This article is part of a series entitled Machiavelli in Society. See also:
- Sex: Machiavelli on Seduction
- Empathy: Calculated Empathy
- Society: Prophylactic Power
“For how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation.” – The Prince, XV (1)
Sixteenth-century Italian writer Niccolò Machiavelli wrote The Prince, an emotionless instruction manual for calculated political domination. He also, however, wrote plays for the stage, including the wild and rousing La Mandragola (The Mandrake Root), a wild tale of trickery and seduction! Might we find, in the Mandragola, traces of the same cold political manipulation immortalized by The Prince? Let’s find out. Below, I offer quotes from the Prince alongside their (according to me) correspondents in the Mandragola. I end with a discussion of consequentialist and deontological ethical theories.
This article is part of a series on Intuitive Math Epistemology. See also:
1. Is Math Discovered or Created? 2. Does Math Have An End? 3. Tchaikovsky and Debussy
Math is highly creative. Mathematicians forge onward into unknown worlds, artfully shaping and uniting diverse tools in the resolution of their problems. Their progress, however, is regulated by the rigid requirements of logical consistency; unbreakably bound to itself, the discipline progresses forward without risk of retreat or collapse. The logic guiding it, of course, must come from somewhere beyond those who employ it, and the mathematician seems but an agent in the revelation of something much more profound.
Mathematical research is difficult to describe. To call math “discovered” in the Platonic sense – that is, an already-existing “fact of the universe” – is to neglect the role of the mathematician as leader of an expedition: he or she makes very real, and difficult, decisions regarding the path through the unknown which most promisingly portends success. To call it “created”, however – in the sense that math is but a human invention – is to ignore the role of a seemingly supra-human logic in dictating the progress of the field. Continue reading
Wall Street banker Randolph Simens had never gambled much. That is, until his mid-fifties, when he suddenly and seemingly without reason developed a severe gambling addiction. He’d spend long nights in the casinos, showing up to work exhausted, only to spend the day in an online poker room. Worse still, his habit began to spill into his work. Simens’ corner office became a private hell: sweating into his starched collar, he found himself making riskier and riskier trades. As his habit spiralled out of control, he lost $400,000 in a single day-trade, and liquidated both of his sons’ bank accounts to support his habit. Soon, he had gambled away over 3 million dollars.
Then, suddenly, he kicked his habit as soon as he had picked it up. How? For several years, Simens had been taking drugs to treat his Parkinson’s disease. And, after stopping his medication, his addiction disappeared practically overnight. (1)
Évariste Galois was a prolific mathematician at a young age: at 17 he proved that no equation can exist which would solve 5th degree polynomials (the “quintic formula”). By 18, he was expelled from school: a rising leader in France’s 1830 July Revolution, Galois wrote a letter to his headmaster condemning the institution’s ban on students’ participation in the movement – and signed it, confidently, with his full name. By 19, he was in jail: at a banquet attended by the entirety of France’s political elite, Galois offered an ardent toast to the king – while, in a thinly veiled threat, holding a dagger above his cup! In prison, Galois submitted his groundbreaking mathematical work (on an early form of modern “group theory”) to France’s preeminent journal – only for it to be rejected as “incomprehensible”. By 20, Galois was dead, from wounds incurred in a duel fought regarding a mysterious “Stéphanie-Félicie Poterin”. Throughout the entirety of the night before the duel, anticipating his demise and working by candle-light, Galois compiled his final paper; eminent mathematician Hermann Weyl would one day argue that the “novelty and profundity” of Galois’s final work make it “perhaps the most substantial piece of writing in the whole literature of mankind.”
Ben and I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Jonathan Anomaly, a faculty fellow at the Parr Center for Ethics and a visiting professor at the Duke/UNC program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Dr. Anomaly’s field, often called PPE for short, might sound dry. But it’s one of the most interesting areas of the social science. In fact, it seems to be mor￼e of a way of thinking about all disciplines than a discipline in itself.
Our conversation that night drifted through many topics, but all were somehow relevant to PPE. To familiarize yourself with the field, consider one of the most basic PPE thought exercises: pollution. No one likes dirty air. So why do we pollute? Well, consider my morning commute to work. I alone reap the benefits of working, but everyone shares the cost of breathing my car’s emissions. The pollution I create is immaterial, but what happens when everyone uses my logic? My readers in LA already know the answer. Laws limiting pollution are necessary, because individuals alone cannot be trusted to limit their own pollution for the sake of everyone’s comfort.