You Got a Little Something on Your Hands

I have been thinking about it obviously for a while now and it is still my favorite/ most interesting thing we have gone over to me. Machiavelli is a very interesting person to study so I will start here.

Macbeth dirty hands

There are people in today’s society that believe in “Dirty Hands”. By this I mean that when somebody does something ethically wrong and then does something “right” to completely make up for it. For example, in the play “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth commits a murder and convinces Macbeth to kill King Duncan. At the time she was not phased by it but towards the end of the play she envisions her hands all bloody and “dirty” because of the murder. It doesn’t merely happen to this extent in the world we are in now but it comes up in all ways.

Lets start with Machiavelli. He talks a lot about Princes and how they should carry themselves. Many talks in discussion brought us to the fact that a “good” prince should be noble/ generous, aware of their surroundings and it is better to be feared than loved. Him saying that it is better to be feared than loved is an interesting point. More people will be kept in line and listen to their leader if they fear him or her. If they love the leader they will easily be able to manipulate that particular person. After doing some reading and research on Machiavelli, I found a quote that he had said about a prince and how they “must learn how not to be good”. He kind of contradicts himself by saying that because shouldn’t a prince be noble and generous? Anyway, by not being good the prince must do something immoral in a way. This could be lying, or doing something against his people. The dirty hands method comes into play now.

Dirty hands has something to do with doing the “right” thing to do but it being morally wrong. This happens in politics all of the time. After reading “Machiavelli Was Right” by Michael Ignatieff, he explains what happened when we (the US) took out osama bin ladin (not capitalized for a reason) . The president was deciding whether to pull the trigger (pun intended) or not on the mission to take out bin ladin. Morally killing a person is not the best thing to do but it was for the good of the country. If he didn’t proceed with it, he would probably be taken from office but since he did go through with it, he was able to keep himself “alive” and gained the trust from his people.

Break room during Osama Bin Ladin Mission

Machiavelli made a point that a prince must learn how not to be good. This includes doing things that may not be the best thing morally but to get the best outcome for yourself or the people it is affecting. As seen with President Obama, he did what was good for the country but was killing a person right? All of this is opinionated and is why “dirty hands” is a controversial topic. Do you believe in the doings of “dirty hands”?

3 thoughts on “You Got a Little Something on Your Hands

  1. It is, undeniably, a difficult situation when the necessary action to resolve the issue is morally wrong. Using Bin Laden as an example, sometimes one must conquer the evil with actions that are, independently, evil themselves.

    I do not believe it is evil to kill a man who was primarily responsible for hundreds of deaths. Although he did not literally kill those who perished in the attack on September 11, 2001, he was among those who were primarily responsible.

    Similarly, I believe in capital punishment. Although the death penalty goes against nearly every moral compass around, I believe it is a justifiable for one who commits murder.


  2. I think the issue of “dirty hands” crosses over into the questionable territory of whether or not it is okay to tell a white lie, although this is clearly a lesser degree of the above problem. From the time we are young, we are indoctrinated with this concept that lying is wrong, and that the truth, even if hard to admit, will ultimately bring us freedom. As we get older however, I have found this black-and-white ideal to be questionable. Yes, in most situations, it is imperative for everyone to tell the truth. If they did not, how could we trust everything Mika is teaching us, or that we read in our textbooks? However, when it comes to larger-scale operations, such as eliminating bin laden, there inevitably must have been a proliferation of “white lies”. Soldiers and captains could clearly not be honest with the public, and even some of their colleagues undoubtedly, if their honorable goal of killing bin laden was to be achieved.
    White lies, though going against nearly every textbook lesson we are giving growing up, sometimes become imperative for a greater good to be achieved. The ends here are indeed justifying the means. In learning how not to be good, I believe the point is being made that a leader has to be able to place himself this morally uncomfortable situation, taking the burden of “dirty hands” upon himself so that the majority may prosper.

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  3. When you say “dirty hands,” I don’t know how much I can identify with this comparison. I think that Machiavellian politics is rather shady and not up to par with the democracy that we live in today. I don’t know how legitimate it is to equate Bin Laden with “dirty hands,” as identified by Machiavelli.

    I think that the white lie that the comment above me is referring to is an interesting focus. Relating a white lie to dirty hands seems appropriate to me. Most politicians have some sort of “dirty hands” type of history. It is inherent in human nature not to be perfect human beings. Thus, what I am trying to say is that I don’t think Bin Laden is an example of dirty hands, but rather an example could be if someone created a white lie. Bin Laden is inherently worse than a white lie.


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