Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man, and Machiavelli’s The Prince portray two different perspectives on humanity and the capabilities of the individual. Mirandola’s piece was initially intended to be an introduction to a dispute on philosophy, but was never actually used due to it being condemned as heretical. Machiavelli’s piece was a political treatise, meant not to inspire philosophical debates, but rather, a means to display how one should gain power and build their state.
In Mirandola’s piece, he argues that the “wonder” of humanity is found through free will, and the ability to change status. He argues that humans are not “fixed” in the way that temporal animals are, or in the way that spiritual angels are. The human ability to make choices is unique, and thus, means humans do not operate in the typical hierarchy, but rather in one that can be moved, changed, and navigated. He argues that humanity is capable of limitless potential.
Machiavelli on the other hand, seems to believe that there is a general pattern of humanity, keeping his thoughts on humanity as a whole seemingly separate from the concept of the individual. He writes his piece with the understanding that human beings are intrinsically disloyal and selfish, and uses this as a basis for how a prince should govern and conduct statecraft. When discussing those that would be governed, their behavior is something unpredictable yes, but their character seemingly has no sense of variation in the mind of Machiavelli. When discussing princes however, he indicates that there is the possibility of being multi-faceted. The capability of the individual in this piece seems to be tied to status, when he says that some men, in particular, princes, are capable and can “control their own destiny when they command enough money or men.”
Both pieces indicate a belief in the concept of free will, but it manifests in different ways. For Machiavelli, this means princes with power and money are able to exert their will and influence upon others. For Mirandola, free will is a concept accessible to all. However, only those with the means to study moral philosophy and engage in discourse would have the ability to actually elevate their status in the way that he describes.