State Imposed Morality of Aristotle and Machiavelli
Morality has been a subject of great importance from past to present, and the concept of what is moral and what is not depends on one’s own culture, tradition, and beliefs, and may also vary from one individual to another, even when they have the same culture, tradition, philosophy or religion. The philosopher Aristotle have argued about how people should behave and taught about virtue and the moral character. He also taught about Politics and how citizens should contribute in the benefit of the state.He argued that politics, or the good of the state, should be the higher end of ethics.
Maintaining the state requires the citizens to act accordingly to the approved standards of human behavior. On the other hand, Machiavelli taught on how a political leader should act to retain control over and maintain the state by imposing on the people his authority. The question raised whether the state could make the people remain moral could easily be answered in the affirmative if we strictly follow the standards set by these two philosophers.Aristotle argued that “man is by nature a political animal” (Politics, III. vi).
Men created societies because of this nature and that members of societies agreed at some standard of actions or rules. Aristotle states that “even when they do not require one another’s help, [men] desire to live together” (Politics, III. vi). When groups of societies group together, they form the state.
Aristotle goes on to say that men are brought together by their common interest to attain some measure of well-being.That an individual’s well-being is the chief end of both the individual and the state is reason enough why the state should impose on its citizens its concept of morality, for the benefit of the state and its members. Aristotle held that “every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good” (Politics, I. i).The state or the political community, which Aristotle held as being the highest and embracing all communities, “aims at a good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good” (Politics, I.
). Futhermore, he argued that men have the sense of what is good and evil, of what is just and unjust, and the like, and that it is this sense and their association with other men that make a state (Politics, I. ii). Aristotle argued that all men seek to be part of a state, saying that man is not self-sufficing when isolated and any who is sufficient for himself must either be a beast or a god (Politics, I. ii). Surely, men seek for the company of others.
Even if a man wish to be alone sometimes, he is almost always certain to seek another for company at some point of time. Man cannot live alone for a long time and retain his humanity. A man can most definitely survive alone, as if one own’s survival is the only thing that matters in the world. He will become savage, not different from any wild beast in the jungle. Reminds me of a movie by Robert Zemeckis (2000), Cast Away, which describes what happens when a man lives in isolation from the rest of the world.
Although one might speculate that Noland, the main character in the film, may have chosen to live in isolation when he was returned back to “civilization,” the fact remains that he, at least, would live near another human being. Bottomline is, man needs the company of others and it is because of this reason that societies and, consequentially, states were formed. It is also important to put an emphasis that a society, and, therefore, the state, is an association of men with common interests; the least being living together, and the greatest, as have already been pointed out, of well-being.Aristotle also argued that happiness is the ultimate goal of life. The question that arises is what form of happiness it should be, as there are different forms of happiness ranging from pure physical pleasure to possession of property to emotional and spiritual satisfaction.
“The mass of mankind,” According to Aristotle, “are evidently quite slavish in their tastes, preferring a life suitable to beasts,” while “people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honour” (Nicomachean Ethics, I. v).It is evident, therefore, that men, while having common interest, most of the time come to disagreement. However, Aristotle also taught that the function of a man is “to be a certain kind of life, and this to be an activity or actions of the soul implying a rational principle, and the function of a good man to be the good and noble performance of these” (Nicomachean Ethics, I. vii).
When every man acts in order to obtain what they think is good, it should only follow that every man should perform acts with an underlying rational principle which ultimately benefit the soul.Aristotle goes on to say that “human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete” (Nicomachean Ethics, I. vii). He argues that the virtue of man is the “state of character which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well,” that virtue is a “state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i. e. the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it” (Nicomachean Ethics, II.
i), implying that there is an equilibrium of actions in a virtuous person.This includes, but not limited to, having the right attitude towards the right things at the right time for the right end and in a right way, that is, different virtues apply to different situations, and different degrees of the same virtue apply to different situations that require similar vitues. In the end, the men “of practical wisdom,” who are essentially every man who aspires well-being and in turn every man who aspires to remain in their society, agrees to set these standards of virtue.It is important to highlight, as well, that a man chooses to remain in a society for his own self-interest of, in the least, being with another human.
It is a primary objective of the state to have law and justice. Otherwise, all of the purpose why men have congregated into societies will be nullified. Just as men have common interests, the fact that each man has his own self-interest is also undeniable. It is for this reason that Aristotle stated “man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all” (Politics, I.
i).Conflicting self-interests between men required them to have laws to settle the differences. These laws help maintain the stability of the state and protect its survival and consequentially must consider the virtues. Aristotle taught that while one person differs from another, “the salvation of the community is the common business of them all” (Politics, III. iv). Furthermore, he states that the “community is the constitution; the virtue of the citizen must therefore be relative to the constitution of which he is a member” (Politics, III.
iv).The strict implementation of the laws in a state is for the benefit of its members. If the laws of the state incorporate the virtues of its people, laws which the people themselves have agreed with, if, for the purpose of argument, the state is able to implement it to all its members, and if we consider a virtuous person to be a moral person, then the state would be able to make its people adhere to the agreed standards of morality. The community of men is not self-sufficing precisely because of the fact that men, being different from each other, have their own self-interests.
The creation of the laws is not sufficient to ensure the survival of the state. The laws, as have already been stated, needs to be implemented in order to preserve the state. But the law could not be implemented by itself, nor by the people who, despite of having agreed to the prescribed standards, by their nature, still could not ignore their self-interests, such that each state needs political leaders to implement such laws, in order to preserve the state from which political leaders are, themselves, members.Perhaps, no other philosopher have written better about how a political leader should act and about the principles of politics than Niccolo Machiavelli. In The Prince, Machiavelli argues how the state could be maintained and how a political leader could impose on the members of the state the prescribed standard of actions or morality. While Machiavelli argues that a political leader should not really be concerned about his own morality, he nevertheless taught a political leader must do what he must to maintain the society.
Because a political leader has the authority to implement the laws, he will be able to maintain the state.Machiavelli believes that the good of the state must take precedence over all other considerations, may it be of morality or the good of the citizens, something of which is in agreement with Aristotle’s arguments. A plotical leader must exercise his power and authority to keep the state in balance. According to Cary Nederman (2005), “it has been a common view among political philosophers that there exists a special relationship between moral goodness and legitimate authority.
Many authors believed that the use of political power was only rightful if it was exercised by a ruler whose personal moral character was strictly virtuous. But while this is practically correct, it is also true that “goodness does not ensure power and the good person has no more authority by virtue of being good” (Nederman 2005). Power and authority are coequal, according to Nederman (2005). The significance of authority and power over the state and morality lies in its political advantage. Nederman (2005) goes on to explain that “for Machiavelli, power characteristically defines political activity, and hence it is necessary for any successful ruler to know how power is to be used.
Only by means of the proper application of power, Machiavelli believes, can individuals be brought to obey and will the ruler be able to maintain the state in safety and security. ” Machiavelli held that “the nature of the people is variable, and whilst it is easy to persuade them, it is difficult to fix them in that persuasion. And thus it is necessary to take such measures that, when they believe no longer, it may be possible to make them believe by force” (The Prince, VI).He states that “this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you” (The Prince, XVII).
It is because of these human nature that the state needs rulers with a political will to maintain the stability of the state, a state where the common interest of its members are secured.Where the state strives for the highest good that benefits all of its members, and the members sharing the common interest from which they have formed the state, it is only natural that, under the leadership of a virtuous ruler that implements the prescribed state laws, members will strive to achieve the ends of which they have formed the state—that of the common good—and if acting as prescribed by laws considered virtuous acts and virtuous acts be moral, then the state, with all arguments specified above, could make the people moral.Machiavelli believes that it is better for the ruler to be feared than to be loved. This is all due to his beliefs about human nature.
Nevertheless, he also said that one should wish both but should choose to be feared if one must be dispnsed with.He explains that “friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails” (The Prince, XVII).Nederman (2005) explains that, “for Machiavelli, people are compelled to obey purely in deference to the superior power of the state. If I think that I should not obey a particular law, what eventually leads me to submit to that law will be either a fear of the power of the state or the actual exercise of that power. ” The question that now arises is whether a particular law that the ruler imposes would still be based on virtue, from the point of view of the people, or would it just be based on the selfish interest of the ruler to remain in power.It has been asserted that it is the chief end of the ruler is to maintain the state, thus any law that the ruler may impose must be virtuous and, indeed, moral, since to maintain the state means to please those who compose it—that being the people.
But one must speculate as well whether the state exists for the ruler, or the ruler for the state. Although Machiavelli essentially advocated two different forms of government, on one hand some kind of monarchy in The Prince, on the other Republicanism in the Discourses, one can find relation between the two advocacies to show that, when one takes his advice, the state could make its people moral.In cases where the ruler imposes laws that are somewhat against the prescribed standards of actions, Machiavelli suggests a system which holds in check the actions of the ruler. He holds that “men do not know how to be entirely bad or perfectly good” (Discourses, I. xxvii).
The ruler is not an exception to this. The ruler, aspiring the good of the state, must agree to this system, else he cause the ruin of the state. The only way a ruler can maintain the state is by keeping the people happy, which he can by assuring the people that his acts are directed towards the good of the state, and, therefore, of the people.Only when a ruler is backed by the support of the people, at least of the majority, can he remain in power and keep his authority; that even when he is powerful he does not possess absolute power without the majority backing him up, for he is only one and the people are many.
Even the lion, with all excellence of his power, is overwhelmed by the pride when they are disappointed with him. Machiavelli suggests a minimal constitutional order, one in which the people live securely, ruled by a strong government which holds in check the aspirations of the people, but is in turn balanced by prescribed mechanisms provided by the law.With a system of checks and balances, the good of the state is secured. Machiavelli has been criticized as a “teacher of evil” on the “grounds that he counsels leaders to avoid the common values of justice, mercy, temperance, wisdom and love of their people in preference to the use of cruelty, violence, fear, and deception” (Nederman, 2005). Others simply view him as a realist or pragmatist “advocating the suspension of commonplace ethics in matters of politics” (Nederman, 2005).They claim that “moral values have no place in the sorts of decisions that political leaders must make, and it is a category error of the gravest sort to think otherwise” (Nederman, 2005).
Contrary to the beliefs of his criticizers, Machiavelli teaches that the ruler ought to do good whenever he can, but must be prepared to do evil if he must. He advises that the head of state must be “prepared to vary his conduct as the winds of fortune and changing circumstances constrain him and … not deviate from right conduct if possible, but be capable of entering upon the path of wrongdoing when this becomes necessary” (Nederman 2005).While he advocated to instill fear in the citizens, he advised that the ruler do so in such a way that he avoids hatred. The problem that lies with the interpretation of Machiavelli’s arguments is, as have been noted at the start, men differs from what they consider to be moral or not. We must remember, however, that even the rulers that Machiavelli is advocating are also members of the society, hence are also bound to abide by the same principle which binds the people to the state—that of the common good.
The emphasis put here is that the ruler’s principal goal is to protect the state wherein the common good of the people should and must be secured. Kocis (1998) explains that “for Machiavelli as for many other moral thinkers, our moral obligations are created by us as a rational response to the needs of living together in a society. ” What Machiavelli is pointing out could be summed up in the words of Warburton (2001) et al. : “For Machiavelli and the liberal tradition, the individual stands apart from society.Society is the backdrop against which individuals separated from their social relationship and roles act to achieve their own ends, Human beings, their motives and aspirations are defined independently of the specific social context in which these are formulated and experienced.
They are essentially the same at all times and places because they are motivated by the same insatiable passions. Human beings are self-assertive, self-preserving, infinitely desirous and endlessly ambitious in a world of scarcity and limited satisfactions.The realization of the most fundamental human desires for self-preservation and security can be achieved by creating a strong and stable state. Human psychology thus becomes the cause of external conflict and the remedy for social cohesion.
Self-preservation is the overriding motivational factor in creating or maintaining political arrangements which promote human desires. It follows, then, that if human being are solely motivated by such desires, morality can be imposed by force, derived from fear of sanctions or observed only because doing so leads to their satisfaction.Both Aristotle and Machiavelli argued that the good of the state takes precedence over the good of the individual. The good of the state would benefit the majority of its members. It would only lead to the state’s destruction otherwise.
It would only follow that whatever action or behavior done for the good of the state must be a moral action. All those who wish to continue to be part of any society that is part of the state must agree and adhere to the standards of actions and behaviors imposed by the state.The state, on the other hand, must employ an iron hand to implement its standards of morality to protect itself from destruction. Political leaders asserting their authority over their subjects would ensure the survival of the state and its ideals. When this authority is exercised properly, the state could make all its members adhere to the ideals which the members themselves have agreed to in their common interest of well-being. Hence, the state, with all the authority it was given by the people themselves, could and should make the people moral.