Virtue by Vice

Essay by Bossman5College, UndergraduateB+, September 2009

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Virtue is not an ambiguous term. It has strong ties to moral excellence. There are minor variations among virtues according to different, usually religious, value systems. However, virtuosity at its essence does not change. Virtue is the polar opposite of vice. This generally agreed upon definition is the one used in More's Utopia. Machiavelli redefines virtue and vice by extracting the element of morality from both. Doing good, or being virtuous is gaining power and maintaining the state. (Machiavelli,58) A prince must use vices as a means to do good. Vices are either looked at favorably or unfavorably according to public perception. A prince with virtue knows how to balance the two types of vices to maintain stability and attain power. It is important to understand that Machiavellian virtue has no moral imperative. The favorable and unfavorable vices are looked at equally in that they serve as functions of achieving an end.

Machiavelli talks about ways to acquire power through either ability or good fortune. In explaining virtue, he mentions mythical and historical leaders who attaint power. "those who came princes by their own virtue and not because of them [fortune]. Id say the most excellent ones are Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, Theseus, and the like." (Machiavelli,21) Moses, although discredited as merely following orders of God, gains power through the trust of Israeli slaves in Egypt. Cyrus gains the trust of Persian citizens and takes over the Median Empire becoming King of Persia. Romulus came to power by killing his brother, Remus, for leadership of Rome. Theseus, after a long journey of battling a series of underworld beings, uses conquest and personal influence to gain the support of the Athenians, under the rule of King Minos. (Britannica) Using these figures, Machiavelli makes it clear that...