Francis Bacon Questions and Answers

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What is a summary of “Of Ambition”?

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Bacon's essay is about the uses of ambition in the service a prince or of the state, and about the best ways to manage ambitious men. He begins by dividing the ambitious into two groups: those that are able to gratify their ambition (who become, he says, merely "busy") and those that are frustrated. Frustrated ambitions are the source of much discontent in government, and such men often would rather bring the state down with them than fail. Bacon advises that princes avoid using ambitious men in their service, but in cases where there is no alternative (as in the selection of military leaders) it is important to have a strategy in place to manage such people. One strategy could be to ensure that they are always moving forward, and so always remain "busy"; another is to select one ambitious person as a favorite, and use his talents against other ambitious people who would seek to depose the prince. In this regard he mentions the example of Tiberius and his use his favorite Marco to depose Sejanus. Bacon says that the person whose only goal is to have the most power is "the decay of the whole age," and concludes by saying that honorable ambition consists of three things: the opportunity to do good, the ability to influence leaders to do good, and the desire to increase his fortune by the doing of good. A wise prince is one who can discern these qualities.

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