Book 3.5: The Several Moral Virtues and Vices.

Chapter 8: Of courage improperly so called.

Courage proper, then, is something of this sort. But besides this there are five other kinds of courage so called.

First, “political courage,” which most resembles true courage.

Citizens seem often to face dangers because of legal pains and penalties on the one hand, and honours on the other. And on this account the people seem to be most courageous in those states where cowards are disgraced and brave men honoured.

This, too, is the kind of courage which inspires Homer’s characters, e.g. Diomede and Hector.

“Polydamas will then reproach me first,”

says Hector; and so Diomede:

“Hector one day will speak among his folk

And say, ‘The son of Tydeus at my hand—‘”

This courage is most like that which we described above, because its impulse is a virtuous one, viz-a sense of honour (αἰδώς), and desire for a noble thing (glory), and aversion to reproach, which is disgraceful.

We might, perhaps, put in the same class men who are forced to fight by their officers; but they are inferior, inasmuch as what impels them is not a sense of honour, but fear, and what they shun is not disgrace, but pain. For those in authority compel them in Hector’s fashion—

“Whoso is seen to skulk and shirk the fight

Shall nowise save his carcase from the dogs.”

And the same thing is done by commanders who order their men to stand, and flog them if they run, or draw them up with a ditch in their rear, and so on: all alike, I mean, employ compulsion.

But a man ought to be courageous, not under compulsion, but because it is noble to be so.

Secondly, experience in this or that matter is sometimes thought to be a sort of courage; and this indeed is the ground of the Socratic notion that courage is knowledge.

This sort of courage is exhibited by various persons in various matters, but notably by regular troops in military affairs; for it seems that in war there are many occasions of groundless alarm, and with these the regulars are better acquainted; so they appear to be courageous, simply because the other troops do not understand the real state of the case.

Again, the regular troops by reason of their experience are more efficient both in attack and defence; for they are skilled in the use of their weapons, and are also furnished with the best kind of arms for both purposes. So they fight with the advantage of armed over unarmed men, or of trained over untrained men; for in athletic contests also it is not the bravest men that can fight best, but those who are strongest and have their bodies in the best order.

But these regular troops turn cowards whenever the danger rises to a certain height and they find themselves inferior in numbers and equipment; then they are the first to fly, while the citizen-troops stand and are cut to pieces, as happened at the temple of Hermes. For the citizens deem it base to fly, and hold death preferable to saving their lives on these terms; but the regulars originally met the danger only because they fancied they were stronger, and run away when they learn the truth, fearing death more than disgrace. But that is not what we mean by courageous.

Thirdly, people sometimes include rage within the meaning of the term courage.

Those who in sheer rage turn like wild beasts on those who have wounded them are taken for courageous, because the courageous man also is full of rage; for rage is above all things eager to rush on danger; so we find in Homer, “Put might into his rage,” and “roused his wrath and rage,” and “fierce wrath breathed through his nostrils,” and “his blood boiled.” For all these expressions seem to signify the awakening and the bursting out of rage.

The truly courageous man, then, is moved to act by what is noble, rage helping him: but beasts are moved by pain, i.e. by blows or by fear; for in a wood or a marsh they do not attack man. And so beasts are not courageous, since it is pain and rage that drives them to rush on danger, without foreseeing any of the terrible consequences. If this be courage, then asses must be called courageous when they are hungry; for though you beat them they will not leave off eating. Adulterers also are moved to do many bold deeds by their lust.

Being driven to face danger by pain or rage, then, is not courage proper. However, this kind of courage, whose impulse is rage, seems to be the most natural, and, when deliberate purpose and the right motive are added to it, to become real courage.

Again, anger is a painful state, the act of revenge is pleasant; but those who fight from these motives [i.e. to avoid the pain or gain the pleasure] may fight well, but are not courageous: for they do not act because it is noble to act so, or as reason bids, but are driven by their passions; though they bear some resemblance to the courageous man.

Fourthly, the sanguine man is not properly called courageous: he is confident in danger because he has often won and has defeated many adversaries. The two resemble one another, since both are confident; but whereas the courageous man is confident for the reasons specified above, the sanguine man is confident because he thinks he is superior and will win without receiving a scratch. (People behave in the same sort of way when they get drunk; for then they become sanguine.) But when he finds that this is not the case, he runs away; while it is the character of the courageous man, as we saw, to face that which is terrible to a man even when he sees the danger, because it is noble to do so and base not to do so.

And so (it is thought) it needs greater courage to be fearless and cool in sudden danger than in danger that has been foreseen; for behaviour in the former case must be more directly the outcome of formed character, since it is less dependent on preparation. When we see what is coming we may choose to meet it, as the result of calculation and reasoning, but when it comes upon us suddenly we must choose according to our character.

Fifthly, those who are unaware of their danger sometimes appear to be courageous, and in fact are not very far removed from the sanguine persons we last spoke of, only they are inferior in that they have not necessarily any opinion of themselves, which the sanguine must have. And so while the latter hold their ground for some time, the former, whose courage was due to a false belief, run away the moment they perceive or suspect that the case is different; as the Argives did when they engaged the Spartans under the idea that they were Sicyonians.

Thus we have described the character of the courageous man, and of those who are taken for courageous.

But there is another point to notice.


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