Comparing Morality in The Prince, Second Treatise of Government, and Utilitarianism

Comparing Morality in The Prince, Second Treatise of Government, and Utilitarianism

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Comparing Morality in The Prince, Second Treatise of Government, and Utilitarianism


Niccolo Machiavelli, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill present three distinct models of government in their works The Prince, Second Treatise of Government, and Utilitarianism. From an examination of these models it is possible to infer their views about human nature and its connection to the purpose of government. A key to comparing these views can be found in an examination of their ideas of morality as an intermediary between government and human nature. Whether this morality must be inferred from their writings or whether it is explicitly mentioned, it differs among the three in its definition, source, and purpose.

Approximately three hundred years separate the earliest of these works, The Prince, from the most recent, Utilitarianism, and a progression is discernible in the concept of morality over this span. Machiavelli does not mention the word "morality," but his description of the trends and ideals of human political interaction allow for a reasonable deduction of the concept. Locke, too, does not use the word, but he does write of "the standard of right and wrong." In contrast, Mill writes explicitly and extensively of morality in its forms, sources, and obligations. A logical starting point in this examination is a look at their relative views of human nature.

To Machiavelli, people are children that need order. They are childlike, not in their innocence, but in their passions. They are ungrateful, greedy, deceptive, and fickle. However, they are also rational and interested in avoiding danger. In calculating their interests they can perceive the need to join together to pursue common goals, such as conquest for acquisition, p...


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...e driven into civil society by their contentious natures. As such, all three have the need for an organizing and directing influence in society to ensure that it accomplishes the ends for which it exists. For Machiavelli and for Locke, this influence comes directly from the government. For Mill, this influence comes from within society, the associations one forms with other people; however it requires a certain minimal support from the government to keep it on the proper track. This influence is morality, and it is an extension of human nature.

Works Cited

Locke, John. The Second Treatise of Government, ed. Thomas Peardon, New York, Bobbs-Merrill, 1952.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. Hill Thompson. Norwalk: The Easton Press, 1980.

Mill, John Stuart. ” Utilitarianism Resources. BLTC. 19 January 2003.

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