Thomas More, Plato, and Machiavelli on the views of human nature
“For it is a good general rule about men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers, fearful of danger and greedy for gain,” said Machiavelli in his political piece, The Prince. The values of human nature and behavior have been long explored throughout time.
It is these values that philosophers Thomas More, Plato, and Machiavelli have all touched upon in their works. Thomas More through his writing of Utopia revealed that he believed that humans are inherently good, Plato through his writing of Allegory of the Cave believed that people are born lost with the ability to become enlightened, and Machiavelli made evident through writing The Prince that he thought people were ultimately selfish and fickle. Overall these three famous philosophers had different viewpoints when it comes to the subject of human nature and behavior. In Utopia, More points out that human nature and behavior at its core is good. He argues this by pointing out that having a death penalty for theft would ultimately be killing off good people. Through his persona of Raphael Hythloday he states, “When that little money is at an end (for it will be soon spent), what is left for them to do but either to steal, and so to be hanged (God knows how justly!), or to go about and beg?” This quote ultimately means that people are forced into doing bad things; this is made especially clear with the statement of “When that little money is at an end,” this provides reason for an otherwise good person to commit theft.
Thomas More also backs his idea through the argument made by Raphael Hythloday in favor of a better punishment system for thieves. Hythloday states that, “Those that are found guilty of theft among them are bound to make restitution to the owner,” this quote alone shows that More overwhelmingly believes that people are internally good. The word restitution means to compensate or repay, so Hythloday is basically saying in this quote that a convicted thieve will repay their victim instead of continuing their criminal ways which ultimately means that humans are at their core good natured beings. In Allegory of the Cave, Plato displays the overwhelming thought that people are born lost with the ability to become enlightened. This theme is depicted very clearly in his allegory as shown in the quote, “True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?” The fact that in this quote Plato used the word “shadow” and the phrase “never allowed to move their heads” shows to the reader that the people being talked about, which in this case is society as a whole, are in fact lost to the correct ideals which would be displayed to them if they were allowed to turn their heads.
The very concept of the turning of one’s head would be to become closer to being enlightened, and the reason for this is that it would allow the people being talked about to see everything, thus making them wise which is a trait of the enlightened. Plato also conveys his idea when he says, “If any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender and they would put him to death.” This quote ultimately shows how deeply lost mankind in the beginning. If not enlightened themselves they will even go as far as killing anyone who tries to unlock their ability to become enlightened. In The Prince, Machiavelli made it clear that human nature and behavior is inherently selfish and fickle.
He argues that people will behave in selfish ways that will ultimately lead to the down fall of any leader who doesn’t understand this. This is made clear when he says, “Since a prince cannot use this virtue of liberality in such a way as to become known for it unless he harms his own security.” The very fact that he says being generous will harm a prince’s security shows that he truly thinks that people will in fact be selfish enough to take that generosity and use it until it harms the prince. Machiavelli also argues that people are naturally fickle. The quote, “Then any prince who has relied on their words and has made no other preparations will come to grief,” is spot on when it comes to Machiavelli’s believe that people are fickle.
This quote shows that a prince must never trust the wishy-washy nature of the human because they will most likely come to ruin from it. Along with these quotes Machiavelli even states in words that, “For it is a good general rule about men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers, fearful of danger and greedy for gain.” This quote ultimately shows that Machiavelli believed that human nature and behavior was fickle and self-centered because he even goes as far to state it himself in the book, The Prince. All in all, the subject of human nature and behavior is one that differs widely between the three philosophers Thomas More, Plato, and Machiavelli. In each of their respective works they used strong examples to sway the reader to believe in their point.
These examples ranged from conversations with fictional characters to the actual listing of traits. All together each philosopher put together a great piece that reflected their views on the matter.