Book 3.5: The Several Moral Virtues and 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.