The Prince | Study Guide

Niccolò Machiavelli

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The Prince | Chapter 15 : The Things for Which Men, and Especially Princes, Are Praised or Blamed | Summary

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Summary

Machiavelli begins to detail the characteristics that are suitable for an effective prince. His method is to examine what people and princes are usually praised or blamed for and give his advice on that basis. Machiavelli states that people should concern themselves only with the way the world actually is, rather than with how the world should be. "The gulf between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done moves toward self-destruction rather than self-preservation."

Expanding on this statement, Machiavelli says that an effective prince "must not flinch from being blamed for vices which are necessary for safeguarding the state." Correspondingly, he must not seek to be virtuous in ways that would pose a danger to the safety and stability of the state.

The behaviors that are considered virtuous are those that people are usually praised for: generosity, compassion, faithfulness, courage, religiosity, courteousness, chastity, seriousness, adaptability, and simplicity. Machiavelli states that a prince cannot have all of these praiseworthy traits at all times and must be able to avoid a bad reputation for the times when he must engage in blameworthy behavior.

Analysis

Machiavelli clearly portrays the practical orientation of The Prince in this chapter when he says, "The gulf between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done moves toward self-destruction rather than self-preservation." What Machiavelli means is that it will not matter how morally good a prince is if his people hate him and foreign states dominate him. Machiavelli's method for picking traits is to examine what people and princes are usually praised or blamed for and give his advice on that basis. That is, what matters is how a prince's reputation for being virtuous or vicious affects the prosperity and stability of his domain. Here, Machiavelli distances himself from what he thinks of as philosophy. When he says, "Many have dreamed up republics and principalities which have never in truth been known to exist," he is referring to famous philosophical works like Plato's The Republic, which outlines an ideal state. Such analyses, like a prince who insists on being moral, are doomed to fail given the reality of human nature and the world.

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