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The Development of Ethics: Volume 1From Socrates to the Reformation$
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Terence Irwin

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780198242673

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198242673.001.0001

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(p.725) 28 Machiavelli
The Development of Ethics: Volume 1

Terence Irwin

Oxford University Press

In some ways, Niccolo Machiavelli is not a very suitable source if one is looking for serious philosophical criticism of Thomas Aquinas. His main interests and abilities lie in politics and history, and he is neither a deep nor a systematic philosophical thinker. Still, these very features of his views make it even more useful to examine them; for he shows how specific practical problems and attitudes may suggest objections to the Christian assumptions embodied in Aquinas' system. Machiavelli intends to challenge the Christian conception of the place of the Christian virtues in social and political life. However, he also raises a broader question that he does not intend: what counts as an adequate theory of the virtues? Machiavelli offers a powerful objection to Aquinas because he casts serious doubt on whether any one set of virtues can really satisfy all the four sorts of demands that Aquinas recognizes as legitimate. It is useful to consider his grounds for scepticism.

Keywords:   Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Aquinas, politics, history, practical problems, attitudes, virtues, scepticism

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