A Schopenhaur Quote about Machiavelli’s The Prince

I started reading Book 2 of Schopenhaur’s The World as Will and Idea last week. I had read Book 1 earlier in the year (late last year? don’t remember clearly now) and taken a break because I wanted to fully digest what I had read and have it working in the background of my brain for a while. So as I’m reading Book 2, I came across a footnote on Machiavelli’s The Prince, and it was one of those ‘aha’ moments for me. It’s a somewhat lengthy passage, as Schopenhaur can be very verbose, and I may do an even longer quoted passage on my next post from Book 1 about art and the artist next time, fair warning.

By the way, Machiavelli’s problem was the solution of the question how the prince, as a prince, was to keep himself on the throne in spite of internal and external enemies. His problem was thus by no means the ethical problem whether the prince, as a man, ought to will such things, but purely the political one how, if he so wills, he can carry it out. And the solution of this problem he gives just as one writes directions for playing chess, with which it would be folly to mix up the answer to the question of whether from an ethical point of view it is advisable to play chess at all. To reproach Machiavelli with the immorality of his writing is just the same as to reproach a fencing master because he doesn’t begin his instructions with a moral lecture against murder and slaughter.

The ‘aha’ moment was the bit about the notion of the prince playing chess with people’s lives at all, but there is a lot to chew over in this passage, isn’t there?

Ethics and philosophy and deep thinking in general have been kind of swept to the wayside, almost as if by design. But if you stop and consider our relationships to ourselves and each other, the only ethical pawn you should ever control in this game of life is yourself. You can argue that you can control your children, but really that is more of a stewardship of their own free will and all choices for their lives should be toward making them capable of controlling and exercising that free will for themselves. One ought never to seek to control other pawns. One ought never to seek for another to control them in order to shirk the responsibility of playing the game as a fully participating piece on the board.

Other thoughts I’ve been considering. Are we, as creators, responsible for our creations and how they are used or abused after we have birthed them into existence? The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh is a play I read in grad school that delves deep into asking this question. How does that align with personal responsibility? And then where do we as the general public take up the mantle of responsibility for how we allow outside work to influence us? Because in the end, what most of us seem to say is “screw this, I don’t want to think about this” and that is how we end up with the mess that we’re in as a society today, where too many people try to control the pawns on the board (ie. us the general population).

What are your thoughts?

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A Few Book Recommendations

I used to be a voracious reader. A couple of years ago, I noticed that I wasn’t reading as much as I had in the past. It started in grad school, then working crazy hours, becoming a mother, trying to create… somehow, there wasn’t much time left for reading. When I noticed I was reading less, I made an effort to read for at least 10-15 minutes every day, and very rarely missed, and now one of the nice things about having a nursing baby, though, is that I have a lot more time to read in short chunks. And I’ve been trying to read a wide variety of books. I’ll always love fiction, but I’ve been really alternating between fiction and non-fiction, old books I’ll get off of the Project Gutenberg site (and as soon as I have a more stable income again, I intend to donate) and new books from authors that I “meet” online… everything that might expand my mind and make me think.

I had two books that helped me a lot leading up to my losing my job and in the aftermath that followed.

The first is Coffee for Consciousness by Vito Mucci. This is one of those times that soft marketing techniques worked. Vito and I were in a Facebook group together and I had liked some of the excerpts and memes he had posted and made a few comments, he friended me, and I’ve enjoyed his life views for a long time before purchasing the book. Going through the stress I was, reading this book when I did was perfect. It has a very conversational tone to it, which I enjoyed because it really feels like you’re just sitting down and having a conversation about life and the way humans and the universe work. The book just gave me some really strong reminders about how to look at the situation I was finding myself in, and also some new perspectives that really helped me to face my “big meeting” with the strength and conviction in myself that I deserved to give myself.

The second is Arthur Schopenhaur’s On the Basis of Morality, which you can find for free from many sites online. I chose to read it as a follow up to my tackling Kant a while back, and I was actually chuckling out loud at moments while reading, which I did not expect from a 19th century essay on ethics. And reading the response of the committee at the end (because he wrote the essay to enter it into a contest) was priceless. Even if you don’t have the same sense of humor that I do, though, it is an incredibly worthwhile read because of the argument for morality being based on compassion and for his views on ego and self-will. It gave me so much to think about about humanity as a collective group that I was able to not think about myself and my problems. And in turn, I have the feeling that my writing is going to taking a deeper look into things, which is cool.

How about you? Read anything lately that really makes you think?