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Canadian Journal of Philosophy/Taylor & Francis


In Plato's Republic, Socrates argued that true artisans work not in their own interest but for the good of that upon which they practice their art. So the true ruler is one who works for the good of the city or the citizens, not the ruler's own self-interest.2 Many would hold, with Leo Strauss, that Machiavelli contends the very opposite - that for him the true prince ruthlessly seeks self-interest and personal power.3 I think this is too simple a reading of Machiavelli.

I do not want to argue that Machiavelli is not a Machiavellian - that he does not counsel evil. But I do want to argue that Machiavelli's advice to the prince is to avoid self-interest. The prince is encouraged to act for the good of the state. It is true that in Machiavelli's opinion this will often require doing evil, and it is also true, one must admit, that Machiavelli does not really expect the prince to succeed in avoiding self-interest. It will take us a while to sort out and explain all the complexities that are involved here, but let us begin by simply noticing that Machiavelli frequently says that one should work for the 'common good' or the 'benefit of the state' rather than for 'private ambition' or for one's 'party.'4 Machiavelli repeatedly indicates his opposition to self-interest. He praises the actions of Pope Julius and says, 'so much the more credit to him inasmuch as he did it all to exalt the Church and not any individual.'5 He denounces the use of mercenaries because they are self-interested and disloyal.6 Moreover, he counsels against ministers who seek their own profit rather than loyally serve their prince.7


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Canadian Journal of Philosophy on March 1995, available online:



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