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Machiavelli often uses the words “prowess” and “fortune” to describe two distinct ways in which a prince can come to power. “Prowess” refers to an individual’s talents, while “fortune” implies chance or luck. Part of Machiavelli’s aim in writing The Prince is to investigate how much of a prince’s success or failure is caused by his own free will and how much is determined by nature or the environment in which he lives. Machiavelli applies this question specifically to the failure of past Italian princes. In Chapter 25, Machiavelli discusses the role of fortune in determining human affairs. He attempts to compromise between free will and determinism by arguing that fortune controls half of human actions and leaves the other half to free will. However, Machiavelli also argues that through foresight—a quality that he champions throughout the book—people can shield themselves against fortune’s vicissitudes. Thus, Machiavelli can be described as confident in the power of human beings to shape their destinies to a degree, but equally confident that human control over events is never absolute.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Prince!