Machiavelli’s notion of truth

Earlier this week we discussed Machiavelli’s potent shock-value. Now, Arts & Letter Daily has linked us to The New Criterion‘s post on Machiavelli’s philosophical musings of truth. The claim is that they are just as important as his political work. ALDaily writes:

“I depart from the orders of others.” With that, Machiavelli reconceived both politics and philosophy. He was not a product of his time, but the father of ours…

Here is an extract from The New Criterion‘s post:

To see how important Machiavelli was one must first examine how important he meant to be. In the Discourses he says he has a “natural desire” to “work for those things I believe will bring common benefit to everyone.” A natural desire is in human nature, not just in the humans of Machiavelli’s time, and the beneficiaries will be everyone, all humanity—not just his native country or city. He goes on to say that he has “decided to take a path as yet untrodden by anyone.” He will benefit everyone by taking a new path; he is not just imitating the ancients or contributing to the Renaissance, that rebirth of the ancients, though obviously his new path makes use of the them. In the middle of The Prince he declares: “I depart from the orders of others,” also emphasizing his originality. One soon learns that he departs from the tradition of thought that begins with Greek, or Socratic, philosophy, as well as from the Bible. All this he refers to elsewhere as “my enterprise.”

Is Machiavelli a philosopher? He does not say that he is. He uses the word very sparingly and does not openly address those he calls “philosophers.” He seems to confine himself to politics, but politics he refers to expansively as “worldly things” (cose del mondo). And yet he indicates that he is a philosopher, and repeatedly, insistently, in several ways. To expand politics to include the world implies that the world governs politics or politics governs the world or both. In his day the notion of the “world” immediately raised the question of which world, this one or the next? Here religion and philosophy dispute the question of which world governs the other and whether politics can manage or God must provide for human fortunes—Fortuna being, as everyone knows, a prominent theme of Machiavelli’s.

To reform contemplative philosophy, Machiavelli moved to assert the necessities of the world against the intelligibility of the heavenly cosmos and the supra-heavenly whole. His nature, as opposed to that of Plato and Aristotle, lacked the lasting or eternal intelligibles of nature as they conceived it. To assert the claim of nature against theology Machiavelli changes nature into the world, or, more precisely, because the world is not an intelligible whole, into “worldly things.” This world is the world of sense. In replacing the world of intelligible nature with the world of sense, he discovered the world of fact underneath the reason of things. In doing so he laid the foundation for modern philosophy, which is modern epistemology (as it came to be called) and its two modes, modern empiricism and modern rationalism. To see how Machiavelli discovered “fact,” we may return to his “effectual truth of the thing” in the paragraph of The Prince being featured. That notion was contrasted to the imagination of the thing that led to making a profession of good, from which he drew a moral lesson for the prince or indeed for man as such: You will come to ruin if you base yourself on what should be done rather than on what is done.

Read on here.

Post a Comment

Your email address is never shared. Required fields are marked *