My philosophy teacher and I are having a little disagreement regarding The Prince:
He argues that although the book's context is a letter to Lorenzo de' Medici advising him and recommending a course of action to unite Italy, ultimately this is just a "cloak" for an almost purely ethical argument. My teacher believes that all of Machiavelli's political philosophy and recommendations on how a Prince should effectively act also represent Machiavelli's idea of right and wrong, and how a Prince should morally act. Thus, when he says:
So let a prince win and maintain his state: the means will always be judged honorable, and will be praised by everyone. (XVIII)
My teacher would say (I think, from our conversations) that Machiavelli thinks it right, morally correct to do so. Likewise, when he says:
For a man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards must come to ruin among so many who are not good. Hence it is necessary to a prince, if he wants to maintain himself, to learn to be able to not be good, and to use this and not use it according to necessity. (XV)
My teacher would argue that Machiavelli thinks it not only effective, but ethical to not be good when the need arises. The examples could go on endlessly, but this is my teacher's general idea.
I, however, disagree. It seems to me that although The Prince may have certain ethical implications, it is primarily a work concerned with political philosophy, and not moral philosophy. I would argue regarding the above that Machiavelli is making assertions on how a Prince should act to maintain power; whether it is right or wrong is not a concern of his, but whether it is simply effective is what he is discussing. As a matter of fact, Machiavelli seems to be intentionally avoiding the use of "right" and "wrong" at all, let alone in moral context (my copy's glossary indicates that neither appears with any significant meaning anywhere in the book).
So, who is right? Just how much ethics does The Prince argue? I realize that my teacher being a teacher, he's probably right, but I don't quite see how - somebody enlighten me, please.