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[1229b] [1] Hence some people who are even very soft about certain things are brave, and some who are hard and enduring are also cowardly. Moreover it is thought to be almost a special property of courage to be of a certain disposition in regard to death and the pain of death; for if a man were such as to be capable of rational endurance in respect of heat and cold and pains of that sort that are not dangerous, but at the same time soft and excessively timid about death, not because of any other feeling but just because it brings destruction, while another man was soft in regard to those pains but impassive as regards death, the former would be thought a coward and the latter brave. For we speak of danger only in the case of such formidable things as bring near to us what causes destruction of that sort, and when this appears near it appears to be danger.

The formidable things, therefore, in relation to which we speak of a man as brave are, we have said, those that appear likely to cause pain of the destructive kind—provided that these appear close at hand and not far off, and are or appear to be of a magnitude proportionate to a human being; for some things must necessarily appear fearful to every human being and throw everybody into alarm, since it is quite possible that, [20] just as heat and cold and some of the other forces are above us and above the conditions of the human body, so also are some mental sufferings.

Therefore whereas the cowardly and the daring are mistaken owing to their characters, since the coward thinks things not formidable formidable and things slightly formidable extremely formidable, and the daring man on the contrary thinks formidable things perfectly safe and extremely formidable things only slightly formidable, to the brave man on the other hand things seem exactly what they are. Hence a man is not brave if he endures formidable things through ignorance (for instance, if owing to madness he were to endure a flight of thunderbolts), nor if he does so owing to passion when knowing the greatness of the danger, as the Celts 'take arms and march against the waves'1; and in general, the courage of barbarians has an element of passion. And some men endure terrors for the sake of other pleasures also—for even passion contains pleasure of a sort, since it is combined with hope of revenge. But nevertheless neither if a man endures death for the sake of this pleasure nor for another, nor for the sake of avoiding greater pains, would any of these persons justly be termed brave. For if dying were pleasant, profligates would be dying constantly, owing to lack of self-control, just as even as it is, when, although death itself is not pleasant, things that cause it are, many men through lack of self control knowingly encounter it; none of whom would be thought brave, even though he were thought to die quite readily. Nor yet are any of those brave who, as many men do, commit suicide to escape from trouble, as Agathon2 says:

1 This appears to be loosely quoted from a verse passage: cf. Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1115b 25. An echo of the story survives in Shakespeare's metaphor, 'to take arms against a sea of troubles.'

2 Athenian tragic poet, friend of Plato.

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    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1115b
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