The Prince

by Niccolo Machiavelli

Discussion Questions

1. What are the rules of conduct that Machiavelli offers to princes? What are the goals or ends that he thinks a prince should keep in mind?

2. What does Machiavelli teach the prince about virtue? Does Machiavelli accept the common opinions about virtue and vice?

3. What do you think of Machiavelli's claim that it is necessary to pursue vice - and avoid virtue at times - in order to enjoy security and prosperity? Do the nation/states we know today ever follow Machiavelli's advice? Can you think of an example where Machiavelli's advice is relevant to daily life?

4.Does Machiavelli advise a prince to be concerned with having a good reputation? In what way and to what extent does Machiavelli advise a prince be concerned with his reputation?

5. What does Machiavelli teach through his story about Cesare Borgia (Duke Valentino) and his minister, Remirro de Orco? How might this story be a metaphor for political life generally? Or is this example - from 500 years ago - not relevant to us in the twenty-first century?

6. What "good" is brought about by Cesare Borgia (Valentino) in Machiavelli's story?

7. Machiavelli claims that there are two ways of acting, law and force, the former being the way of human beings, the latter the way of beasts. What role does law place in the advice he gives to the prince, when he proceeds to advise him to imitate at different times the fox and the lion? Does Machiavelli ignore the "human" way of acting? Could any beast follow his advice?

8. Machiavelli refers to Achilles as an ancient hero for a man taught the way of the lion and the fox? Who is Achilles? What is he known for? Is this comparison between Achilles and the fox apt? In what way?

9.What is Machiavelli's advice about cruelty and mercy? Does his advice illustrate more cruelty or mercy?

10. Does Machiavelli's example about Scipio's leniency point to the advantage of cruelty or to the advantage of political restraint on military leaders?

11. Is Machiavelli's advice about fear and love correct? And, if so, what does it indicate about the happiness that Machiavelli is offering to the prince?

Paper Topics
1. Does Machiavelli advise the prince simply to adopt virtuous or vicious behavior according to what is necessary? Or does he imply that an ability to make such choices is itself virtue? Does he propose a new model for human action?

2. Is politics a "noble profession" according to Machiavelli, or is it full of moral corruption and vice? Is it possible for it to be both? Do you agree?

Machiavelli Reading

Guide to unit 1

back to unit 1