Coming Into One's Own
Andreas Teuber

Drawing on the reading and your own considered opinion and good judgment, answer the following question, think of the arguments that someone might make as well as the objections that he or she might raise to your opinion, and respond to them. In offering your opinion, offer what you believe is the most principled argument you can make, and support that argument and/or position as best you can by reference to the text.

DIn thinking of objections to your opinion, argument, or position, think of the best possible objections that someone on the other side might be able to come up with, i. e., give yourself a hard time. If you can respond to the other side at its strongest point rather than at its weakest, that can only help to strengthen your own opinion and make it that much more persuasive.

DYou may find that you are not sure whether you agree or disagree with some or all of the opinions expressed on the following pages or that there are good arguments for two different points of view that to your mind seem to conflict. If you are genuinely torn about which way to argue, make the case for taking a middle ground or for the difficulty or impossibility of not being able to resolve matters one way or another. More often than not, however, even where you feel torn, you will probably discover that you ane more inclined to lean to one side than to the other.

DThis is what you both love and hate about USEM. To paraphrase what one very good contemporary thinker, J. R. Lucas, has said: "Thought has to be self-thought, if it is to be thought at all. It is an activity rather than a set of positions. You always need to think out the problems and solutions for yourself, and although another person's thinking may help you in your own, you cannot accept their conclusions, or even understand their arguments, until you have already argued a lot with yourself."

The paper should be about five (5) pages in length, preferably typewritten. It is due on Tuesday, September the 29th , in class.

A Walk in the Florentine Woods

Imagine the following: You have been a student of Machiavelli's The Prince and as a result of your careful study andf hard work you have become Prince of the principality of Florence. Put to one side for the moment whether this scenario is at all likely or even possible. Imagine, too, that you are deeply Christian and have been brought up in Italy as a Catholic. Imagine also that you are living at a time shortly after Machiavelli wrote The Prince and that you have been Prince of Florence for, let's say, a year and a half. You have had your ups and downs, but whenever you found yourself in trouble or unsure about what to do, you would take out your (by now) worn copy of The Prince and study it. To date you have always found it to be helpful and it has "saved" you on a number of occasions from acting in ways that you might otherwise have come to regret.

Now imagine, too, that you have a hobby. You have more than a passing interest in butterflies. Indeed, you have become quite knowledgeable about the various species to be found in the woods that surround Florence. Imagine that you are in the hills above Florence on one fine sunny Sunday afternoon, pursuing your passion for butterflies. You stumble into a clearing where you find two men with their weapons trained on a group of ten South Florentine citizens. The two men are Spanish soldiers. Florence recently defeated the Spanish and you are surprised to find these two in your own "backyard."

The soldier who appears to be in charge, turns to you and announces that Pedro here is about to kill all the citizens but as the result of your unexpected arrival on the scene, he, the one in charge has had a sudden fit of compassion and if you would be willing to take Pedro's weapon and kill one of the citizens, he, the soldier in charge, will allow the other nine to go free. If, however, you refuse to accept the offer, Pedro here will kill them all and you will be free to go. Now I should also say that you are not dressed up in your usual princely attire; you are wearing your butterfly gear; and neither the soldier in charge or Pedro seem to recognize you. You, however, are, remember, the Prince of Florence and these men, women and perhaps, children are citizens of Florence. They are your "people."

Your mind racing, you entertain several "Indiana Jones" fantasies (with yourself cast in the role of Indiana Jones), among them, the idea that you might appear to agree to the offer, take the weapon from Pedro, and then turn it on Pedro and the soldier in charge, back away from the clearing into the woods with all ten citizens at your side, and escape down the hillside to Florence and protection within the city's walls, but it is quite evident from the situation that if you were to try anything of the sort, your heroics will result not only in the deaths of all ten citizens but in your own as well. What should you do?

Imagine that you just happen to have a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince. This is actually not so far-fetched. Your carry the book with you wherever you go. It has become, you have sometimes told yourself, your "Bible."

You ask for the Spaniards╣ indulgence and quickly consult the text. The Spaniards seem a bit puzzled by your suddenly disappearing into a book that you pulled from your back pocket, but they seem willing to wait for a few minutes at least while you sort out what you would like to do.

What advice would Machiavelli offer to you in this situation?

Then once you have made your decision, taken whatever steps you believed to be necessary under the circumstances, have put awat your butterfly net, and are back in the quiet of the palace with time to reflect on what you have done, how would you defend your action on terms that Machiavelli himself might approve or supprt?

Imagine you came across the following two opinions:

"We shall not shock anyone . . . if we profess ourselves inclined to the . . . simple opinion that Machiavelli was a teacher of evil." (Leo Strauss)

"In the final resort [Machiavelli] taught that, in politics, whether an action is evil or not can only be decided in the light of what it is meant to achieve and whether it successfully achieves it." (Introduction to The Prince, Penguin edition, p. 24)

Do either of these perspectives reflect your own understanding of Machiavelli? Remember you have been relying on his book for quite some time now in your capacity as Prince of Florence.

Did you, under the circumstances, confronted by the Spaniards, do the right thing?

Do you feel guilt or remorse about what you have done? Would you say (argue) that the Prince, according to Machiavelli, has a morality of sorts or is the Prince, in Machiavelli's eyes, completely amoral?

Make a case for the morality, immorality or amorality of what you did on that fateful Sunday afternoon in the woods above the city of Florence, think of several strong objections that might be made to your argument, and respond to them.

In thinking about your answer, you may find it useful to think about what you would have done under the circumstances if you had not been the Prince, but just (another) ordinary citizen of Florence with a passion for butterflies. Would you have acted in the same way? And what moral judgment would you make of your conduct, if you had?


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August 2, 1999


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