Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTERS 6—12: THE SEVERAL MORAL VIRTUES AND VICES. - The Nicomachean Ethics
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTERS 6—12: THE SEVERAL MORAL VIRTUES AND VICES. - Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics 
The Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle, trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. 5th edition (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Truebner & Co., 1893).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THE SEVERAL MORAL VIRTUES AND VICES.
Of courage and the opposite vices.
We have already said that courage is moderation or observance of the mean with respect to feelings of fear and confidence.
Now, fear evidently is excited by fearful things, and these are, roughly speaking, evil things; and so fear is sometimes defined as “expectation of evil.”
Fear, then, is excited by evil of any kind, e g by disgrace, poverty, disease, friendlessness, death; but it does not appear that every kind gives scope for courage. There are things which we actually ought to fear, which it is noble to fear and base not to fear, e.g. disgrace. He who fears disgrace is an honourable man, with a due sense of shame, while he who fears it not is shameless (though some people stretch the word courageous so far as to apply it to him; for he has a certain resemblance to the courageous man, courage also being a kind of fearlessness). Poverty, perhaps, we ought not to fear, nor disease, nor generally those things that are not the result of vice, and do not depend upon ourselves. But still to be fearless in regard to these things is not strictly courage; though here also the term is sometimes applied in virtue of a certain resemblance. There are people, for instance, who, though cowardly in the presence of the dangers of war, are yet liberal and bold in the spending of money.
On the other hand, a man is not to be called cowardly for fearing outrage to his children or his wife, or for dreading envy and things of that kind, nor courageous for being unmoved by the prospect of a whipping.
In what kind of terrors, then, does the courageous man display his quality? Surely in the greatest; for no one is more able to endure what is terrible. But of all things the most terrible is death; for death is our limit, and when a man is once dead it seems that there is no longer either good or evil for him.
It would seem, however, that even death does not on all occasions give scope for courage, e.g. death by water or by disease.
On what occasions then? Surely on the noblest occasions: and those are the occasions which occur in war; for they involve the greatest and the noblest danger.
This is confirmed by the honours which courage receives in free states and at the hands of princes.
The term courageous, then, in the strict sense, will be applied to him who fearlessly faces an honourable death and all sudden emergencies which involve death; and such emergencies mostly occur in war.
Of course the courageous man is fearless in the presence of illness also, and at sea, but in a different way from the sailors; for the sailors, because of their experience, are full of hope when the landsmen are already despairing of their lives and filled with aversion at the thought of such a death.
Moreover, the circumstances which especially call out courage are those in which prowess may be displayed, or in which death is noble; but in these forms of death there is neither nobility nor room for prowess.
Fear is not excited in all men by the same things, but yet we commonly speak of fearful things that surpass man’s power to face. Such things, then, inspire fear in every rational man. But the fearful things that a man may face differ in importance and in being more or less fearful (and so with the things that inspire confidence). Now, the courageous man always keeps his presence of mind (so far as a man can). So though he will fear these fearful things, he will endure them as he ought and as reason bids him, for the sake of that which is noble;* for this is the end or aim of virtue.
But it is possible to fear these things too much or too little, and again to take as fearful what is not really so. And thus men err sometimes by fearing the wrong things, sometimes by fearing in the wrong manner or at the wrong time, and so on.
And all this applies equally to things that inspire confidence.
He, then, that endures and fears what he ought from the right motive, and in the right manner, and at the right time, and similarly feels confidence, is courageous.
For the courageous man regulates both his feeling and his action according to the merits of each case and as reason bids him.
But the end or motive of every manifestation of a habit or exercise of a trained faculty is the end or motive of the habit or trained faculty itself.
Now, to the courageous man courage is essentially a fair or noble thing.
Therefore the end or motive of his courage is also noble; for everything takes its character from its end.
It is from a noble motive, therefore, that the courageous man endures and acts courageously in each particular case.*
Of the characters that run to excess, he that exceeds in fearlessness has no name (and this is often the case, as we have said before); but a man would be either a maniac or quite insensible to pain who should fear nothing, not even earthquakes and breakers, as they say is the case with the Celts.
He that is over-confident in the presence of fearful things is called foolhardy. But the foolhardy man is generally thought to be really a braggart, and to pretend a courage which he has not: at least he wishes to seem what the courageous man really is in the presence of danger; so he imitates him where he can. And so your foolhardy man is generally a coward at bottom: he blusters so long as he can do so safely,* but turns tail when real danger comes.
He who is over-fearful is a coward; for he fears what he ought not, and as he ought not, etc.
He is also deficient in confidence; but his character rather displays itself in excess of fear in the presence of pain.
The coward is also despondent, for he is frightened at everything. But it is the contrary with the courageous man; for confidence implies hopefulness.
Thus the coward and the foolhardy and the courageous man display their characters in the same circumstances, behaving differently under them: for while the former exceed or fall short, the latter behaves moderately and as he ought; and while the foolhardy are precipitate and eager before danger comes, but fall away in its presence, the courageous are keen in action, but quiet enough beforehand.
Courage then, as we have said, is observance of the mean with regard to things that excite confidence or fear, under the circumstances which we have specified, and chooses its course and sticks to its post because it is noble to do so, or because it is disgraceful not to do so.
But to seek death as a refuge from poverty, or love, or any painful thing, is not the act of a brave man, but of a coward. For it is effeminacy thus to fly from vexation; and in such a case death is accepted not because it is noble, but simply as an escape from evil.
Of courage improperly so called.
Courage proper, then, is something of this sort. But besides this there are five other kinds of courage so called.
First, “political courage,” which most resembles true courage.
Citizens seem often to face dangers because of legal pains and penalties on the one hand, and honours on the other. And on this account the people seem to be most courageous in those states where cowards are disgraced and brave men honoured.
This, too, is the kind of courage which inspires Homer’s characters, e.g. Diomede and Hector.
“Polydamas will then reproach me first,”*
says Hector; and so Diomede:
This courage is most like that which we described above, because its impulse is a virtuous one, viz-a sense of honour (αἰδώς), and desire for a noble thing (glory), and aversion to reproach, which is disgraceful.
We might, perhaps, put in the same class men who are forced to fight by their officers; but they are inferior, inasmuch as what impels them is not a sense of honour, but fear, and what they shun is not disgrace, but pain. For those in authority compel them in Hector’s fashion—
And the same thing is done by commanders who order their men to stand, and flog them if they run, or draw them up with a ditch in their rear, and so on: all alike, I mean, employ compulsion.
But a man ought to be courageous, not under compulsion, but because it is noble to be so.
Secondly, experience in this or that matter is sometimes thought to be a sort of courage; and this indeed is the ground of the Socratic notion that courage is knowledge.
This sort of courage is exhibited by various persons in various matters, but notably by regular troops in military affairs; for it seems that in war there are many occasions of groundless alarm, and with these the regulars are better acquainted; so they appear to be courageous, simply because the other troops do not understand the real state of the case.
Again, the regular troops by reason of their experience are more efficient both in attack and defence; for they are skilled in the use of their weapons, and are also furnished with the best kind of arms for both purposes. So they fight with the advantage of armed over unarmed men, or of trained over untrained men; for in athletic contests also it is not the bravest men that can fight best, but those who are strongest and have their bodies in the best order.
But these regular troops turn cowards whenever the danger rises to a certain height and they find themselves inferior in numbers and equipment; then they are the first to fly, while the citizen-troops stand and are cut to pieces, as happened at the temple of Hermes.* For the citizens deem it base to fly, and hold death preferable to saving their lives on these terms; but the regulars originally met the danger only because they fancied they were stronger, and run away when they learn the truth, fearing death more than disgrace. But that is not what we mean by courageous.
Thirdly, people sometimes include rage within the meaning of the term courage.
Those who in sheer rage turn like wild beasts on those who have wounded them are taken for courageous, because the courageous man also is full of rage; for rage is above all things eager to rush on danger; so we find in Homer, “Put might into his rage,” and “roused his wrath and rage,” and “fierce wrath breathed through his nostrils,” and “his blood boiled.” For all these expressions seem to signify the awakening and the bursting out of rage.
The truly courageous man, then, is moved to act by what is noble, rage helping him: but beasts are moved by pain, i.e. by blows or by fear; for in a wood or a marsh they do not attack man. And so beasts are not courageous, since it is pain and rage that drives them to rush on danger, without foreseeing any of the terrible consequences. If this be courage, then asses must be called courageous when they are hungry; for though you beat them they will not leave off eating. Adulterers also are moved to do many bold deeds by their lust.
Being driven to face danger by pain or rage, then, is not courage proper. However, this kind of courage, whose impulse is rage, seems to be the most natural, and, when deliberate purpose and the right motive are added to it, to become real courage.
Again, anger is a painful state, the act of revenge is pleasant; but those who fight from these motives [i.e. to avoid the pain or gain the pleasure] may fight well, but are not courageous: for they do not act because it is noble to act so, or as reason bids, but are driven by their passions; though they bear some resemblance to the courageous man.
Fourthly, the sanguine man is not properly called courageous: he is confident in danger because he has often won and has defeated many adversaries. The two resemble one another, since both are confident; but whereas the courageous man is confident for the reasons specified above, the sanguine man is confident because he thinks he is superior and will win without receiving a scratch. (People behave in the same sort of way when they get drunk; for then they become sanguine.) But when he finds that this is not the case, he runs away; while it is the character of the courageous man, as we saw, to face that which is terrible to a man even when he sees the danger, because it is noble to do so and base not to do so.
And so (it is thought) it needs greater courage to be fearless and cool in sudden danger than in danger that has been foreseen; for behaviour in the former case must be more directly the outcome of formed character, since it is less dependent on preparation. When we see what is coming we may choose to meet it, as the result of calculation and reasoning, but when it comes upon us suddenly we must choose according to our character.
Fifthly, those who are unaware of their danger sometimes appear to be courageous, and in fact are not very far removed from the sanguine persons we last spoke of, only they are inferior in that they have not necessarily any opinion of themselves, which the sanguine must have. And so while the latter hold their ground for some time, the former, whose courage was due to a false belief, run away the moment they perceive or suspect that the case is different; as the Argives did when they engaged the Spartans under the idea that they were Sicyonians.*
Thus we have described the character of the courageous man, and of those who are taken for courageous.
But there is another point to notice.
How courage involves both pain and pleasure.
Courage is concerned, as we said, with feelings both of confidence and of fear, yet it is not equally concerned with both, but more with occasions of fear: it is the man who is cool and behaves as he ought on such occasions that is called courageous, rather than he who behaves thus on occasions that inspire confidence.
And so, as we said, men are called courageous for enduring painful things.
Courage, therefore, brings pain, and is justly praised; for it is harder to endure what is painful than to abstain from what is pleasant.
I do not, of course, mean to say that the end of courage is not pleasant, but that it seems to be hidden from view by the attendant circumstances, as is the case in gymnastic contests also. Boxers, for instance, have a pleasant end in view, that for which they strive, the crown and the honours; but the blows they receive are grievous to flesh and blood, and painful, and so are all the labours they undergo; and as the latter are many, while the end is small, the pleasantness of the end is hardly apparent.
If, then, the case of courage is analogous, death and wounds will be painful to the courageous man and against his will, but he endures them because it is noble to do so or base not to do so.
And the more he is endowed with every virtue, and the happier he is, the more grievous will death be to him; for life is more worth living to a man of his sort than to any one else, and he deprives himself knowingly of the very best things; and it is painful to do that. But he is no less courageous because he feels this pain; nay, we may say he is even more courageous, because in spite of it he chooses noble conduct in battle in preference to those good things.
Thus we see that the rule that the exercise of a virtue is pleasant* does not apply to all the virtues, except in so far as the end is attained.
Still there is, perhaps, no reason why men of this character should not be less efficient as soldiers than those who are not so courageous, but have nothing good to lose; for such men are reckless of risk, and will sell their lives for a small price.
Here let us close our account of courage; it will not be hard to gather an outline of its nature from what we have said.
After courage, let us speak of temperance, for these two seem to be the virtues of the irrational parts of our nature.
We have already said that temperance is moderation or observance of the mean with regard to pleasures (for it is not concerned with pains so much, nor in the same manner); profligacy also manifests itself in the same field.
Let us now determine what kind of pleasures these are.
First, let us accept as established the distinction between the pleasures of the body and the pleasures of the soul, such as the pleasures of gratified ambition or love of learning.
When he who loves honour or learning is delighted by that which he loves, it is not his body that is affected, but his mind. But men are not called either temperate or profligate for their behaviour with regard to these pleasures; nor for their behaviour with regard to any other pleasures that are not of the body. For instance, those who are fond of gossip and of telling stories, and spend their days in trifles, are called babblers, but not profligate; nor do we apply this term to those who are pained beyond measure at the loss of money or friends.
Temperance, then, will be concerned with the pleasures of the body, but not with all of these even: for those who delight in the use of their eyesight, in colours and forms and painting, are not called either temperate or profligate; and yet it would seem that it is possible to take delight in these things too as one ought, and also more or less than one ought.
And so with the sense of hearing: a man is never called profligate for taking an excessive delight in music or in acting, nor temperate for taking a proper delight in them.
Nor are these terms applied to those who delight (unless it be accidentally) in smells. We do not say that those who delight in the smell of fruit or roses or incense are profligate, but rather those who delight in the smell of unguents and savoury dishes; for the profligate delights in these smells because they remind him of the things that he lusts after.
You may, indeed, see other people taking delight in the smell of food when they are hungry; but only a profligate takes delight in such smells [constantly], as he alone is [constantly] lusting after such things.
The lower animals, moreover, do not get pleasure through these senses, except accidentally. It is not the scent of a hare that delights a dog, but the eating of it; only the announcement comes through his sense of smell. The lion rejoices not in the lowing of the ox, but in the devouring of him; but as the lowing announces that the ox is near, the lion appears to delight in the sound itself. So also, it is not seeing a stag or a wild goat that pleases him, but the anticipation of a meal.
Temperance and profligacy, then, have to do with those kinds of pleasure which are common to the lower animals, for which reason they seem to be slavish and brutal; I mean the pleasures of touch and taste.
Taste, however, seems to play but a small part here, or perhaps no part at all. For it is the function of taste to distinguish flavours, as is done by winetasters and by those who season dishes; but it is by no means this discrimination of objects that gives delight (to profligates, at any rate), but the actual enjoyment of them, the medium of which is always the sense of touch, alike in the pleasures of eating, of drinking, and of sexual intercourse.
And hence a certain gourmand wished that his throat were longer than a crane’s, thereby implying that his pleasure was derived from the sense of touch.
That sense, then, with which profligacy is concerned is of all senses the commonest or most widespread; and so profligacy would seem to be deservedly of all vices the most censured, inasmuch as it attaches not to our human, but to our animal nature.
To set one’s delight in things of this kind, then, and to love them more than all things, is brutish.
And further, the more manly sort even of the pleasures of touch are excluded from the sphere of profligacy, such as the pleasures which the gymnast finds in rubbing and the warm bath; for the profligate does not cultivate the sense of touch over his whole body, but in certain parts only.
Now, of our desires or appetites some appear to be common to the race, others to be individual and acquired.
Thus the desire of food is natural [or common to the race]; every man when he is in want desires meat or drink, or sometimes both, and sexual intercourse, as Homer says, when he is young and vigorous.
But not all men desire to satisfy their wants in this or that particular way, nor do all desire the same things; and therefore such desire appears to be peculiar to ourselves, or individual.
Of course it is also partly natural: different people are pleased by different things, and yet there are some things which all men like better than others.
Firstly, then, in the matter of our natural or common desires but few err, and that only on one side, viz. on the side of excess; e.g. to eat or drink of whatever is set before you till you can hold no more is to exceed what is natural in point of quantity, for natural desire or appetite is for the filling of our want simply. And so such people are called “belly-mad,” implying that they fill their bellies too full.
It is only utterly slavish natures that acquire this vice.
Secondly, with regard to those pleasures that are individual [i.e. which attend the gratification of our individual desires] many people err in various ways.
Whereas people are called fond of this or that because they delight either in wrong things, or to an unusual degree, or in a wrong fashion, profligates exceed in all these ways. For they delight in some things in which they ought not to delight (since they are hateful things), and if it be right to delight in any of these things they delight in them more than is right and more than is usual.
It is plain, then, that excess in these pleasures is profligacy, and is a thing to be blamed.
But in respect of the corresponding pains the case is not the same here as it was with regard to courage: a man is not called temperate for bearing them, and profligate for not bearing them; but the profligate man is called profligate for being more pained than he ought at not getting certain pleasant things (his pain being caused by his pleasure* ), and the temperate man is called temperate because the absence of these pleasant things or the abstinence from them is not painful to him.
The profligate, then, desires all pleasant things or those that are most intensely pleasant, and is led by his desire so as to choose these in preference to all other things. And so he is constantly pained by failing to get them and by lusting after them: for all appetite involves pain; but it seems a strange thing to be pained for the sake of pleasure.
People who fall short in the matter of pleasure, and take less delight than they ought in these things, are hardly found at all; for this sort of insensibility is scarcely in human nature. And indeed even the lower animals discriminate kinds of food, and delight in some and not in others; and a being to whom nothing was pleasant, and who found no difference between one thing and another, would be very far removed from being a man. We have no name for such a being, because he does not exist.
But the temperate man observes the mean in these things. He takes no pleasure in those things that the profligate most delights in (but rather disdains them), nor generally in the wrong things, nor very much in any of these things,* and when they are absent he is not pained, nor does he desire them, or desires them but moderately, not more than he ought, nor at the wrong time, etc.; but those things which, being pleasant, at the same time conduce to health and good condition, he will desire moderately and in the right manner, and other pleasant things also, provided they are not injurious, or incompatible with what is noble, or beyond his means; for he who cares for them then, cares for them more than is fitting, and the temperate man is not apt to do that, but rather to be guided by right reason.
How profligacy is more voluntary than cowardice.
Profligacy seems to be more voluntary than cowardice.
For a man is impelled to the former by pleasure, to the latter by pain; but pleasure is a thing we choose, while pain is a thing we avoid. Pain puts us beside ourselves and upsets the nature of the sufferer, while pleasure has no such effect. Profligacy, therefore, is more voluntary.
Profligacy is for these reasons more to be blamed than cowardice, and for another reason too, viz. that it is easier to train one’s self to behave rightly on these occasions [i.e. those in which profligacy is displayed]; for such occasions are constantly occurring in our lives, and the training involves no risk; but with occasions of fear the contrary is the case.
Again, it would seem that the habit of mind or character called cowardice is more voluntary than the particular acts in which it is exhibited. It is not painful to be a coward, but the occasions which exhibit cowardice put men beside themselves through fear of pain, so that they throw away their arms and altogether disgrace themselves; and hence these particular acts are even thought to be compulsory.
In the case of the profligate, on the contrary, the particular acts are voluntary (for they are done with appetite and desire), but the character itself less so; for no one desires to be a profligate.
The term “profligacy” we apply also to childish faults,* for they have some sort of resemblance. It makes no difference for our present purpose which of the two is named after the other, but it is plain that the later is named after the earlier.
And the metaphor, I think, is not a bad one: what needs “chastening” or “correction”† is that which inclines to base things and which has great powers of expansion. Now, these characteristics are nowhere so strongly marked as in appetite and in childhood; children too [as well as the profligate] live according to their appetites, and the desire for pleasant things is most pronounced in them. If then this element be not submissive and obedient to the governing principle, it will make great head: for in an irrational being the desire for pleasant things is insatiable and ready to gratify itself in any way, and the gratification of the appetite increases the natural tendency, and if the gratifications are great and intense they even thrust out reason altogether. The gratifications of appetite, therefore, should be moderate and few, and appetite should be in no respect opposed to reason (this is what we mean by submissive and “chastened”), but subject to reason as a child should be subject to his tutor.
And so the appetites of the temperate man should be in harmony with his reason; for the aim of both is that which is noble: the temperate man desires what he ought, and as he ought, and when he ought; and this again is what reason prescribes.
This, then, may be taken as an account of temperance.
THE SEVERAL MORAL VIRTUES AND VICES—Continued.
[* ]τον̂ καλον̂ ἕνεκα, the highest expression that Aristotle has for the moral motive, = καλον̂ ἕνεκα (§ 6) and ὅτι καλόν (§ 13), “as a means to or as a constituent part of the noble life.”
[* ]The courageous man desires the courageous act for the same reason for which he desires the virtue itself, viz. simply because it is noble: see note on § 2.
[* ]ἐν τούτοις, i.e. ἐν ο[Editor: illegible character]ς δύναται, so long as he can imitate the courageous man without being courageous.
[* ]Il., xxii. 200.
[† ]Ibid., viii. 148, 149.
[‡ ]Ibid., xv. 348, ii. 391.
[* ]Outside Coronea, when the town was betrayed, in the Sacred War.
[* ]The incident is narrated by Xenophon, Hell., iv. 10.
[* ]Cf. I. 8, 10, f.
[* ]Cf. VII. 14, 2: “the opposite of this excessive pleasure [i.e. going without a wrong pleasure] is not pain, except to the man who sets his heart on this excessive pleasure.”
[* ]i.e. the pleasures of taste and touch.
[* ]Of course the English term is not so used.
[† ]κόλασις, chastening; ἀκόλαστος, unchastened, incorrigible, profligate.