Machiavelli's Ethics

Princeton University Press
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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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About the author

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

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 26, 2009
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Pages
544
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ISBN
9781400831845
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Philosophy / History & Surveys / Medieval
Philosophy / History & Surveys / Modern
Philosophy / Political
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Erica Benner
The dramatic, myth-shattering story of how Machiavelli—arguably the most misunderstood thinker of all time—fought to change his corrupt world.

Since the publication of The Prince five centuries ago, Machiavelli has been associated with political amorality. But that characterization is unfair. In Be Like the Fox, Erica Benner sets the record straight: far from the ruthless “Machiavellian” henchman that people think he was, Machiavelli emerges here as a profound ethical thinker who fought to uphold high moral standards and restore the democratic freedoms of his beloved Florence.

Shaking the dust from history, Benner masterfully interweaves Machiavelli’s words with those of his friends and enemies, giving us a biography with all the energy of fiction. Through dialogues and diaries, we witness dramatic episodes, including Savonarola’s fiery sermons against the elite in Florence’s piazza, Machiavelli’s secret negotiations with Caterina Sforza at the court of Forlí, and the Florentines’ frantic preparations to resist Pope Julius’s plan to over-throw their Republic.

Benner relates how Machiavelli rose as an advisor in the Florentine Republic, advancing the city’s interests as a diplomat and military strategist, only to become a political pariah when the Republic was defeated. His egalitarian politics made him an enemy of the Medici family, and his secular outlook put him at odds with religious zealots. But he soon learned to mask his true convictions, becoming a great artist of foxlike dissimulation. Machiavelli’s masterpiece, The Prince, was in fact a critique of princely power, but the critique had to be veiled, written as it was after the Medici triumphed over the Republic.

In Be Like the Fox, the most accurate and compelling portrait of Machiavelli yet, Benner recounts the gripping story of a brilliant political thinker, showing that Machiavelli’s ideas—about democratic institutions, diplomacy, and freedom—are more important than ever.

Anthony Kenny
This book is no less than a guide to the whole of Western philosophy—the ideas that have undergirded our civilization for two-and-a-half thousand years. Anthony Kenny tells the story of philosophy from ancient Greece through the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment into the modern world. He introduces us to the great thinkers and their ideas, starting with Plato, Aristotle, and the other founders of Western thought. In the second part of the book he takes us through a thousand years of medieval philosophy, and shows us the rich intellectual legacy of Christian thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, and Ockham. Moving into the early modern period, we explore the great works of Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, Spinoza, Hume, and Kant, which remain essential reading today. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Hegel, Mill, Nietzsche, Freud, and Wittgenstein again transformed the way we see the world. Running though the book are certain themes which have been constant concerns of philosophy since its early beginnings: the fundamental questions of what exists and how we can know about it; the nature of humanity, the mind, truth, and meaning; the place of God in the universe; how we should live and how society should be ordered. Anthony Kenny traces the development of these themes through the centuries: we see how the questions asked and answers offered by the great philosophers of the past remain vividly alive today. Anyone interested in ideas and their history will find this a fascinating and stimulating read.
Erica Benner
The dramatic, myth-shattering story of how Machiavelli—arguably the most misunderstood thinker of all time—fought to change his corrupt world.

Since the publication of The Prince five centuries ago, Machiavelli has been associated with political amorality. But that characterization is unfair. In Be Like the Fox, Erica Benner sets the record straight: far from the ruthless “Machiavellian” henchman that people think he was, Machiavelli emerges here as a profound ethical thinker who fought to uphold high moral standards and restore the democratic freedoms of his beloved Florence.

Shaking the dust from history, Benner masterfully interweaves Machiavelli’s words with those of his friends and enemies, giving us a biography with all the energy of fiction. Through dialogues and diaries, we witness dramatic episodes, including Savonarola’s fiery sermons against the elite in Florence’s piazza, Machiavelli’s secret negotiations with Caterina Sforza at the court of Forlí, and the Florentines’ frantic preparations to resist Pope Julius’s plan to over-throw their Republic.

Benner relates how Machiavelli rose as an advisor in the Florentine Republic, advancing the city’s interests as a diplomat and military strategist, only to become a political pariah when the Republic was defeated. His egalitarian politics made him an enemy of the Medici family, and his secular outlook put him at odds with religious zealots. But he soon learned to mask his true convictions, becoming a great artist of foxlike dissimulation. Machiavelli’s masterpiece, The Prince, was in fact a critique of princely power, but the critique had to be veiled, written as it was after the Medici triumphed over the Republic.

In Be Like the Fox, the most accurate and compelling portrait of Machiavelli yet, Benner recounts the gripping story of a brilliant political thinker, showing that Machiavelli’s ideas—about democratic institutions, diplomacy, and freedom—are more important than ever.

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