End in itself: the notorious war of autonomy — why don’t politics and morals mix? Comments on the optics of Machiavelli and Kant.

Otávio A.Vanelli
10 min readOct 30, 2020


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‘’Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved’’ — Niccolo Machiavelli | The Prince.

This quote it’s an classic, but the impact that ‘’The Prince’’ caused on modern society was much more longer. Politics was succeeded since by Political Science and the whole world changed — at least, for students of the area — assuming which every ‘’good’’ politician knewed at all about Machiavelli advices; for example, Ferdinand II of Aragon, Pope Alexandre VI or his son in special, Cesare Borgia (the Duke Valentino).

Instead of put some more examples or dwell on the discussion, i want to go deeper into the topic, got behind the classic’s quotes. Most kind of people when start to read about Machiavelli, only thinks about moral dillemas or some clichés, without knowing about the purpouse of the book in itself (show the pragmtism of pratice and technical’s guidelines). By the way, a prince’s view of institutions became the first pass to start an good government; on the one hand he’ll have to please the congress, respect the Rule of Law and get sorrounded by a good staff.

At last but not least — at the another hand — the prince (or the president, or the prime-minister), have the people and the public opinion, however i must show a disclaimer: theese two conditions are very, very different. Please the citizens — what can be impossible — and please the midiatic vehicles (the true public opinion) — what can be possible — are the priorities of an good governant and a good support base for future statements; political advisors must also be good marketing managers. Afterwards, the recognizement come through.

And recognition is established by its epistemology, as a bilateral factor; first the ascendant politician must apply due diligence to social institutions and then be recognized and esteemed by his people. Some more frequent readers may think that isn’t difficult, and then…fall in the misconception. Nobody can governate alone, be the ‘’cool suit’’ with young people or even guarantee the status quo of the congress’s best friend, number one ‘’mate’’, without some tricks and cold-blood negociations; that’s where the practice comes in, overwhelming beginners.

‘’The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”

Imagine some examples from politics — that can happend anywhere — ; an honest candidate elected have his first day at the D.C, then he finds out how the orchestra plays: to get votes and an law project pass at the table, the interested congressmen must be gentle with the board members, fulfill requests that go against their principles, accept lobbies or even fake it that they don’t know about corruption members. The consequence of a refusal? Become obsolete. Specially treating of some federal congressman or senator.

Losing funds, losing citizens’ jobs, losing employers and getting boycotts of lobbyists. Accept or refuse? What would be the right thing to do in situations like that? It’s cristal clear, an moral dillema appeared.

Than, Kant acquires important perspectives on moral dilemmas, during his lifetime and written works, would his perspective be valid for such cases? Would be prudent remember — before everything else — at the full context, which this small article will avoid every try of anachronism, knowing the types and particulaties of each author and their own epoch. Therefore, both authors was very proficients in theese specifics areas — really will endorse the highful prove test of the wished autonomy: will then become a new object of study: the question of what to do and when to do it?

Focusing attention on the following work: Immanuel Kant, Grounwork for the Metaphyics of Morals (1785); considered one of the most important works ever written, on the area of moral philosophy, Kant argues that morality is based neither on the principle of utility, nor on a law of nature, but on human reason. According to Kant, reason tells us what we ought to do, and when we obey our own reason, only then are we truly free.

Preface, translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott:

Ancient Greek philosophy was divided into three sciences: physics, ethics, and logic. This division is perfectly suitable to the nature of the thing; and the only improvement that can be made in it is to add the principle on which it is based, so that we may both satisfy ourselves of its completeness, and also be able to determine correctly the necessary subdivisions.

All rational knowledge is either material or formal: the former considers some object, the latter is concerned only with the form of the understanding and of the reason itself, and with the universal laws of thought in general without distinction of its objects. Formal philosophy is called logic. Material philosophy, however, has to do with determinate objects and the laws to which they are subject, is again twofold; for these laws are either laws of nature or of freedom. The science of the former is physics, that of the latter, ethics; they are also called natural philosophy and moral philosophy respectively.

Logic cannot have any empirical part; that is, a part in which the universal and necessary laws of thought should rest on grounds taken from experience; otherwise it would not be logic, i.e., a canon for the understanding or the reason, valid for all thought, and capable of demonstration. Natural and moral philosophy, on the contrary, can each have their empirical part, since the former has to determine the laws of nature as an object of experience; the latter the laws of the human will, so far as it is affected by nature: the former, however, being laws according to which everything does happen; the latter, laws according to which everything ought to happen. Ethics, however, must also consider the conditions under which what ought to happen frequently does not.

We may call all philosophy empirical, so far as it is based on grounds of experience: on the other hand, that which delivers its doctrines from a priori principles alone we may call pure philosophy. When the latter is merely formal it is logic; if it is restricted to definite objects of the understanding it is metaphysic.

In this way there arises the idea of a twofold metaphysic- a metaphysic of nature and a metaphysic of morals. Physics will thus have an empirical and also a rational part. It is the same with Ethics; but here the empirical part might have the special name of practical anthropology, the name morality being appropriated to the rational part.

All trades, arts, and handiworks have gained by division of labour, namely, when, instead of one man doing everything, each confines himself to a certain kind of work distinct from others in the treatment it requires, so as to be able to perform it with greater facility and in the greatest perfection. Where the different kinds of work are not distinguished and divided, where everyone is a jack-of-all-trades, there manufactures remain still in the greatest barbarism. It might deserve to be considered whether pure philosophy in all its parts does not require a man specially devoted to it, and whether it would not be better for the whole business of science if those who, to please the tastes of the public, are wont to blend the rational and empirical elements together, mixed in all sorts of proportions unknown to themselves, and who call themselves independent thinkers, giving the name of minute philosophers to those who apply themselves to the rational part only- if these, I say, were warned not to carry on two employments together which differ widely in the treatment they demand, for each of which perhaps a special talent is required, and the combination of which in one person only produces bunglers. But I only ask here whether the nature of science does not require that we should always carefully separate the empirical from the rational part, and prefix to Physics proper (or empirical physics) a metaphysic of nature, and to practical anthropology a metaphysic of morals, which must be carefully cleared of everything empirical, so that we may know how much can be accomplished by pure reason in both cases, and from what sources it draws this its a priori teaching, and that whether the latter inquiry is conducted by all moralists (whose name is legion), or only by some who feel a calling thereto.

As my concern here is with moral philosophy, I limit the question suggested to this: Whether it is not of the utmost necessity to construct a pure thing which is only empirical and which belongs to anthropology? for that such a philosophy must be possible is evident from the common idea of duty and of the moral laws. Everyone must admit that if a law is to have moral force, i.e., to be the basis of an obligation, it must carry with it absolute necessity; that, for example, the precept, “Thou shalt not lie,” is not valid for men alone, as if other rational beings had no need to observe it; and so with all the other moral laws properly so called; that, therefore, the basis of obligation must not be sought in the nature of man, or in the circumstances in the world in which he is placed, but a priori simply in the conception of pure reason; and although any other precept which is founded on principles of mere experience may be in certain respects universal, yet in as far as it rests even in the least degree on an empirical basis, perhaps only as to a motive, such a precept, while it may be a practical rule, can never be called a moral law.

The curious fact became into the preface’s start, Kant also believed in the importance of autonomy, using for example, to embase the sequence instaled not only by moral favor — but above all — the organized knowleged, since than he could write, arguing and be sufficientely realist with the purpouse that was choosed at the metaphysical, rational and logical side of moral philosophy; what shows an enormous quality and experience from him. Also, it’s important too the view of moral statements, as an science; what in itself is plausible, in excluding a clash between areas (and between authors).

In short, with two hundred and fifty five years of distance, it could be possible especulate and agreement by Machiavelli and Kant, if they stilled alive — unfortunately — but at all times, an calculate was made and after two hundred and ninety six years, people still believe in the specific settlement of moral inside the politics; while candidates or even old-school politicians could neither had this conception, yet. The point is: fights between ideologies, major debates in major media, these common guideliness are wrongly influencing their viewers, point of which can enable addictions in the citizenship at time to vote.

During this concepts, the ‘’real war of autonomy’’ can only happen without statements into science fundamentals of each areas, what is real complex and cannot be adaptated into the real life of any person who doesn’t want to know about, or doesen’t have how to know about — for social differences — what is another important question and an important fact to be invested, breaking the monopoly of learning through pro bono cases or free lectures — specific ideas that should be consider in another text.

Concluding, these reflections throughed ahead, they focused on the main connotations that moral philosophy makes with our minds, bother with questions and frustrate us for not having an answer. But that’s the way, which is worth it. Anyway, specific curiosities about the moral dillema above in the politics case, would be allowed to give a satisfactory answer wheter i’ve followed the political philosophy line — but, it would be strongly controversal with the society values, even in the name o science, and i just prefer to walk at baby steps in that subject matter.

And that’s an prudent preference by now, searching about another research senses, people who are not used to take neutral decisions, very often choose moral decisions and even don’t know about it; for example, in the case of the military conscription. 42% of 100% people vote in favor of mercenary work, instead military conscription with patriot soldiers; what is understandable, the 42% argued with moral self conception, with market solutions to solve wars.

Let’s talk about the history of Filippo Maria Visconti (duke of Milan) and Francesco Sforza (Tuscan mercenary). Well, Sforza was hired by the duke in the goal of save his reign and protect the ducal family; as an proficient mercenary chief, Fransceco did well. Afterwards, Sforza fought alternately for and against the duke in the succeeding twenty years (during periods of uneasy truce he became betrothed to and married the duke’s illegitimate daughter and only child, Bianca Maria). Until Cosimo de’Medici paid him a substantial subsidy for loyalty and nobility; now, stronger than never seen before, Francesco Sforza come back to milan and kill the duke and the duchess, winning the war of succession, annihilating possible heirs and establishing its own power. Though Sforza was primarily a mercenary, after that he and his children became known as patrons of the arts and enriched Milan architecturally.

That’s why we should disagree with the insertion of mercenaries in our own armies, driven by the market. As Machiavelli said once: ‘’It’s better loose against mercenaries, than win a war through them’’.

Made yourself a question and comment bellow, what would be the perfect alternative to lead with the dilemma explained? Should you act through the political science, knowing that moral philosophy isn’t a lock, or you ‘ll choose do the right things, knowking what can happen to your people?

— Otávio Augusto Vanelli




Otávio A.Vanelli

Ensaios (ou tentativas destes) não-acadêmicos sobre Ciência Política e Direito. Mas só de vez em quando.