Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 53–68 | Cite as




Ambition is a curiously neglected topic in ethics. It isn’t that philosophers have not discussed it. Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Harrington, Locke, Rousseau, Smith, Santayana and a number of others have discussed ambition. But it has seldom received more than a few paragraphs worth of analysis, in spite of the fact that ambition plays a central role in Western politics (one cannot be elected without it), and in spite of the fact that Machiavelli, Harrington, Locke and Rousseau each considered it to be among the greatest threats to political security. The aim of this paper is to provide a long overdue analysis of ambition. The first part of the paper explores what ambition is. The second seeks to answer the question, “Is ambition a virtue or a vice?”

Key words

ambition industriousness structuring a life vice virtue 



I am grateful to Michael Brady, Bill Fish, Rosalind Hursthouse and Mike Meyer for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. The paper also benefitted from questions raised by Dirk Baltzly, Fiona Macpherson, Roy Perrett and Luke Russell at the Australasian Association of Philosophy meeting in Canberra in 2006.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PhilosophyMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand

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