Book 3.5: The Several Moral Virtues and Vices.

Chapter 7

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.


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