Monday, May 22, 2017

Plato : The Theory of Forms

In many of his dialogues, Plato mentions supra-sensible entities he calls "Forms" (or "Ideas"). So, for example, in the Phaedo,  we are told that particular sensible equal things—for example, equal sticks or stones (see Phaedo 74a-75d)—are equal because of their "participation" or "sharing" in the character of the Form of Equality, which is absolutely, changelessly, perfectly, and essentially equal. Plato sometimes characterizes this participation in the Form as a kind of imaging, or approximation of the Form. The same may be said of the many things that are greater or smaller and the Forms of Great and Small (Phaedo 75c-d), or the many tall things and the Form of Tall (Phaedo 100e), or the many beautiful things and the Form of Beauty (Phaedo 75c-d, Symposium  211e, Republic V.476c). When Plato writes about instances of Forms "approximating" Forms, it is easy to infer that, for Plato, Forms are exemplars. If so, Plato believes that The Form of Beauty is perfect beauty, the Form of Justice is perfect justice, and so forth. Conceiving of Forms in this way was important to Plato because it enabled the philosopher who grasps the entities to be best able to judge to what extent sensible instances of the Forms are good examples of the Forms they approximate.

Scholars disagree about the scope of what is often called "the theory of Forms," and question whether Plato began holding that there are only Forms for a small range of properties, such as tallness, equality, justice, beauty, and so on, and then widened the scope to include Forms corresponding to every term that can be applied to a multiplicity of instances. In the Republic, he writes as if there may be a great multiplicity of Forms—for example, in Book X of that work, we find him writing about the Form of Bed (see Republic X.596b). He may have come to believe that for any set of things that shares some property, there is a Form that gives unity to the set of things (and univocity to the term by which we refer to members of that set of things). Knowledge involves the recognition of the Forms (Republic V.475e-480a), and any reliable application of this knowledge will involve the ability compare the particular sensible instantiations of a property to the Form.

Immortality and Reincarnation

In the early transitional dialogue, the Meno,  Plato has Socrates introduce the Orphic and Pythagorean idea that souls are immortal and existed before our births. All knowledge, he explains, is actually recollected from this prior existence. In perhaps the most famous passage in this dialogue, Socrates elicits recollection about geometry from one of Meno's slaves (Meno  81a-86b). Socrates' apparent interest in, and fairly sophisticated knowledge of, mathematics appears wholly new in this dialogue. It is an interest, however, that shows up plainly in the middle period dialogues, especially in the middle books of the Republic.

Several arguments for the immortality of the soul, and the idea that souls are reincarnated into different life forms, are also featured in Plato's Phaedo (which also includes the famous scene in which Socrates drinks the hemlock and utters his last words). Stylometry has tended to count the Phaedo among the early dialogues, whereas analysis of philosophical content has tended to place it at the beginning of the middle period. Similar accounts of the transmigration of souls may be found, with somewhat different details, in Book X of the Republic and in the Phaedrus,  as well as in several dialogues of the late period, including the Timaeus and the Laws.  No traces of the doctrine of recollection, or the theory of reincarnation or transmigration of souls, are to be found in the dialogues we listed above as those of the early period.


Metaxy (Greek: μεταξύ) or metaxu is defined in Plato's Symposium via the character of the priestess Diotima as the "in-between" or "middle ground". Diotima, tutoring Socrates, uses the term to show how oral tradition can be perceived by different people in different ways. In the poem by Socrates she depicts Eros as not an extreme or purity; rather, as a daimon Eros is in-between the divine Gods and mankind. Diotima thus exposes the flaws of oral tradition; it uses strong contrasts to express truth, thus revealing vulnerability to sophistry. This portion of the dialogue points to the idea that reality is perceptible only through one's character (which includes one's desires and prejudices and one's limited understanding of logic). Man moves through the world of Becoming, the ever changing world of sensory perception, into the world of Being—the world of forms, absolutes and transcendence, by Metaxy. Man transcends his place in Becoming by Eros, where man reaches the Highest Good, an intuitive and mystical state of consciousness. Neoplatonists like Plotinus later used the concept to express an ontological placement of Man between the Gods and animals. Much like Diotima did in expressing that Eros as daemon was in-between the Gods and mankind. Love (Ἔρως Eros) as the thing in between or child of Poverty (Πενία Penia) and Possession (Πόρος Poros)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Plato: Dialectics

Plato uses the term dialectic throughout his works to refer to whatever method he happens to be recommending as the vehicle of philosophy. The term, from dialegesthai, meaning to converse or talk through, gives insight into his core conception of the project. Yet it is also evident that he stresses different aspects of the conversational method in different dialogues.
The form of dialectic featured in the Socratic works became the basis of subsequent practice in the Academy—where it was taught by Aristotle—and in the teachings of the Skeptics during the Hellenistic Age. While the conversation in a Socratic dialogue unfolds naturally, it features a process by which even someone who lacks knowledge of a given subject (as Socrates in these works claims to do) may test the understanding of a putative expert. The testing consists of a series of questions posed in connection with a position the interlocutor is trying to uphold. The method presupposes that one cannot have knowledge of any fact in isolation; what is known must be embedded in a larger explanatory structure. Thus, in order to know if a certain act is pious, one must know what piety is. This requirement licenses the questioner to ask the respondent about issues suitably related to his original claim. If, in the course of this process, a contradiction emerges, the supposed expert is revealed not to command knowledge after all: if he did, his grasp of the truth would have enabled him to avoid contradiction. While both Socrates and the Skeptics hoped to find the truth (a skeptikos is after all a “seeker”), the method all too often reveals only the inadequacy of the respondent. Since he has fallen into contradiction, it follows that he is not an expert, but this does not automatically reveal what the truth is.

By the time of the composition of the Republic, Plato’s focus had shifted to developing positive views, and thus “dialectic” was now thought of not as a technique of testing but as a means of “saying of each thing what it is.” The Republic stresses that true dialectic is performed by thinking solely of the abstract and nonsensible realm of forms; it requires that reason secure an unhypothetical first principle (the Good) and then derive other results in light of it. Since this part of the dialogue is merely a programmatic sketch, however, no actual examples of the activity are provided, and indeed some readers have wondered whether it is really possible.

In the later dialogue Parmenides, dialectic is introduced as an exercise that the young Socrates must undertake if he is to understand the forms properly. The exercise, which Parmenides demonstrates in the second part of the work, is extremely laborious: a single instance involves the construction of eight sections of argument; the demonstration then takes up some three-quarters of the dialogue. The exercise challenges the reader to make a distinction associated with a sophisticated development of the theory of Platonic forms (see below The theory of forms). Even after a general understanding has been achieved, repeating the exercise with different subjects allows one to grasp each subject’s role in the world.

This understanding of dialectic gives a central place to specifying each subject’s account in terms of genus and differentiae (and so, relatedly, to mapping its position in a genus-species tree). The Phaedrus calls the dialectician the person who can specify these relations—and thereby “carve reality at the joints.” Continuity among all the kinds of dialectic in Plato comes from the fact that the genus-species divisions of the late works are a way of providing the accounts that dialectic sought in all the previous works.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Habermas and Communication Theory


Jürgen Habermas (born 18 June 1929) is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theories on communicative rationality and the public sphere. In 2014, Prospect readers chose Habermas as one of their favourites among the "world's leading thinkers.’

Associated with the Frankfurt School, Habermas's work focuses on the foundations of social theory and epistemology, the analysis of advanced capitalistic societies and democracy, the rule of law in a critical social-evolutionary context, and contemporary politics, particularly German politics. Habermas's theoretical system is devoted to revealing the possibility of reason, emancipation, and rational-critical communication latent in modern institutions and in the human capacity to deliberate and pursue rational interests. Habermas is known for his work on the concept of modernity, particularly with respect to the discussions of rationalization originally set forth by Max Weber. He has been influenced by American pragmatism, action theory, and even poststructuralism.

Communication is a central concept in the philosophy of the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas.

This term is also about misunderstandings because it is often associated with the ordinary meaning. However, the concept of communication is the opposite of the same concept used in the science of communication. It is not in this case a strategic activity to present a project or aspects of reality in one hand, by optimizing the admissibility of those who are the object and on the other hand, to minimize or even hide the disadvantages or consequences. Habermas, communication is contrary to the basic activity in which two or more subjects are able to spontaneously get agreement on a draft joint action or a shared reality in the public sphere.

Habermasian definition of communication:

We can therefore define communication as strictly what happens between two or more, talking seriously about something that exists or should exist in the world, but no one disputes the validity of the statements or suggestions made by and each other. Communication therefore uses a medium in and through which it occurs: the language.

In this sense, communication is commonplace and everyday, but it is also vital and is, indeed, a necessary condition for the symbolic reproduction of the world, sharing information, learning process, etc.. We can therefore say that it structures the world of everyday life.

Communication and discussion:

It should not be confused,  communication and discussion, even if the contact points between the pragmatic of Apel and the philosophical Habermas partly explain this assimilation.

The discussion in the German thinker, is not communication in the strict sense, however, it is communicative in the sense that communication and understanding are its purpose, it should be noted, however, that the communication is interrupted by the disagreement  and the conflict or dispute. There is no solution of continuity between communication and discussion in the strict sense, because the argumentative discourse that unfolds in the discussion is latent in communication, it is present as a regulator underlying, but we do not use it itself.

Thus, the validity claims are issued in the communication in the strict sense.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Kierkegaard: On Why Anxiety Powers Creativity, Rather Than Hindering It

“Because it is possible to create — creating one’s self, willing to be one’s self… — one has anxiety. One would have no anxiety if there were no possibility whatever.”

“Anxiety is love’s greatest killer,” Anaïs Nin famously wrote. But what, exactly, is anxiety, that pervasive affliction the nature of which remains as drowning yet as elusive as the substance of a shadow? In his 1844 treatise The Concept of Anxiety , Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) explains anxiety as the dizzying effect of freedom, of paralyzing possibility, of the boundlessness of one’s own existence — a kind of existential paradox of choice. He writes:

“ Anxiety is a qualification of dreaming spirit, and as such it has its place in psychology. Awake, the difference between myself and my other is posited; sleeping, it is suspended; dreaming, it is an intimated nothing. The actuality of the spirit constantly shows itself as a form that tempts its possibility but disappears as soon as it seeks to grasp for it, and it is a nothing that can only bring anxiety. More it cannot do as long as it merely shows itself. [Anxiety] is altogether different from fear and similar concepts that refer to something definite, whereas anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility.”

Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down. Hence, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs to dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science can explain. He who becomes guilty in anxiety becomes as ambiguously guilty as it is possible to become.

He captures the invariable acuteness of anxiety’s varied expressions:

“Anxiety can just as well express itself by muteness as by a scream.”

Kierkegaard argues that, to paraphrase Henry Miller, on how we orient ourselves to anxiety depends the failure or fruitfulness of life:
“ In actuality, no one ever sank so deep that he could not sink deeper, and there may be one or many who sank deeper. But he who sank in possibility — his eye became dizzy, his eye became confused. . . . Whoever is educated by possibility is exposed to danger, not that of getting into bad company and going astray in various ways as are those educated by the finite, but in danger of a fall, namely, suicide. If at the beginning of education he misunderstands the anxiety, so that it does not lead him to faith but away from faith, then he is lost. On the other hand, whoever is educated [by possibility] remains with anxiety; he does not permit himself to be deceived by its countless falsification and accurately remembers the past. Then the assaults of anxiety, even though they be terrifying, will not be such that he flees from them. For him, anxiety becomes a serving spirit that against its will leads him where he wishes to go.”

Core to this premise is the conception of anxiety as a dual force that can be both destructive and generative, depending on how we approach it. Like Nin herself observed in her reflection of why emotional excess is necessary for writing, Kierkegaard argues that anxiety is essential for creativity. Perhaps the most enduring and thoughtful interpretation of his treatment of the relationship between creativity and anxiety comes from legendary existential psychologist Rollo May’s The Meaning of Anxiety (public library), originally published in 1950.

“We can understand Kierkegaard’s ideas on the relation between guilt and anxiety only by emphasizing that he is always speaking of anxiety in its relation to creativity. Because it is possible to create — creating one’s self, willing to be one’s self, as well as creating in all the innumerable daily activities (and these are two phases of the same process) — one has anxiety. One would have no anxiety if there were no possibility whatever. Now creating, actualizing one’s possibilities, always involves negative as well as positive aspects. It always involves destroying the status quo, destroying old patterns within oneself, progressively destroying what one has clung to from childhood on, and creating new and original forms and ways of living. If one does not do this, one is refusing to grow, refusing to avail himself of his possibilities; one is shirking his responsibility to himself. Hence refusal to actualize one’s possibilities brings guilt toward one’s self. But creating also means destroying the status quo of one’s environment, breaking the old forms; it means producing something new and original in human relations as well as in cultural forms (e.g., the creativity of the artist). Thus every experience of creativity has its potentiality of aggression or denial toward other persons in one’s environment or established patterns within one’s self. To put the matter figuratively, in every experience of creativity something in the past is killed that something new in the present may be born. Hence, for Kierkegaard, guilt feeling is always a concomitant of anxiety: both are aspects of experiencing and actualizing possibility. The more creative the person, he held, the more anxiety and guilt are potentially present.”

Both The Concept of Anxiety and The Meaning of Anxiety endure as excellent reads in their entirety, timeless and increasingly timely in our age of anxious wonder.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Confucianism: beliefs, thought and ethics


K'ung Fu Tzu (commonly pronounced Confucius in English) was born in 551 BCE in the state of Lu (modern day Shantung Province). He lived during the Chou dynasty, an era known for its moral laxity. Later in life, he wandered through many states of China, giving advice to their rulers. He accumulated a small band of students during this time. The last years of his life were spent back in Lu, where he devoted himself to teaching.

His writings deal primarily with individual morality and ethics, and the proper exercise of political power by the rulers.

In China, and some other areas in Asia, the social ethics and moral teachings of Confucius are blended with the Taoist communion with nature and Buddhist concepts of the afterlife, to form a set of complementary, peacefully co-existent and ecumenical religions.

There are approximately 6 million Confucians in the world. About 26,000 live in North America; almost all of the remainder are found throughout China and the rest of Asia.

Confucian ethical teachings include the following values:

1.      Li: includes ritual, propriety, etiquette, etc.
2.      Hsiao: love within the family: love of parents for their children and of children for their parents
3.      Yi: righteousness
4.      Xin: honesty and trustworthiness
5.      Jen: benevolence, humaneness towards others; the highest Confucian virtue
6.      Chung: loyalty to the state, etc.

Confucianism does not contain all of the elements of some other religions, like Christianity and Islam. It is primarily an ethical system to which rituals at important times during one's lifetime have been added.

Since the time of the Han dynasty (206 CE) four life passages have been recognized and regulated by Confucian tradition:

Birth: The T'ai-shen (spirit of the fetus) protects the expectant woman and deals harshly with anyone who harasses the mother to be. A special procedure is followed when the placenta is disposed of. The mother is given a special diet and is allowed rest for a month after delivery. The mother's family of origin supplies all the items required by the baby on the first, fourth and twelfth monthly anniversary of the birth.

Reaching maturity: This life passage is no longer being celebrated, except in traditional families. It takes the form of a group meal in which the young adult is served chicken.

Marriage: This is performed in six stages:
1.      Proposal: the couple exchange the eight characters: the year, month, day and hour of each of their births. If any unpropitious event occurs within the bride-to-be's family during the next three days, then the woman is believed to have rejected the proposal.

2.      Engagement: after the wedding day is chosen, the bride announces the wedding with invitations and a gift of cookies made in the shape of the moon.

3.      Dowry: This is carried to the groom's home in a solemn procession. The bride-price is then sent to the bride by the groom's parents. Gifts by the groom to the bride, equal in value to the dowry, are sent to her.

4.      Procession: The groom visits the bride's home and brings her back to his place, with much fanfare.
5.      Marriage and Reception: The couple recite their vows, toast each other with wine, and  then take center stage at a banquet.
6.      Morning after: The bride serves breakfast to the groom's parents, who then reciprocate.

Death: At death, the relatives cry out aloud to inform the neighbors. The family starts mourning and puts on clothes made of a course material. The corpse is washed and placed in a coffin. Mourners bring incense and money to offset the cost of the funeral. Food and significant objects of the deceased are placed into the coffin. A Buddhist or Taoist priest (or even a Christian minister) performs the burial ritual. Friends and family follow the coffin to the cemetery, along with a willow branch which symbolizes the soul of the person who has died. The latter is carried back to the family altar where it is used to "install" the spirit of the deceased. Liturgies are performed on the 7th, 9th, 49th day after the burial and on the first and third anniversaries of the death.

 Schools of Confucianism
There are six schools: Han Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism, Contemporary Neo-Confucianism, Korean Confucianism, Japanese Confucianism and Singapore Confucianism.

Sacred Texts
These were assembled by Chu Hsi (1130-1200 CE) during the Song dynasty. They include:
1.      The Si Shu or Four Books:

2.      The Lun, Yu the Analects of Confucius

3.      The Chung Yung or the Doctrine of the Mean

4.      The Ta Hsueh or the Great Learning

5.      The Meng Tzu the writings of Meng Tzu (371-289 BCE) a philosopher who, like Confucius, traveled from state to state conversing with the government rulers

6.      The Wu Jing or Five Classics:
                  7.Shu Ching or Classic of History: writings and speeches fromChinese  rulers

                  8.The Shih Ching or Classic of Odes: 300 poems and songs

                 9.  The I Ching or Classic of Changes: the description of a divinitory system involving 64 hexagrams. The hexagrams are symbols composed of broken and continuous lines; one is selected to foretell the future based on the casting of 49 sticks
                  10. The Ch'un Ch'iu or Spring and Autumn Annals: a history of the state of Lu from 722 to 484 BCE.
   11. The Li Ching or Classic of Rites: a group of three books on the LI the rites of    propriety

Confucian Thought

K’ ung Fu-Tzu. Leadership of the Confucian school centers around its foremost teacher, K'ung Fu-Tzu (551-479 B.C.). Though not the founder per se, as the transmitter and true embodiment of the Confucian Way, "Kung the Master," the "supreme editor of Chinese culture," is without peer.

His integrity of person and perseverance in answer to a call set the example for followers to emulate. His vision centered on respect children show to their parents; the high regard given elders and lawful authority figures; and an appreciation for learning, protocol and ceremony. Confucian practice became the characteristic world view and practice of the Chinese people for over 2,000 years.

Mencius. Mencius (372-289 B.C.) systematized Confucius's teaching. Believing in the innate goodness of all people, he popularized the 'five relationships' (father-son, ruler-minister, husband-wife, old-young, friend-friend) concept.

Hsun-Tzu. Hsun-tzu (shuhn-dyuh, 298-238 B.C.) was another early leader in Confucian philosophy. Thinking all individuals were essentially evil, he promoted the cultivation of ritual as antidote to humankind's depravity.

Kung te Cheng. Today, Kung te Cheng (b. 1920), a direct descendant of Confucius and resident of Taiwan, is a leading spokesperson for Confucian values.

Sun-tzu . The Sun-tzu is a Chinese classic on military tactics and strategy. It dates from the era 400-320 B.C. The Sun-tzu shows how superior mental attitudes can effect military/political change. Emphasis is on unsettling the enemy’s mind and upsetting his plans.

Confucian Belief

" The fundamental concern of the Confucian tradition is learning to be human."

--Tu Wei-ming.

 Three dimensions of the human condition--the self, community, and tradition--are expressed in Confucian spirituality.

 Self-cultivation. A healthy body, mind-and-heart alert, pure soul and brilliant spirit, are seen as good for their own sake. This self-transformation draws resources from cultural tradition, a sympathetic society, the energy of nature and power of heaven. Confucius sought dignity for all humankind, a sense of respect for oneself and understanding of the humanity found in all.
Tu Wei-ming, Professor of Chinese History and Philosophy at Harvard University, identifies three characteristics of the "human rootedness" of Confucian thought.
       Cheng designates the state of absolute quiet and inactivity, being sincere, authentic, real. One can be genuinely human without engaging in a flurry of activities.
2.      Shen signifies spirituality. Crucial Shen concerns are the "heavenly aspect of the soul" and its development.

3.      Chi (jee). Based upon the cumulative effect of self-transformation, Chi, an "originating power, an inward spring of activity...a critical point at which one's direction toward good or evil is set" can be identified and used to further 'flourish the soul.' (Tu Wei-ming)

Community. The community is necessary for this self-transformation to occur. It broadens and deepens the self, expressing the fundamental integration of all segments of our world. Once rooted, the soul contributes to the four visions that identify the classic Confucian vision of the world. The four visions are:

 1. ability to respond to the world in a poetic sense

2. social sense of ritual as means for verbal and non-verbal communication within the "human community"

3. historical ability to relate to the collective memory

4. politics as responsive and responsible to the whole community

Tradition. Throughout their shared history spanning millenniums, the people of China valued harmony and mutual consensus rather than conflict and individual exertion. Historian Barbara Tuchman writes,

"The people of China...stayed in one place, enclosed by a series of walls, around house and village or city. Tied to the soil, living under the authority of the family, growing their food among the graves of their ancestors, they were perpetuators of a system in which harmony was more important than struggle."

During Confucius’s life, societal conflict, rather than harmony, was the norm. Believing there had been an earlier period of prosperity and peace in China Confucius advocated a return to the traditions and values of that earlier time. These traditions--which maintained peace and social order--became the focus of Confucian thought.

Professor Samuel Huntington describes China’s reliance upon her traditional (Confucian) culture even today.

"Since the late 1970s, Chinese leadership chose a new version of Ti-Yong: capitalism and involvement in the world economy, on the one hand, combined with political authoritarianism and recommitment to traditional Chinese culture, on the other." At the end of the superpower competition, China "set two goals: (1) to become the champion of Chinese culture...and (2) to resume its historical position, which it lost in the nineteenth century, as the [supreme] power in East Asia."

Confucian Texts

The Five Classics:

The Four Books. Chu Hsi (joo-shee--A.D. 1130-1200) emphasized the Four Books: Ta-hsueh, Chung Yung, Lun Yu, and Meng Tzu. Two chapters, originally from the Li chi, comprise books one and two of the four Books (the Ta-hsueh [great learning] and Chung Yung [Doctrine of the Mean].)

The Lun Yu (luhn yoo--Discussed Sayings) is known to most Western audiences as the Analects (AN ehlekts) or recorded actions and saying of Confucius. Most of the twenty Analects books describe Confucius as he answers questions, discusses issues and lives his beliefs.

The Meng Tzu  by Mencius  systematized Confucian teaching, advocating study of the Classics, practicing moral disciplines and developing natural ying/yang energies.

Shu-ching (shoo-jing--"Book of History/Documents")

This text compiles historical documents of the ninth to sixth centuries, B.C. It describes the political vision of Confucian thought, outlining an ethical foundation for humane government.

Shih-ching (shuhr-jing--"Book of Poetry/Songs")

Common human feelings, expressed in some 300 poems and religious hymns from the early Chou Dynasty (1027-402 B.C.), comprise the Shih-ching.

Li chi (lee-jee--"Book of Rites")

Consciousness of duty pervades the ceremonial rituals collected in Li chi. A cooperative society, organized by four principle occupations--scholar, farmer, artisan, merchant--is the ideal.

Ch’ un-ch’ iu (chuhn chyoh--"Spring and Autumn Annals")

This text emphasizes history and the significance of the collective memory in individual and societal identification.

 Confucian Ethics

" It is these ethics which even today we meet all over East Asia."

The question, "What is the character of the social life Confucian education should engender?", addresses the ethical center of Confucianism. Historian of world religions, Huston Smith, specifies the following four terms which designate this heart of the Confucian ethical tradition.

Jen , chun-tzu , li  and wen alike are ethical/motivational topics, influential in the folk/Confucian tradition of the family, government bureaucracy, and village life especially.

Jen (ruhn). This basic virtue, as outlined in the Analects, signifies benevolence, humaneness and human-heartedness. Cultivating courtesy and unselfishness promotes the dignity of human life wherever it appears. Public displays focus upon diligence, steadfastness, and a magnanimity of heart which pursues a mission, that of redeeming the world through human effort. This sense of mission makes the world safer and more livable, improves the quality of life, and transforms society into a moral community. Jen is not only a humanistic objective, but also a profoundly spiritual goal of Confucian ethics.

Chun-tzu (juhn-dyuh). This term refers to the mature, cultivated, humane person. It is the opposite of petty, mean-spirited individuals. A chun-tzu person aims to live by the highest of ethical standards. He/she seeks to answer, by action and attitude, the question "what can I do to accommodate others?"

Li (ritual, mores, ceremony). Li finds its origin in religious ceremony and rite. Its broader meaning describes the way things are done. Attitude becomes as important as correct conduct. Manners, an order to behavior and family relations, honoring elders, and the concept of the golden mean, all describe Li. The family, still the single most important social institution in imparting ways of learning to be human, is the framework for establishing graceful interactions with others. It is the glue for social solidarity.

Filial piety--relations encompassing not only children to their parents but generations to each other--is the underpinning for all other interactions. Cultivation of genuine feelings for parents and siblings--rather than estrangement and alienation between them--is the principle. This family/communal orientation also plays itself out in salvation schemes. Individualistic approaches are frowned upon. Family, society, country or the whole world must be included in such appeals. We see the depths of family devotion in death and grieving practices. After a parent dies, the child (son) may retire from public affairs, simplify living arrangements and devote himself to grieving for as long as three years. Li further expresses itself through the five relationships.




Old-young, and


These bonds and practices are not only critical to a well-ordered society but provide a training ground for the effective development of a humane, flourishing soul. Critics sometimes describe the "three bonds"-- ruler over minister, father over son and husband over wife--as promoting despotic, autocratic, patriarchal, and male-chauvinistic practice. A Confucian response sees these bonds not as confining or limiting practices. Rather, when seen from a broader perspective, the patterns of social stability, maintenance of the social order, and a world at peace overcome particular frustrations of such hierarchical relations.

Wen refers to the "arts of peace"--music, art, poetry, the aesthetic and spiritual aptitudes. The mark of a cultured person is the knowledge and appreciation of culture, breeding, and grace. The Analects record:

"By poetry the mind is aroused; from music the finish is received. The odes stimulate the mind. They induce self-contemplation. They teach the art of sensibility. They help to restrain resentment. They bring home the duty of serving one's parents and one's prince." (XVIII:9)

 Neo-Confucian Practice

The neo-Confucian movement, developed in response to Buddhism, was dominant in East Asia from the twelfth to early twentieth century. It honed and perfected early Confucian thought.

Chu Hsi (joo shee, 1130-1200), with his School of Principle, saw a pattern running through all material. By practicing asceticism or moral discipline, followers could ascertain this inner design.

Wang Yang-ming (wahng yahng-ming, 1472-1529), another major neo-Confucianist, established the School of Mind. Innate knowledge, found within the mind, is the basis on which to view humanity, rather than pursuing external patterns.

A Third Wave Confucian movement seeks to explain the current economic revival in East Asia in terms of application of Confucian principles to the post-modern world. This school of thought seeks to outmaneuver competitors, based on superior self-knowledge and knowledge of others.

Harvard professor Tu Wei-ming discusses the impact of Confucian thought on the East Asian economy. After describing the economic growth taking place in East Asia, Dr. Wei-ming discusses the human factor involved in the process:

"What they [East Asian] have shown is that culture matters, that values people cherish or unconsciously uphold provide guidance for their actions, that the motivational structure of people is not only relevant but also crucial to their economic ethics, and that the life-orientation of a society makes a difference in the economic behavior of its people."


The Confucian Tradition. "Traditional Chinese society was male-centered. Sons were preferred to daughters, women were expected to be subordinate to fathers, husbands, and sons. A young woman had little voice in the decision of her marriage partner (neither did a young man). When married, it was she who left her natal family and community and went to live in a family and community of strangers where she was subordinate to her mother-in-law. Far fewer women were educated than men, and sketchy but consistent demographic evidence would seem to show that female infants and children had higher death rates and less chance of surviving to adulthood than males. In extreme cases, female infants were the victims of infanticide, and daughters were sold, as chattels, to brothels or to wealthy families. Bound feet, which were customary even for peasant women, symbolized the painful constraints of the female role." (L. of C. Country Studies: China.).

Author John Hersey, in his novel The Call, elaborates on the practice of foot binding.

"A binder had come on her monthly visit to wash and rebind the feet of a little girl of about eight... The binder unwound wide bandages and finally the ‘golden lilies’ were uncovered...The toes had been relentlessly curled back under the soles...sometimes bones were broken, but they mended while bound... The little girl had been given to believe that she was a person of great importance, to be inspected in this way. She never whimpered, but when the work was done, she sat holding her feet in her hands...When she was fully grown, the binder said, her feet would be very beautiful...she would walk like a willow, the binder said, with seductive mincing as to cause great excitement among all the young men!"

Confucian practice concerning women--delegating their position to that of subservience to men--stems in part from the following nature of its thought.

Yin/yang. Yin and Yang interact harmoniously. As part of this balance, traditionally men were associated with "yang," women with "yin." Yin displays qualities of darkness, cold, death , ghosts, graves and fear--often traits acquiring a negative status. The linkage of the feminine with "yin" seems to color women in this negative light as well. Over the centuries, such thought influenced practice towards them.

Family Filial piety--the relations guiding children with their parents and past generations-- delegated responsibilities and importance to eldest sons. Two of the five relationships--father/son and husband/wife--promote social mores of male superiority. The woman’s status becomes one where she obeys and serves her parents, her husband and husband’s parents, and produces a male heir.

The ideal woman becomes someone who is retiring, silent and fertile. She possesses inner strength and is known for her forbearance and patient sense of restraint. In South Korea, the cumulative effect of the Confucian tradition led Harvard professor Tu Wei-ming to write, the "blatant insensitivity in deprecating gender equality reflects an East Asian mentality with deep Confucian roots."

Monday, May 8, 2017

Niccolò Machiavelli, Italian Renaissance political philosopher and statesman

Niccolò Machiavelli, (born May 3, 1469, Florence, Italy—died June 21, 1527, Florence) Italian Renaissance political philosopher and statesman, secretary of the Florentine republic, whose most famous work, The Prince (Il Principe), brought him a reputation as an atheist and an immoral cynic.

Early life and political career

From the 13th century onward, Machiavelli’s family was wealthy and prominent, holding on occasion Florence’s most important offices. His father, Bernardo, a doctor of laws, was nevertheless among the family’s poorest members. Barred from public office in Florence as an insolvent debtor, Bernardo lived frugally, administering his small landed property near the city and supplementing his meagre income from it with earnings from the restricted and almost clandestine exercise of his profession.

Bernardo kept a library in which Niccolò must have read, but little is known of Niccolò’s education and early life in Florence, at that time a thriving centre of philosophy and a brilliant showcase of the arts. He attended lectures by Marcello Virgilio Adriani, who chaired the Studio Fiorentino. He learned Latin well and probably knew some Greek, and he seems to have acquired the typical humanist education that was expected of officials of the Florentine Chancery.

In a letter to a friend in 1498, Machiavelli writes of listening to the sermons of Girolamo Savonarola (1452–98), a Dominican friar who moved to Florence in 1482 and in the 1490s attracted a party of popular supporters with his thinly veiled accusations against the government, the clergy, and the pope. Although Savonarola, who effectively ruled Florence for several years after 1494, was featured in The Prince (1513) as an example of an “unarmed prophet” who must fail, Machiavelli was impressed with his learning and rhetorical skill. On May 24, 1498, Savonarola was hanged as a heretic and his body burned in the public square. Several days later, emerging from obscurity at the age of 29, Machiavelli became head of the second chancery (cancelleria), a post that placed him in charge of the republic’s foreign affairs in subject territories. How so young a man could be entrusted with so high an office remains a mystery, particularly because Machiavelli apparently never served an apprenticeship in the chancery. He held the post until 1512, having gained the confidence of Piero Soderini (1452–1522), the gonfalonier (chief magistrate) for life in Florence from 1502.

During his tenure at the second chancery, Machiavelli persuaded Soderini to reduce the city’s reliance on mercenary forces by establishing a militia (1505), which Machiavelli subsequently organized. He also undertook diplomatic and military missions to the court of France; to Cesare Borgia (1475/76–1507), the son of Pope Alexander VI (reigned 1492–1503); to Pope Julius II (reigned 1503–13), Alexander’s successor; to the court of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (reigned 1493–1519); and to Pisa (1509 and 1511).

In 1503, one year after his missions to Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli wrote a short work, Del modo di trattare i sudditi della Val di Chiana ribellati (On the Way to Deal with the Rebel Subjects of the Valdichiana). Anticipating his later Discourses on Livy, a commentary on the ancient Roman historian, in this work he contrasts the errors of Florence with the wisdom of the Romans and declares that in dealing with rebellious peoples one must either benefit them or eliminate them. Machiavelli also was a witness to the bloody vengeance taken by Cesare on his mutinous captains at the town of Sinigaglia (December 31, 1502), of which he wrote a famous account. In much of his early writings, Machiavelli argues that “one should not offend a prince and later put faith in him.”

In 1503 Machiavelli was sent to Rome for the duration of the conclave that elected Pope Julius II, an enemy of the Borgias, whose election Cesare had unwisely aided. Machiavelli watched Cesare’s decline and, in a poem (First Decennale), celebrated his imprisonment, a burden that “he deserved as a rebel against Christ.” Altogether, Machiavelli embarked on more than 40 diplomatic missions during his 14 years at the chancery.

In 1512 the Florentine republic was overthrown and the gonfalonier deposed by a Spanish army that Julius II had enlisted into his Holy League. The Medici family returned to rule Florence, and Machiavelli, suspected of conspiracy, was imprisoned, tortured, and sent into exile in 1513 to his father’s small property in San Casciano, just south of Florence. There he wrote his two major works, The Prince and Discourses on Livy, both of which were published after his death. He dedicated The Prince to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici (1492–1519), ruler of Florence from 1513 and grandson of Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449–92). When, on Lorenzo’s death, Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici (1478–1534) came to govern Florence, Machiavelli was presented to the cardinal by Lorenzo Strozzi (1488–1538), scion of one of Florence’s wealthiest families, to whom he dedicated the dialogue The Art of War (1521; Dell’arte della guerra).

Machiavelli was first employed in 1520 by the cardinal to resolve a case of bankruptcy in Lucca, where he took the occasion to write a sketch of its government and to compose his The Life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca (1520; La vita di Castruccio Castracani da Lucca). Later that year the cardinal agreed to have Machiavelli elected official historian of the republic, a post to which he was appointed in November 1520 with a salary of 57 gold florins a year, later increased to 100. In the meantime, he was commissioned by the Medici pope Leo X (reigned 1513–21) to write a discourse on the organization of the government of Florence. Machiavelli criticized both the Medici regime and the succeeding republic he had served and boldly advised the pope to restore the republic, replacing the unstable mixture of republic and principality then prevailing. Shortly thereafter, in May 1521, he was sent for two weeks to the Franciscan chapter at Carpi, where he improved his ability to “reason about silence.” Machiavelli faced a dilemma about how to tell the truth about the rise of the Medici in Florence without offending his Medici patron.

After the death of Pope Leo X in 1521, Cardinal Giulio, Florence’s sole master, was inclined to reform the city’s government and sought out the advice of Machiavelli, who replied with the proposal he had made to Leo X. In 1523, following the death of Pope Adrian VI, the cardinal became Pope Clement VII, and Machiavelli worked with renewed enthusiasm on an official history of Florence. In June 1525 he presented his Florentine Histories (Istorie Fiorentine) to the pope, receiving in return a gift of 120 ducats. In April 1526 Machiavelli was made chancellor of the Procuratori delle Mura to superintend Florence’s fortifications. At this time the pope had formed a Holy League at Cognac against Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (reigned 1519–56), and Machiavelli went with the army to join his friend Francesco Guicciardini (1482–1540), the pope’s lieutenant, with whom he remained until the sack of Rome by the emperor’s forces brought the war to an end in May 1527. Now that Florence had cast off the Medici, Machiavelli hoped to be restored to his old post at the chancery. But the few favours that the Medici had doled out to him caused the supporters of the free republic to look upon him with suspicion. Denied the post, he fell ill and died within a month.

In office Machiavelli wrote a number of short political discourses and poems (the Decennali) on Florentine history. It was while he was out of office and in exile, however, that the “Florentine Secretary,” as Machiavelli came to be called, wrote the works of political philosophy for which he is remembered. In his most noted letter (December 10, 1513), he described one of his days—in the morning walking in the woods, in the afternoon drinking and gambling with friends at the inn, and in the evening reading and reflecting in his study, where, he says, “I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for.” In the same letter, Machiavelli remarks that he has just composed a little work on princes—a “whimsy”—and thus lightly introduces arguably the most famous book on politics ever written, the work that was to give the name Machiavellian to the teaching of worldly success through scheming deceit.

About the same time that Machiavelli wrote The Prince (1513), he was also writing a very different book, Discourses on Livy (or, more precisely, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy [Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio]). Both books were first published only after Machiavelli’s death, the Discourses on Livy in 1531 and The Prince in 1532. They are distinguished from his other works by the fact that in the dedicatory letter to each he says that it contains everything he knows. The dedication of the Discourses on Livy presents the work to two of Machiavelli’s friends, who he says are not princes but deserve to be, and criticizes the sort of begging letter he appears to have written in dedicating The Prince. The two works differ also in substance and manner. Whereas The Prince is mostly concerned with princes—particularly new princes—and is short, easy to read, and, according to many, dangerously wicked, the Discourses on Livy is a “reasoning” that is long, difficult, and full of advice on how to preserve republics. Every thoughtful treatment of Machiavelli has had to come to terms with the differences between his two most important works.

The Prince

The first and most persistent view of Machiavelli is that of a teacher of evil. The German-born American philosopher Leo Strauss (1899–1973) begins his interpretation from this point. The Prince is in the tradition of the “Mirror for Princes”—i.e., books of advice that enabled princes to see themselves as though reflected in a mirror—which began with the Cyropaedia by the Greek historian Xenophon (431–350 bc) and continued into the Middle Ages. Prior to Machiavelli, works in this genre advised princes to adopt the best prince as their model, but Machiavelli’s version recommends that a prince go to the “effectual truth” of things and forgo the standard of “what should be done” lest he bring about his ruin. To maintain himself a prince must learn how not to be good and use or not use this knowledge “according to necessity.” An observer would see such a prince as guided by necessity, and from this standpoint Machiavelli can be interpreted as the founder of modern political science, a discipline based on the actual state of the world as opposed to how the world might be in utopias such as the Republic of Plato (428/27–348/47 bc) or the City of God of Saint Augustine (354–430). This second, amoral interpretation can be found in works by the German historian Friedrich Meinecke (1862–1954) and the German philosopher Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945). The amoral interpretation fastens on Machiavelli’s frequent resort to “necessity” in order to excuse actions that might otherwise be condemned as immoral. But Machiavelli also advises the use of prudence in particular circumstances, and, though he sometimes offers rules or remedies for princes to adopt, he does not seek to establish exact or universal laws of politics in the manner of modern political science.

Machiavelli divides principalities into those that are acquired and those that are inherited. In general, he argues that the more difficult it is to acquire control over a state, the easier it is to hold on to it. The reason for this is that the fear of a new prince is stronger than the love for a hereditary prince; hence, the new prince, who relies on “a dread of punishment that never forsakes you,” will succeed, but a prince who expects his subjects to keep their promises of support will be disappointed. The prince will find that “each wants to die for him when death is at a distance,” but, when the prince needs his subjects, they generally decline to serve as promised. Thus, every prince, whether new or old, must look upon himself as a new prince and learn to rely on “one’s own arms,” both literally in raising one’s own army and metaphorically in not relying on the goodwill of others.

The new prince relies on his own virtue, but, if virtue is to enable him to acquire a state, it must have a new meaning distinct from the New Testament virtue of seeking peace. Machiavelli’s notion of virtù requires the prince to be concerned foremost with the art of war and to seek not merely security but also glory, for glory is included in necessity. Virtù for Machiavelli is virtue not for its own sake but rather for the sake of the reputation it enables princes to acquire. Liberality, for example, does not aid a prince, because the recipients may not be grateful, and lavish displays necessitate taxing of the prince’s subjects, who will despise him for it. Thus, a prince should not be concerned if he is held to be stingy, as this vice enables him to rule. Similarly, a prince should not care about being held cruel as long as the cruelty is “well used.” Machiavelli sometimes uses virtù in the traditional sense too, as in a famous passage on Agathocles (361–289 bc), the self-styled king of Sicily, whom Machiavelli describes as a “most excellent captain” but one who came to power by criminal means. Of Agathocles, Machiavelli writes that “one cannot call it virtue to kill one’s citizens, betray one’s friends, to be without faith, without mercy and without religion.” Yet in the very next sentence he speaks of “the virtue of Agathocles,” who did all these things. Virtue, according to Machiavelli, aims to reduce the power of fortune over human affairs because fortune keeps men from relying on themselves. At first Machiavelli admits that fortune rules half of men’s lives, but then, in an infamous metaphor, he compares fortune to a woman who lets herself be won more by the impetuous and the young, “who command her with more audacity,” than by those who proceed cautiously. Machiavelli cannot simply dismiss or replace the traditional notion of moral virtue, which gets its strength from the religious beliefs of ordinary people. His own virtue of mastery coexists with traditional moral virtue yet also makes use of it. A prince who possesses the virtue of mastery can command fortune and manage people to a degree never before thought possible.

In the last chapter of The Prince, Machiavelli writes a passionate “exhortation to seize Italy and to free her from the barbarians”—apparently France and Spain, which had been overrunning the disunited peninsula. He calls for a redeemer, mentioning the miracles that occurred as Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, and closes with a quotation from a patriotic poem by Petrarch (1304–74). The final chapter has led many to a third interpretation of Machiavelli as a patriot rather than as a disinterested scientist.

The Discourses on Livy

Like The Prince, the Discourses on Livy admits of various interpretations. One view, elaborated separately in works by the political theorists J.G.A. Pocock and Quentin Skinner in the 1970s, stresses the work’s republicanism and locates Machiavelli in a republican tradition that starts with Aristotle (384–322 bc) and continues through the organization of the medieval city-states, the renewal of classical political philosophy in Renaissance humanism, and the establishment of the contemporary American republic. This interpretation focuses on Machiavelli’s various pro-republican remarks, such as his statement that the multitude is wiser and more constant than a prince and his emphasis in the Discourses on Livy on the republican virtue of self-sacrifice as a way of combating corruption. Yet Machiavelli’s republicanism does not rest on the usual republican premise that power is safer in the hands of many than it is in the hands of one. To the contrary, he asserts that, to found or reform a republic, it is necessary to “be alone.” Any ordering must depend on a single mind; thus, Romulus “deserves excuse” for killing Remus, his brother and partner in the founding of Rome, because it was for the common good. This statement is as close as Machiavelli ever came to saying “the end justifies the means,” a phrase closely associated with interpretations of The Prince.

Republics need the kind of leaders that Machiavelli describes in The Prince. These “princes in a republic” cannot govern in accordance with justice, because those who get what they deserve from them do not feel any obligation. Nor do those who are left alone feel grateful. Thus, a prince in a republic will have no “partisan friends” unless he learns “to kill the sons of Brutus,” using violence to make examples of enemies of the republic and, not incidentally, of himself. To reform a corrupt state presupposes a good man, but to become a prince presupposes a bad man. Good men, Machiavelli claims, will almost never get power, and bad men will almost never use power for a good end. Yet, since republics become corrupt when the people lose the fear that compels them to obey, the people must be led back to their original virtue by sensational executions reminding them of punishment and reviving their fear. The apparent solution to the problem is to let bad men gain glory through actions that have a good outcome, if not a good motive.

In the Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli favours the deeds of the ancients above their philosophy; he reproaches his contemporaries for consulting ancient jurists for political wisdom rather than looking to the actual history of Rome. He argues that the factional tumults of the Roman republic, which were condemned by many ancient writers, actually made Rome free and great. Moreover, although Machiavelli was a product of the Renaissance—and is often portrayed as its leading exponent (e.g., by 19th-century Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt)—he also criticized it, particularly for the humanism it derived from Plato, Aristotle, and the Roman orator Cicero (106–43 bc). He called for “new modes and orders” and compared himself to the explorers of unknown lands in his time. His emphasis on the effectual truth led him to seek the hidden springs of politics in fraud and conspiracy, examples of which he discussed with apparent relish. It is notable that, in both The Prince and the Discourses on Livy, the longest chapters are on conspiracy.

Throughout his two chief works, Machiavelli sees politics as defined by the difference between the ancients and the moderns: the ancients are strong, the moderns weak. The moderns are weak because they have been formed by Christianity, and, in three places in the Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli boldly and impudently criticizes the Roman Catholic church and Christianity itself. For Machiavelli the church is the cause of Italy’s disunity; the clergy is dishonest and leads people to believe “that it is evil to say evil of evil”; and Christianity glorifies suffering and makes the world effeminate. But Machiavelli leaves it unclear whether he prefers atheism, paganism, or a reformed Christianity, writing later, in a letter dated April 16, 1527 (only two months before his death): “I love my fatherland more than my soul.”

The Florentine Histories
Machiavelli’s longest work—commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1520, presented to Pope Clement VII in 1525, and first published in 1532—is a history of Florence from its origin to the death of Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici in 1492. Adopting the approach of humanist historians before him, Machiavelli used the plural “histories,” dividing his account into “books” with nonhistorical introductions and invented speeches presented as if they were actual reports. His history, moreover, takes place in a nonhistorical context—a contest between virtue and fortune. The theme of the Florentine Histories is the city’s remarkable party division, which, unlike the divisions in ancient Rome, kept the city weak and corrupt. Like the Discourses on Livy, the Florentine Histories contains (less bold) criticism of the church and popes and revealing portraits of leading characters, especially of the Medici (the book is organized around the return of Cosimo de’ Medici [1389–1464] to Florence in 1434 after his exile). It also features an exaggeratedly “Machiavellian” oration by a plebeian leader, apparently Michele di Lando, who was head of the 1378 Revolt of the Ciompi (“wool carders”), a rebellion of Florence’s lower classes that resulted in the formation of the city’s most democratic (albeit short-lived) government. Although not a modern historian, Machiavelli, with his emphasis on “diverse effects,” exhibits some of the modern historian’s devotion to facts.

The Art of War and other writings

The Art of War (1521), one of only a few works of Machiavelli to be published during his lifetime, is a dialogue set in the Orti Oricellari, a garden in Florence where humanists gathered to discuss philosophy and politics. The principal speaker is Fabrizio Colonna, a professional condottiere and Machiavelli’s authority on the art of war. He urges, contrary to the literary humanists, that the ancients be imitated in “strong and harsh things, not delicate and soft”—i.e., in war. Fabrizio, though a mercenary himself, inveighs against the use of mercenaries in modern times and presents the Roman army as his model of military excellence. The dialogue was later praised by the Prussian war theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) and has achieved a prominent place in the history of writings on war.

Among Machiavelli’s lesser writings, two deserve mention: The Life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca (1520) and The Mandrake (1518; La Mandragola). The former is a sketch of Castruccio Castracani (1281–1328), the Ghibelline ruler of Lucca (a city near Florence), who is presented as the greatest man of postclassical times. It concludes with a list of witty remarks attributed to Castruccio but actually taken from ancient philosophers, providing a rare glimpse of Machiavelli’s view of them. The Mandrake, the best known of Machiavelli’s three plays, was probably composed in 1518. In it a foolish old jurist, Messer Nicia, allows himself to be cuckolded by a young man, Callimaco, in order to produce a son he cannot beget himself. His wife, Lucrezia, is persuaded to comply—despite her virtue—by a crooked priest, and the conspiracy is facilitated by a procurer. Since at the end of the play everyone gets what he wants, the lesson is that immoral actions such as adultery can bring happiness—out of evil can come good.


Machiavelli’s influence on later times must be divided into what was transmitted under his own name and what was known through the works of others but not acknowledged as Machiavelli’s. Since his own name was infamous, there is little of the former kind. “Machiavellian” has never been an epithet of praise; indeed, one of the villains of the play Henry VI, by William Shakespeare, claims to surpass “murtherous Machevil.” For moral lessons like the one described above and for attacks on the church, Machiavelli’s works were put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (“Index of Forbidden Books”) when it was first drawn up in 1564. Nonetheless, his works were read by all the modern philosophers, though only a few of them were brave enough to defend him: the English lawyer and philosopher Francis Bacon (1561–1626) discussed Machiavelli in his The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall (1625), noting his boldness; the English political philosopher James Harrington (1611–77), in his The Common-wealth of Oceana (1656), speaks admiringly of Machiavelli as the “prince of politicians” and the disciple of ancient prudence; the Dutch-Jewish philosopher Benedict de Spinoza (1632–77) defended Machiavelli’s good intentions in teaching tyrants how to gain power, claiming in his Political Treatise (1677) that Machiavelli was a republican; likewise, the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) asserted in his Social Contract (1762) that Machiavelli was, despite appearances, “an honest man and a good citizen” and The Prince “the book of republicans.” The contemporary republican interpretation of Machiavelli, less mindful of his evil reputation, presents him as a communitarian alternative to self-interested liberalism.

More powerful, however, was Machiavelli’s underground influence on thinkers who avoided using his name. One may suspect that some used his doctrines even while joining in attacks on him. One such scholar, for example, was the Italian philosopher Giovanni Botero (1540–1617), who was among the first to establish the idea of a moral exemption for the state. Authors taking a similar approach developed, for safety’s sake, the practice of quoting passages from the Roman historian Tacitus (ad 56–120)—thus becoming known as “Tacitists”—when they might just as well have cited Machiavelli.

But the greater, more fundamental claim of Machiavelli’s influence, made especially by Burckhardt and Strauss, is as the founder of modernity. Machiavelli himself despised the moderns of his day as weak, but he also held forth the possibility of a “perpetual republic” that would remedy the weakness of the moderns and correct the errors of the Romans and so establish a political order no longer subject to the vicissitudes of fortune. There is no modern science in Machiavelli, but the Baconian idea of the conquest of nature and fortune in the interest of humanity is fully present. So too are modern notions of irreversible progress, of secularism, and of obtaining public good through private interest. Whether Machiavelli could have had so grand an ambition remains controversial, but all agree on his greatness—his novelty, the penetration of his mind, and the grace of his style.