In The Prince Machiavelli blurs the line between virtue and vice, arguing that, for princes, the value of an action rests solely on the context and end result of its performance. Virtue and vice are not fixed terms, and Machiavelli states that a prince "will find that some of the things that appear to be virtues will, if he practices them, ruin him, and some of the things that appear to be vices will bring him security and prosperity." In his extremely pragmatic approach to princely conduct, Machiavelli says that rulers "must be prepared not to be virtuous," since the performance of certain vices is "necessary for safeguarding the state." In Machiavelli's opinion regarding virtue and vice, a prince must hold himself to a different standard, apart from the rest of society. Contrary to typical morals, a wise prince must often "act in defiance of good faith, of charity, of kindness, [and] of religion," sometimes breaking his word or inflicting pain. A prince must know "how to do evil, if that is necessary," but must also strive to maintain the appearance of virtue in front of observers. Opponents of Machiavelli have referred to his methods as ruthless, although Machiavelli defended his "practical" advice as representing the reality of the world and human nature.
Virtue vs. Vice ThemeTracker
Virtue vs. Vice Quotes in The Prince
The gulf between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done moves towards self-destruction rather than self-preservation. The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous. Therefore if a prince wants to maintain his rule he must be prepared not to be virtuous, and to make use of this or not according to his need.
So it follows that a prudent ruler cannot, and must not, honor his word when it places him at a disadvantage and when the reasons for which he made his promise no longer exist.