear of human justice 394 10.6. Folk religion and civil reasoning 400 Chapter 11: Legislators and Princes 407 11.1. Spartan founders and refounders: Lycurgus, Agis, and Cleomenes 408 11.2. Roman founders and legislators: Romulus and Aeneas 418 11.3. God's executors and modes of free building: Moses 424 11.4. Ordinary mortals and the ancient ideal of the one-man legislator 432 11.5. Persuasion in the Prince: On maintaining one's own arms 437 11.6. Princely knowledge and the "knowledge of peoples" 447 Chapter 12: E xpansion and Empire 451 12.1. Why republics must expand: The defects of non-expansionist republics 451 12.2. Three modes: Equal partnership, subjection to one, and the Roman mode 454 12.3. The Roman "middle way": Making subjects or partners 458 12.4. Bad Roman modes, good Roman orders: The choice between extremes 464 12.5. Why Roman imperio became pernicious: The wars with Carthage 468 12.6. Expansion by partnership: The forgotten Tuscan league 475 12.7. Should Florence imitate Rome? 478 Conclusions 484 This interpretation and others 490 Machiavelli and the ethical foundations of political philosophy 496 Bibliography 499 Index 509
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Review quote

"Taking a cue from Rousseau, who read Machiavelli as a serious republican thinker, Benner argues that Machiavelli did not at all separate ethics from politics... Benner's interest in Machiavelli's rhetorical strategies produces gratifyingly detailed and impressive readings of difficult passages... This is a provocative argument for Machiavelli as a proponent of moral autonomy and ethical reflectiveness."--Victoria Kahn, Times Literary Supplement "This major new study of Machiavelli's moral and political philosophy by Benner argues that most readings of Machiavelli suffer from a failure to appreciate his debt to Greek sources, particularly the Socratic tradition of moral and political philosophy... Her research is meticulous and her arguments finely honed. This important contribution to both Machiavelli studies and the history of political philosophy will be indispensable for scholars."--Choice "This book is a prime example of thorough and detailed scholarship... With the publication of this bold but responsible contribution to scholarship, those who assert that Machiavelli was not an ethical philosopher have a significant amount of evidence and argumentation to overcome."--David F. Horkott, International Philosophical Quarterly "[Benner's] reading yields an innovative and stimulating interpretation of a notoriously difficult (even slippery) author that is meant to reveal his distinctive contribution to philosophical concerns. Benner's insights are often surprising and challenging, but are definitely worthy of careful consideration... Her book gives us very good reasons for thinking that Machiavelli may have adopted the kind of ethical individualism that she ascribes to him."--Cary J. Nederman, Notre Dame Philosophical Review "[A] book that swims against the current, one that orients its perspective backwards, towards antiquity. A refreshing catharsis now that I am stepping out from the flood of current events. Benner puts forward the thesis that Machiavelli was no Machiavellian in his values [but] a moral philosopher with high republican ideals, a critical humanist... Least in tune with our age are the great demands that, following in the footsteps of Machiavelli and the classics of antiquity, Benner makes on readers [to] train themselves in the art of seeing through all manner of manipulations. A call to break through the cobwebs of propaganda that the powerful try to run around citizens, especially in election years."--Rolf Gustavsson, Svenska Dagbladet "Machiavelli's Ethics is a remarkable account of the dominant themes in Machiavelli's work and his role as a moral and political philosopher unusually sensitive to reality. It should be read by all who are interested in philosophy, politics, rhetoric, and the history of Western thought. Books of such perceptive insight and scholarly care arrive infrequently."--Michael K. Potter, Philosophy in Review
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About Erica Benner

Erica Benner is fellow in ethics and history of philosophy at Yale University, and the author of "Really Existing Nationalisms".
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