Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: Machiavelli and Political Philosophy

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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.

Aims

This course aims to:

  1. Provide participants with an in-depth understanding of the issues involved in of the philosophy of Machiavelli.
  2. Provide participants with an understanding of the history of Machiavelli’s life and times, and how it has influenced contemporary politics.
  3. Facilitate discussion on the ideas of political reality; the psychology of human nature; free will; power; the ethics of the state; and much more.
  4. Provide an understanding of the role violence and deception in the workings of politics.
  5. Promote discussion on the political and ethical implications of Machiavelli’s ideas for our contemporary world.

Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, participants should be able to:

  1. Understand Machiavelli’s works The Prince; The Discourses; The Art of War, as well as his poetry and plays.
  2. Recognise and discuss many of Machiavelli’s views in both philosophical history and contemporary literature.
  3. Apply Machiavelli’s ideas to other social issue, such as personal relationships and the dynamics of the workplace.
  4. Understand politics better in general.
  5. Know how to research the topic further.

Content

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.

Delivery Style

Lecture

Recommended Reading

To be provided in class.

Materials

To be provided in class.

Features

  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion
$316 Limited inc GST
Philosophy Course: Machiavelli and Political Philosophy

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