Book 4: The Several Moral Virtues and Vices—Continued.
The moderation which lies between boastfulness and irony (which virtue also lacks a name) seems to display itself in almost the same field.
It will be as well to examine these qualities also; for we shall know more about human character, when we have gone through each of its forms; and we shall be more fully assured that the virtues are modes of observing the mean, when we have surveyed them all and found that this is the case with every one of them.
We have already spoken of the characters that are displayed in social intercourse in the matter of pleasure and pain; let us now go on to speak in like manner of those who show themselves truthful or untruthful in what they say and do, and in the pretensions they put forward.
First of all, then, the boaster seems to be fond of pretending to things that men esteem, though he has them not, or not to such extent as he pretends; the ironical man, on the other hand, seems to disclaim what he has, or to depreciate it; while he who observes the mean, being a man who is “always himself” (αὐθέκαστός τις), is truthful in word and deed, confessing the simple facts about himself, and neither exaggerating nor diminishing them.
Now, each of these lines of conduct may be pursued either with an ulterior object or without one.
When he has no ulterior object in view, each man speaks and acts and lives according to his character.
But falsehood in itself is vile and blamable; truth is noble and praiseworthy in itself.
And so the truthful man, as observing the mean, is praiseworthy, while the untruthful characters are both blamable, but the boastful more than the ironical.
Let us speak then of each of them, and first of the truthful character.
We must remember that we are not speaking of the man who tells the truth in matters of business, or in matters which come within the sphere of injustice and justice (for these matters would belong to another virtue); the man we are considering is the man who in cases where no such important issues are involved is truthful in his speech and in his life, because that is his character.
Such a man would seem to be a good man (ἐπιεικής). For he who loves truth, and is truthful where nothing depends upon it, will still more surely tell the truth where serious interests are involved; he will shun falsehood as a base thing here, seeing that he shunned it elsewhere, apart from any consequences: but such a man merits praise.
He inclines rather towards under-statement than over-statement of the truth; and this seems to be the more suitable course, since all exaggeration is offensive.
On the other hand, he who pretends to more than he has with no ulterior object [the boaster proper] seems not to be a good character (for if he were he would not take pleasure in falsehood), but to be silly rather than bad.
But of boasters who have an ulterior object, he whose object is reputation or honour is not very severely censured (just as the boaster proper is not), but he whose object is money, or means of making money, is held in greater reproach.
But we must observe that what distinguishes the boaster proper from the other kinds of boasters, is not his faculty of boasting, but his preference for boasting: the boaster proper is a boaster by habit, and because that is his character; just as there is on the one hand the liar proper, who delights in falsehood itself, and on the other hand the liar who lies through desire of honour or gain.
Those who boast with a view to reputation pretend to those things for which a man is commended or is thought happy; those whose motive is gain pretend to those things which are of advantage to others, and whose absence may escape detection, e.g. to skill in magic or in medicine. And so it is usually something of this sort that men pretend to and boast of; for the conditions specified are realized in them.
Ironical people, on the other hand, with their depreciatory way of speaking of themselves, seem to be of a more refined character; for their motive in speaking thus seems to be not love of gain, but desire to avoid parade: but what they disclaim seems also to be especially that which men esteem—of which Socrates was an instance.
But those who disclaim petty advantages which they evidently possess are called affected (βαυκοπανοργοι), and are more easily held in contempt. And sometimes this self-depreciation is scarcely distinguishable from boasting, as for instance dressing like a Spartan; for there is something boastful in extreme depreciation as well as in exaggeration.
But those who employ irony in moderation, and speak ironically in matters that are not too obvious and palpable, appear to be men of refinement.
Finally, the boaster seems to be especially the opposite of the truthful man; for he is worse than the ironical man.