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Now although the same things are not fearful to everybody, there are some terrors which we pronounce beyond human endurance, and these of course are fearful to everyone in his senses. And the terrors that man can endure differ in magnitude and degree; [2] as also do the situations inspiring confidence.1 [2] But the courageous man is proof against fear so far as man may be. Hence although he will sometimes fear even terrors not beyond man's endurance, he will do so in the right way, and he will endure them as principle dictates, for the sake of what is noble2; for that is the end at which virtue aims. [3] On the other hand it is possible to fear such terrors too much, and too little; and also to fear things that are not fearful as if they were fearful. [4] Error arises either from fearing what one ought not to fear, or from fearing in the wrong manner, or at the wrong time, or the like; and similarly with regard to occasions for confidence. [5]

The courageous man then is he that endures or fears the right things and for the right purpose and in the right manner and at the right time, and who shows confidence in a similar way. (For the courageous man feels and acts as the circumstances merit, and as principle may dictate. [6] And every activity aims at the end that corresponds to the disposition of which it is the manifestation. So it is therefore with the activity of the courageous man: his courage is noble; therefore its end is nobility, for a thing is defined by its end; therefore the courageous man endures the terrors and dares the deeds that manifest courage, for the sake of that which is noble.) [7]

Of the characters that run to excess, on the other hand, he who exceeds in fearlessness has no name (this, as we remarked before,3 is the case with many qualities), but we should call a man mad, or else insensitive to pain, if he feared nothing, ‘earthquake nor billows,’4 as they say of the Kelts; he who exceeds in confidence [in the face of fearful things5] is rash. [8] The rash man is generally thought to be an impostor, who pretends to courage which he does not possess; at least, he wishes to appear to feel towards fearful things as the courageous man actually does feel, and therefore he imitates him in the things in which he can.6 [9] Hence most rash men really are cowards at heart, for they make a bold show in situations that inspire confidence, but do not endure terrors. [10]

He that exceeds in fear7 is a coward, for he fears the wrong things, and in the wrong manner, and soon with the rest of the list. He is also deficient in confidence; but his excessive fear in face of pain is more apparent. [11] The coward is therefore a despondent person, being afraid of everything; but the courageous man is just the opposite, for confidence belongs to a sanguine temperament. [12]

The coward, the rash man, and the courageous man are therefore concerned with the same objects, but are differently disposed towards them: the two former exceed and fall short, the last keeps the mean and the right disposition. The rash, moreover, are impetuous, and though eager before the danger comes they hang back at the critical moment; whereas the courageous are keen at the time of action but calm beforehand. [13]

As has been said then, Courage is the observance of the mean in relation to things that inspire confidence or fear, in the circumstances stated8; and it is confident and endures9 because it is noble to do so or base not to do so. But to seek death in order to escape from poverty, or the pangs of love, or from pain or sorrow, is not the act of a courageous man, but rather of a coward; for it is weakness to fly from troubles, and the suicide does not endure death because it is noble to do so, but to escape evil.

1 In using τὰ θαρραλέα as the opposite of τὰ φοβερά Aristotle follows Plato, Plat. Rep. 450e, Plat. Prot. 359c, Plat. Lach. 195b, etc.: but he is original in distinguishing confidence as regards the former from fearlessness as regards the latter, and so considering excessive fearlessness in grave dangers as a different vice from excessive confidence in dangers not really formidable.

2 i.e., the rightness and fineness of the act itself, cf. 7.13; 8.5,14; 9.4; and see note on 1.3.2. This amplification of the conception of virtue as aiming at the mean here appears for the first time: we now have the final as well as the formal cause of virtuous action.

3 2.7.2.

4 Apparently a verse quotation. Cf. Aristot. Eud. Eth. 1229b 28, ‘As the Kelts take up arms and march against the waves’; and Strab. 7.2.1 gives similar stories, partly on the authority of the fourth-century historian Ephorus. An echo survives in Shakespeare's simile ‘to take arms against a sea of troubles.’

5 These words seem to be an interpolation: confidence is shown in face of θαρραλέα, not φοβερά.

6 i.e., ἐν τοῖς θαρραλέοις, in situations not really formidable.

7 For symmetry this should have been ‘he that is deficient in fearlessness.’

8 See 6.10.

9 The mss. have ‘it chooses and endures.’

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hide References (5 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (5):
    • Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, 3.1229b
    • Plato, Republic, 450e
    • Plato, Laches, 195b
    • Plato, Protagoras, 359c
    • Strabo, Geography, 7.2.1
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