Benner, Erica. Machiavelli’s Ethics. Princeton, 2009. 527p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780691141763, $75.00; ISBN 9780691141770 pbk, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE, April 2010
This major new study of Machiavelli’s moral and political philosophy by Benner (Yale) argues that most readings of Machiavelli suffer from a failure to appreciate his debt to Greek sources, particularly the Socratic tradition of moral and political philosophy. Benner argues that when read in the light of his Greek sources, Machiavelli appears as much less the (...) immoralist or sophist he often is taken for and instead as a serious moral philosopher very much concerned with the republican ideals of justice and the rule of law. The author does not ignore Machiavelli’s more infamous dicta, but argues that a careful reading shows that they are expressions of views he ultimately rejects. Particularly noteworthy here is her careful attention to Machiavelli’s Florentine Histories. Benner’s reading of Machiavelli is far too complex and subtle for such a brief summary. Her research is meticulous and her arguments finely honed. This important contribution to both Machiavelli studies and the history of political philosophy will be indispensable for scholars. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students and faculty/researchers. — B. T. Harding
"Machiavelli's Ethics is a superb scholarly book. Erica Benner does truly impressive work in analyzing Machiavelli's views on the most fundamental ethical issues--including necessity and virtue, justice and injustice, and ends and means. She shows, with very solid evidence, that Machiavelli did in fact worry a lot about justice and that he put it at the core of his republican theory."--Maurizio Viroli, author of Niccolò's Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli
"Machiavelli's Ethics is excellent--learned, subtle, highly original, and a constant pleasure to read. And, since it is really a study of Machiavelli's thought in its entirety, it is also the first book of its kind. Its originality lies in taking seriously the claim by some sixteenth- and seventeenth-century readers--notably Bacon, Spinoza, and Alberico Gentili--that Machiavelli was essentially a moral and political philosopher. Erica Benner does a brilliant job of resurrecting this neglected Machiavelli."--Giulia Sissa, University of California, Los Angeles
About the book, from the publisher: Machiavelli's Ethics challenges the most entrenched understandings of Machiavelli, arguing that he was a moral and political philosopher who consistently favored the rule of law over that of men, that he had a coherent theory of justice, and that he did not defend the "Machiavellian" maxim that the ends justify the means. By carefully reconstructing the principled foundations of his political theory, Erica Benner gives the most complete account yet of Machiavelli's thought. She argues that his difficult and puzzling style of writing owes far more to ancient Greek sources than is usually recognized, as does his chief aim: to teach readers not how to produce deceptive political appearances and rhetoric, but how to see through them. Drawing on a close reading of Greek authors--including Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, and Plutarch--Benner identifies a powerful and neglected key to understanding Machiavelli.
This important new interpretation is based on the most comprehensive study of Machiavelli's writings to date, including a detailed examination of all of his major works: The Prince, The Discourses, The Art of War, and Florentine Histories. It helps explain why readers such as Bacon and Rousseau could see Machiavelli as a fellow moral philosopher, and how they could view The Prince as an ethical and republican text. By identifying a rigorous structure of principles behind Machiavelli's historical examples, the book should also open up fresh debates about his relationship to later philosophers, including Rousseau, Hobbes, and Kant. . (shrink)
A dialogue between virtue and care ethics is formed as a step towards meeting Pellegrino's challenge to create a more comprehensive moral philosophy. It is also a dialogue between nursing and medicine since each practice draws on the Greek Virtue Tradition and the Judeo-Christian Tradition of care differently. In the Greek Virtue Tradition, the point of scrutiny lies in the inner character of the actor, whereas in the Judeo-Christian Tradition the focus is relational, i.e. how virtues are lived out in (...) specific relationships, particularly unequal relationships where vulnerability of one of the members is an issue. In a care ethic relational qualities such as attunement rather than inner qualities are the point of scrutiny. A dialogue between these two traditions makes it possible to consider the relational virtues and skills of openness and responsiveness that are required for a respectful meeting of the other. (shrink)
A science is an intellectual activity defined by its mechanisms that prevent its scientists from always reaching the conclusions that they set out to reach. Such mechanisms are needed because, if scientists are given full control over what hypotheses they select, what data they discard, and what results they publish, they can communicate any conclusion that they desire. Synthesis, by setting a grand challenge, forces scientists across uncharted territory where they encounter and solve unscripted problems. When theory is inadequate, the (...) synthesis fails, and fails in a way that cannot be ignored. Therefore, synthesis drives discovery and paradigm change in ways that simple hypothesis testing cannot. Here, we describe the discoveries that emerged when synthetic biologists were challenged to create an alternative genetic system that has different molecular structures than DNA and RNA. In pursuit of this particular “grand challenge,” synthesis forced the recognition that the community did not know as much about the double helix as it had constructively assumed. In general, a field of science having access to synthesis as a research strategy can create knowledge even if its practitioners do not fit the ideal of a dispassionate, advocacy-free scientist. (shrink)
Using three paradigm cases of persons living with Parkinson's Disease (PD) the authors make a case for augmenting and enriching a Cartesian medical account of the pathophysiology of PD with an enriched understanding of the lived body experience of PD, the lived implications of PD for a particular person's concerns and coping with the illness. Linking and adding a thick description of the lived experience of PD can enrich caregiving imagination and attunement to the patient's possibilities, concerns and constraints. The (...) work of Merleau-Ponty is used to articulate the middle terms of the lived experience of dwelling in a lifeworld. Examining lived experience of embodied intentionality, skilled bodily capacities as highlighted in Merleau-Ponty's non-mechanistic physiology opens new therapeutic, coping and caregiving possibilities. Matching temporal rhythms can decrease the stress of being assisted with activities of daily living. For example, caregivers and patients alike can be taught strategies for extending their lived bodily capacities by altering rhythms, by shifting hyperactivity to different parts of the body and other strategies that change the perceptual experience associated with walking in different environment. A medical account of the pathophysiology of PD is nessessary and useful, but not sufficient for designing caregiving in ways that enrich and extend the existential skills of dwelling of persons with PD. The dominance of mechanistic physiology makes caregivers assume that it is the 'real discourse' about the disease, causing researchers and caregivers alike to overlook the equally real lived experience of the patient which requires different descriptive discourses and different sources of understanding. Lack of dialogue between the two discourses is tragic for patients because caregivers need both in order to provide attuned, effective caregiving. (shrink)
Being formed through learning a practice is best understood within a constitutive theory of meaning as articulated by Charles Taylor. Disengaged views of the person cannot account for the formative changes in a person’s identity and capacities upon learning a professional practice. Representational or correspondence theories of meaning cannot account for formation. Formation occurs over time because students actively seek and take up new concerns and learn new knowledge and skills. Engaged situated reasoning about underdetermined practice situations requires well-formed skillful (...) clinicians caring for particular patients in particular situations. (shrink)
Universities worldwide are facing enormous strains as a result of increased external expectations where global visibility should be mixed with local and regional utility. In debates on the future of higher education, becoming an entrepreneurial university has been highlighted as a novel – although perhaps a more hybrid – way to deal with this challenge. However, while the label entrepreneurial points to an image of the university as a dynamic free agent shaped in the interplay between dynamic environments and internal (...) flexibility, the current article takes a more critical view on the factors conditioning universities with the ambitions of becoming more entrepreneurial – particularly those of more recent age and less academic standing. For these institutions it is suggested that the university ideal of being entrepreneurial may lead to a situation of strategic inertia characterized by an institutionalized ‘lock-in’ with few alternative development paths. (shrink)
Lisa Furberg har argumenterat för att altruistiskt surrogatmödraskap kan anses moraliskt problematiskt utifrån en perfektionistisk teori om det goda livet. I följande svar riktar jag ett antal invändningar mot Furbergs resonemang.
Lisa Hill’s response to my critique of compulsory voting, like similar responses in print or in discussion, remind me how much a child of the ‘70s I am, and how far my beliefs and intuitions about politics have been shaped by the electoral conflicts, social movements and violence of that period. -/- But my perceptions of politics have also been profoundly shaped by my teachers, and fellow graduate students, at MIT. Theda Skocpol famously urged political scientists to ‘bring the (...) state back in’ to their analyses, and to recognise that political identities, interests and coalitions cannot be read off straightforwardly from people’s socio-economic position. In their different ways, this was the lesson that Suzanne Berger, Charles Sabel and Joshua Cohen tried to teach us, emphasising the ways that political participation and conflict, themselves, can change people’s identities, their sense of what it is desirable and possible, and their ability to recognise, or oppose, the freedom and equality of others. -/- I do not therefore take it as self-evident that the poor and seemingly powerless should be politically apathetic, unwilling to vote, or incapable of imagining a political solution to at least some of the problems confronting them. Nor do I suppose that non-voters are all-of-a-piece, and that their shared interests are, inevitably, more significant, morally or politically, than those which divide them. Such assumptions seem mistaken in the case of voters, and I see no reason why they should be true of non-voters. The people we find in these categories are not predestined to be in one rather than the other; they do not always stay where they start off; and at an individual level, the reasons why people fall into one group, rather than another, are likely to be complex and sometimes unpredictable. -/- Above all I see nothing in a commitment to democratic government, understood realistically or in more idealistic terms, that requires us to treat raising turnout at national elections (once every four years or so) as of such moral or political importance that we should make it legally mandatory. Realistically, it is an open question how far the ballot box is, for most people, the path to empowerment – important though it is that people should have an equal right to vote and to stand as candidates at national elections. On a more idealistic view of democratic politics it is hard to avoid the thought that the importance of national elections to self-government, posited by proponents of compulsory voting, reflects an alienated and alienating view of democracy, in which the choice of our leaders becomes more important than the development and exercise of our own capacities to lead; and in which our awe at the power our leaders might wield is matched only by our inability to imagine less intimidating, distant and centralised forms of politics. -/- But before saying a little more about these points, and their significance for compulsory voting, I would like to dispel some misunderstandings or misrepresentations of my views in Hill’s essay. I do not believe socio-economic disparities in turnout are not worrying for democratic politics, nor do I believe that abstention is generally synonymous with consent. I do not assume that people have a right not to vote, but try to explain why moral and legal rights to abstain are an important part of democratic politics, including electoral politics. (shrink)
Lisa Tessman's When Doing the Right Thing is Impossible offers an engaging and accessible exploration of the complex philosophical issues surrounding moral dilemmas and moral failure. Are there genuine moral conflicts? Is it true that in some situations a moral agent cannot help but fail? Tessman offers her own answer–yes, in some situations, moral failure is unavoidable–while guiding readers through the debates surrounding these questions, clarifying the various positions sympathetically and carefully.Part of what makes the book so immediately gripping (...) is the case study it begins with in Chapter One: Tessman focuses on the case Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. During the storm, the... (shrink)
In Strange Concepts and The Stories they Make Possible: Cognition, Culture, Narrative, Lisa Zunshine widens her scope from an erstwhile singular focus on Theory of Mind (inferring interior states from exterior expression and gesture) in fiction, turning her sights toward a branch of psychology aimed at the study of the early cognitive development of humans. Here she explores our distinctive mental capacity to ascribe a function to objects (a chair is to sit, etc.) and an essence to living creatures (...) (the posited unchanging, ungraspable spirit or soul, for example). Zunshine’s aim: to throw light on how authors and artists confer strange configurations upon such concepts as function and essence in their making of .. (shrink)
This is my response to the papers by Chris Pincock, Lisa Warenski and Jonathan Weinberg, which were presented at the Book Symposium on my Essays on A Priori Knowledge and Justification, American Philosophical Association Pacific Division Meetings, March 16–19, 2014.
In Moral Failure, Lisa Tessman argues against two principles of moral theory, that ought implies can and that normative theory must be action-guiding. Although Tessman provides a trenchant account of how we are thrust into the misfortune of moral failure, often by our very efforts to act morally, and although she shows, through a discussion well-informed by the latest theorizing in ethics, neuroethics, and psychology, how much more moral theory can do than provide action-guiding principles, I argue that the (...) two theses of moral theory that she disputes remain indispensable for ethical theory. (shrink)
Raymond Boisvert and Lisa Heldke begin Philosophers at Table with a simile. Following Mary Midgley, they suggest that philosophy is like plumbing. We post-industrial urbanites and suburbanites rely on plumbing to bring us water and dispose of our waste. We rely on it daily, but we rarely think reflectively about it. In like fashion, we all rely on philosophy; ideas, concepts, values, and guiding principles structure and organize the way we perceive and experience the world. Philosophy lies undetected, out (...) of sight, tucked neatly in the walls and under the floorboards. We typically suffer its dripping faucets, its low water pressure, its slow drain as long as we can because these almost always involve unwieldy... (shrink)
In this interesting and engaging book, Shabel offers an interpretation of Kant's philosophy of mathematics as expressed in his critical writings. Shabel's analysis is based on the insight that Kant's philosophical standpoint on mathematics cannot be understood without an investigation into his perception of mathematical practice in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She aims to illuminate Kant's theory of the construction of concepts in pure intuition—the basis for his conclusion that mathematical knowledge is synthetic a priori. She does this through (...) a contextualized interpretation of his notion of mathematical construction, which she argues can be approached by looking at Euclid's Elements and Christian Wolff's mathematical textbooks. The importance of the former for her interpretation is justified by the fact that nearly all of Kant's mathematical examples in the Critique are Euclidean propositions. The importance of the latter is revealed through the fact that Wolff's textbooks were not only widely read and representative of the state of elementary mathematics during Kant's time; Kant was also intimately familiar with them. During the thirty years prior to the publication of the Critique, he used the textbooks in the college-level introductory courses in mathematics and physics that he taught.In the introduction to her book, Shabel helpfully distinguishes her approach to Kant's philosophy of mathematics from that of previous commentators. She points out that most commentators assessed Kant's thoughts on mathematics in terms of the ‘supposedly devastating effects of the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry on his theory of space’.1 Bertrand Russell, for example, criticized Kant for his lack of a proper …. (shrink)
The following article analyzes two novels, published recently by a new, powerful voice in Irish fiction, Lisa McInerney: her critically acclaimed debut The Glorious Heresies and its continuation The Blood Miracles. McInerney’s works can be distinguished by the crucial qualities of the Irish Noir genre. The Glorious Heresies and The Blood Miracles are presented from the perspective of a middle-aged “right-rogue” heroine, Maureen Phelan. Due to her violent and law-breaking revenge activities, such as burning down the institutions signifying Irishwomen’s (...) oppression and committing an involuntary murder, Maureen remains a multi-dimensional rogue character, not easily definable or even identifiable. The focal character’s narrative operates around the abuse of unmarried, young Irish mothers of previous generations who were coerced to give up their “illegitimate” children for adoption and led a solitary existence away from them. The article examines other “options” available to “fallen women” in Ireland in the mid-twenty century, such as the Magdalene Laundries based on female slave work, and sending children born “out of wedlock” abroad, or to Mother and Baby Homes with high death-rates. Maureen’s rage and her need for retaliation speak for Irish women who, due to the Church-governed moral code, were held in contempt both by their families and religious authorities. As a representative of the Irish noir genre, McInerney’s fiction depicts the narrative of “rogue” Irish motherhood in a non-apologetic, ironic, irreverent and vengeful manner. (shrink)
Let me begin by saying that I am extremely grateful to Sarah Mattice for organizing this symposium on my book, Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto, and to the three reviewers, each of whom read my work with great care and offered feedback that is extremely generous and insightful.1After providing a clear and sympathetic summary of my book, David Kim raises two questions. First, how should the study of what I have called the Less Commonly Taught Philosophies be incorporated into (...) the curriculum of philosophy departments?2 Kim suggests five degrees of incorporation, in order of increasing rigor: 1Make electives on the LCTP available to students in philosophy departments. 2Require for the major or... (shrink)