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Essay: The philosophical ideas of Socrates and Machiavelli compared

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  • Published: 20 July 2022*
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  • Tags: Niccolo Machiavelli essays

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The philosophical ideas of both Socrates and Machiavelli share similarities and differences. These men helped expand political idealism through their values and morals. Both political theorists changed the way people think and have had a significant impact on political thought throughout the past few centuries. Socrates and Machiavelli contributed remarkably to political discussions of their individual eras; one may call them trademarks.

Originally, the general thought of political philosophy most significantly came from Socrates. He has been thought of as the founder of this idea; it was from him that the classical political perspective was recognized. On the other hand, Machiavelli has been named one of the most significant components of modern philosophy. The concepts he proposed became primarily influential in political thinking. The Socratic idea was all about a person’s character and ways to uphold truth, morality, and politics; this is in contrast to the beliefs of Machiavelli.

Many political theorists who emerged after Machiavelli, used his ideas and beliefs to form their own philosophical proposals. Concepts that became widely known were featured in literature such as the book, The Prince. Machiavelli was able to portray his strong avocation about the idea of monarchy and ruling in general through this book. He represented his feelings of not being in agreement with traditional Christianity through his writings. The main argument that Machiavelli wanted to propose was that being successful in a government could be traced back to the form of leadership and ruling.

Socrates portrayed his beliefs in a way that lead to a more classical, or traditional, thought process. The importance of a government having a rightful ruler that instilled proper values into the people, was a belief of his. His political ideas helped lead to the Authoritarian ruling. However, he also believed in independent right, as long as the acts were morally right. Socrates believed that people should maintain a course of life based on the hopes of everybody obtaining the most profitable existence possible. This form of political philosophy emphasizes the importance of morality and religion held up to the highest standard, or virtue. Nevertheless, Socrates was also very adamant to point out the value of knowledge as well. Some would argue that this was the most valued aspect of life to Socrates.

The three propositions of truth have been a defining aspect of Socrates. These propositions represent the idea of truth and they helped Socrates lead a morally high lifestyle. Telling the truth and having something to believe in was very important to him. So important that when he was placed on trial, the only defense he provided was telling the truth. Instead of denying the accusations or providing contrasting evidence defenses, he made the trial somewhat of a show by making those who were judging him, appear foolish and not well informed. It was simply the idea of telling the truth that set him “free”. It was a matter of truth or appearance, and appearance was not at all important to Socrates. He decided staying true to the highest, most virtuous version of him, was the best option for him and through this mindset, he ultimately chose his own fate.

Technically speaking, Machiavelli was more of a leader or a historian rather than a philosopher. He had many theories and ideas about politics, however, he acted upon them and made it into a career and a lifestyle as well. Regardless of titles, the beliefs he brought into the world, started a new era of thinking, which in turn lead to him being a very prominent person. The ideas of Machiavelli are in contrast with the classical views of Socrates but, they also share resemblance in some thoughts too, like personal responsibility and reason.

Machiavelli put an emphasis on the practicality of politics and took his ideas to the next level, leading to a powerful leadership style. Power, control, and a form of virtue were something he strived for; virtue defined as the willingness to act boldly without hesitation. Therefore, to rule well is to be virtuous. However, the interest of humans far outweighed the classic definition of virtue. The ability to direct and influence people in how they speak, and act, was empowering. In his eyes, power was more valuable than morality or the truth. This was the biggest difference between him and Socrates. Machiavelli declared that leaders should occasionally turn to immorality in order to achieve results and be successful. He argued that sometimes even acts of violence were necessary to be an effective ruler.

The presence of religion was not something that Machiavelli thought was necessary. In fact, he believed that mixing religion with politics would simply diminish the right and ability to perform. Machiavelli thought that God was not sovereign and instead, humans are completely responsible for their actions and the consequences that follow. He believed that the most victorious leaders were able to foster a form of fear into the citizens they rule over. While fear was an important aspect, so were the feelings of respect and love. However, when circumstances do not allow for all of those qualities to be met, he believed it is better to be feared than to be loved. It was always about maintaining control, regardless of the process. Overall, through these theories, ruling with sensibility could reach goals better and faster than ruling with morality. In return, the appropriate type of government under these beliefs would follow closely to that of a militaristic one.

The ideas and theories of Socrates and Machiavelli had few similarities and overall differed greatly between their beliefs on appropriate form of government, ways to lead, religion, and politics. Machiavelli and Socrates both touched on their views of leadership. Machiavelli believed virtue was important by maintaining high levels of power and fear, while Socrates focused on taking the moral route. While Machiavelli thought that immorality was occasionally necessary, he also believed that it should not be brought to the public’s attention.

In conclusion, the theories of Socrates and Machiavelli were intertwined in some ways and completely different in others. The theories of Machiavelli began the era of modern philosophy, with an emphasis on power and fear. He challenged new ideas and views to society. The idea that individuals should be unapologetically selfish emerged as well as the idea that appearance can be helpful when in a leadership position. The ideas of progress, creativity, human responsibility, and interest instead of virtue were also highly important to his theories. The Socratic methodology reflected more on the classical ideas of philosophy while putting emphasis on morality and truth. He believed in positive liberty; having a level of freedom that consistently reflects the highest self, possible. The idea of self-mastery emerged, meaning in order to be free, one has to become morally true.


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