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Ptolemy as a source of The Prince 25

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In this paper I have argued that Machiavelli relies on Ptolemaic natural philosophy -- cosmology and anthropology -- to explain his position on God, fortune, fate and free will. As evidence for this claim I have suggested the presence of the general/particular distinction, the use of the theories of temperament and quality of the times, and the reference to the wise-man solution. Even though Machiavelli started out with the apparent intention of defending free will, as the argument reaches its conclusion it appears that he is unable to carry out his original resolve. As for overcoming fortune, the most that Machiavelli achieves is to counsel against resignation, inaction, lack of foresight and anticipatory preparations. One has a better chance of coping with misfortunes of countries than one has of coping with misfortunes of personality. It is easier to build a strong army and follow a sound foreign policy than it is to adapt one's temperament and humours to the changing quality of times. Even when one has the appearance of acting autonomously, one is in fact being just lucky, which in turn puts one once more in the debt of Fortune. One must act -- there is no question that Machiavelli teaches this; but he also teaches that those who live in a Ptolemaic universe may not exaggerate the scope of what human autonomy can accomplish. That would seem to be one of the major lessons of The Prince 25.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Calgary.

Publication date: 1993-01-01

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