Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: Machiavelli and Political Philosophy

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

Machiavelli’s influence on modern political theory cannot be overstated. The Prince, his most famous work, provides an interesting lens for examining modern politics and is perhaps more relevant than ever. The term ‘Machiavellian intelligence’ refers to the principles of his political philosophy and the idea that success in politics can be secured by manging behaviours and manipulating social groups.

In this course, we will study Machiavelli’s philosophy of human nature; his ‘real politic’ of the state; his alarming ethics; and his thoughts on war, religion, and literature. We will also consider his ideas on love and sex, particularly in his plays, poems and letters. Machiavellian politics is very much part of contemporary debate and we will see how his theory is being used now.


This course aims to:

  • provide you with an understanding of the issues involved in of the philosophy of Machiavelli
  • provide you with an understanding of the history of Machiavelli’s life, and how it has influenced contemporary politics
  • facilitate discussion on the ideas of political reality; the psychology of human nature; free will; power; the ethics of the state; and much more
  • discuss the role violence and deception in the workings of politics
  • promote discussion on the political and ethical implications of Machiavelli’s ideas for our contemporary world.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • discuss Machiavelli’s works The Prince; The Discourses; The Art of War, as well as his poetry and plays
  • recognise and discuss many of Machiavelli’s views in both philosophical history and contemporary literature
  • apply Machiavelli’s ideas to other social issue, such as personal relationships and the dynamics of the workplace
  • better understand politics in general.


Introduction to life and times

Machiavelli’s biography reads like an action packed drama. He is at the epicenter of Popes, Princes and Plots until his arrest, torture and exile, but then makes a comeback tour at the end. We will also look at the philosophical ideas surrounding him and the theories of the Cosmos in the middle Renaissance.

The Prince

I will introduce Machiavelli’s ideas on human nature; his theory of power; and the role of deception in the state.

Machiavelli on violence and the law

Machiavelli was an advisor to the Florentine Government on military affairs, and had firsthand experience of warfare. He believed that there can be no law without a strong military foundation. We will look at his theory in The Prince, The Discourses and The Art of War.

‘Fortuna’ and free will

In both The Prince and The Discourses, Machiavelli discusses the role of ‘Fortuna’ in human life: this involves the problem of whether humans can control their fate in a world not of their own making. Fortua is a very old idea but Machiavelli is inventing a Modern philosophy and in doing so transforms this old idea in a very new way. His ideas instigate a the Modern discussion on free will.

Machiavelli’s psychology

That all realistic politics must begin with a psychology of human desires and motivations is one of Machiavelli’s fundamental insights: Thomas Hobbes and all Modern political theory is based on it. We will discuss whether you think he has understood as we realistically are.

Liberty and the people

Machiavelli is a Republican, and in the Discourses it is the people not the prince who will maintain a stable society: “A people that commands and is well organized will be just as stable and prudent as a prince... if there is any superiority it is with the people”.

Machiavelli in love

Machiavelli overturned both Classical and Christian ideas of love; as in his politics he is a Modern thinker. We will use his plays, poems and letters to examine his philosophy of love and sex, and his advice to the young on love matters.

Machiavelli the writer

We will look at his use of allegory and rhetoric. His preface to The Prince claims that he will “not fill this volume with pompous rhetoric, with bombast and magnificent words” and yet one of the pleasures of reading The Prince is exactly its rhetorical force. Of course one must keep in mind that in The Prince he does advise him to use rhetoric as part of his armory; is Machiavelli following his own advice.

Radical Machiavelli for now

We will survey some of the new uses which Machiavelli’s ideas have been put to in contemporary political theory.

The Machiavellian intelligence

Is it productive or destructive? We will consider the broader issues of Machiavelli’s way of thinking on social life.

Intended audience

Anyone with a general interest in philosophy and Machiavelli.

Delivery style



Course notes are provided electronically.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

Philosophy Course: Machiavelli and Political Philosophy

<p>{block name:“Course Tagline - Philosophy”}</p><p>{block name:“Block - COVID 19 updates”}</p><p>Machiavelli’s influence on modern political theory cannot be overstated. The Prince, his most famous


What others say.

  • The tutor's insightful observations of the subject matter and their ability to tie it with contemporary, even personal circumstances, makes it thoroughly enjoyable.
We acknowledge the tradition of custodianship and law of the Country on which the University of Sydney campuses stand. We pay our respects to those who have cared and continue to care for the Country.