Many writers have attempted to describe the intention of The Prince by using the term “scientific.” This description is defensible, and even helpful, provided it is properly understood. The present article is meant to prepare such an understanding.
I. The Prince combines the characteristics of a treatise and a tract for the times.
Let us begin at the beginning. In the Epistle Dedicatory Machiavelli gives three indications of the subject-matter of the book: he has incorporated into it his knowledge of the actions of great men both modern and ancient; he dares to discuss princely government and to give rules for it; he possesses knowledge of the nature of princes. As appears from the Epistle Dedicatory, from the book itself, and from what the author says elsewhere, knowledge of the actions of great men, i.e., historical knowledge, supplies only materials for knowledge of what princely government is, of the characteristics of the various kinds of principalities, of the rules with which one has to comply in order to acquire and preserve princely power, and of the nature of princes.