Truth vs. Truth

Dr. David O’Connor discusses Machiavelli’s distinction between effectual and ideal truth

The most important insight from Machiavelli’s Prince is that we must build our society according to the effectual truth: the best vision of the social good that can be attained in non-ideal circumstances. Machiavelli’s great fallacy was to infer from this insight that we must rail against the City of God, since the latter can never be perfectly attained. The effectual truth does not require us to abandon the ideal truth, the vision of the perfect society. It simply requires us to strive to create the City of God to the best of our ability, knowing that we will regrettably fall short in some respects. The avaricious and serpentine ruler envisioned by Machiavelli is not a model of effectual truth, but of malicious indulgence in individual freedom.
David K. O’Connor is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.