Why did Machiavelli think that a new prince 'cannot always act in ways that are considered good'?

Essay by bartleyboyUniversity, Bachelor'sB-, May 2006

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"We have not seen great things done in our time except by those who have been considered mean; the rest have failed" (Chapter XVI, The Prince)

In this essay I shall be discussing the above stated question, firstly I shall be analysing the usage of the term good in relation to the question. I will then discuss Machiavelli theories about public perception of a prince; whether its better to be hated, loved or feared. Then the factor of comparative and variable morality within Machiavelli's work, a highly significant feature when answering the previously stated question. Finally I will discuss Machiavelli's views on glory and whether a prince should be truly honest or not, before finally concluding my arguments.

Good is a highly situational and contextually variable term, as such firstly I feel it is important to clarify the meaning or at the very least the principle connotations that it implies in this question.

I would deem 'good' to be directly linked to the conventional Christian, and more specifically catholic, morality which was the predominate theology prevalent in sixteenth century Florence. This would define good, in the era Machiavelli was writing in, as telling the truth, keeping promises, not committing murder and so on. It is here that Machiavelli differed significantly from his contemporaries and ultimately why his books were banned on publication by the Catholic Church.

One of the most important chapters of The Prince when answering this question is chapter 17 where Machiavelli discusses whether it is better to be loved, hated or feared by the public. Here much of his arguments about the behaviour of a prince being relatively justifiable in given situations is set out (i.e. end justifies the means). He augments his views, as throughout his work, with historical examples- "Cesare Borgia was...