Cicero and Machiavelli: Being and Seeming

Cicero said that it is better to be than to seem. Some fifteen centuries later, Machiavelli said it was better to seem than to be. The greater good, thought the former, lay in what you actually were rather than in what others thought you were. Loser talk, thought the latter.

Cicero’s tenet was consistent with Aristotle, who said the more valuable of two things is that which men would be satisfied only with possessing outright, rather than that which they would be satisfied with only appearing to possess.

Health, therefore, is valued higher in this scheme than courage, since we want to be truly healthy rather than only seem to be so and we’re pretty satisfied with only appearing to be courageous.

Regardless of such distinctions of actual worth, Machiavelli saw that power lay in the ostensible as much as it did in the actual, and with far less cost.

The healthy man can run as many marathons as he wants. While he’s doing that, the apparently courageous man will accede to the throne of the fiefdom—as long as he also appears to be healthy, intelligent, charming, etc.

The people are suckers for that stuff, Machiavelli did not say, but could have. [Read more…]