The theories of Aristotle: Morality


VIRTUES, then, are habits, issuing in acts corresponding to those by which the habit was established, directed by right reason, every such act and the whole process being voluntary.

We may now turn to the analysis of the several virtues.

Courage has to do with fear. Not all kinds; for there are some things we ought to fear, such as dishonour and pauperism, the fear of which is compatible with dauntless courage, while the coward may not fear them. Fearlessness of what is in our control, and endurance of what is not, for the sake of true honour, constitute the courageous habit. Its excess is rashness or foolhardiness, the deficiency cowardice.

Akin to it, but still spurious, is the courage of which the motive is not honour but honours or reputation. Spurious also is the courage which arises from the knowledge that the danger is infinitesimal; so is that which is born of blind anger, or of elated self-confidence, or of mere unconsciousness of danger. True courage lies in resisting a temptation to pleasure or to escaping pain, and, above all, death, for honour's sake. The exercise of a virtue may be very far from pleasant, except, of course, in so far as the end for which it was exercised is achieved.

Temperance is concerned with pleasures of the senses; mainly of touch, in a much less degree of taste; but not of sight, hearing or smell, except indirectly. Of carnal pleasures, some are common to all, some have an individual application. Temperance lies in being content to do without them, and desiring them only so far as they conduce to health and comfort. The characteristic of intemperance is that it has to do with pleasures only, not with pains. Hence, it is more purely voluntary than cowardice, as being less influenced by perturbing outward circumstances as concerns the particular case, though not the habit.

Liberality is concerned with money matters, and lies between extravagance and meanness. Really it means the right treatment of money, both in spending and receiving it--the former rather than the latter. A man is not really liberal who lavishes money for baser purposes, or takes it whence he should not, or fails to take due care of his property. The liberal man tends to err in the direction of lavishness. Extravagance is curable, but is frequently accompanied by carelessness as to the objects on which the money is spent and the sources from which it is obtained. The habit of meanness is apt to be ineradicable, and is displayed both in the acquisition and in the hoarding of money.

Munificence is a virtue concerned only with expenditure on a large scale, and it implies liberality. It lies between vulgar ostentation and niggardliness. It is possible only for the wealthy, and is concerned mainly with public works, but also with private occasions of ceremony. The error of vulgar ostentation is misdirection of expenditure, not excess. Niggardliness abstains from a proper expenditure.

MAGNANIMITY is the virtue of the aristocrat; its excess is self-glorification, its deficiency self-depreciation. The magnanimous man will bate nothing of his claim to honour, power and wealth, not as caring greatly for them, but as demanding what he knows to be his due. This character involves the possession of the virtues; the man must act in the grand manner and on the grand scale. He knows his own superiority, does not conceal it, and acts up to it. Self-glorification overrates its own capacities; self-depreciation underrates them and shuns responsibility, being the more reprehensible of the two.

There is a nameless virtue which stands to magnanimity in the same relation as that of liberality to munificence; these being concerned with honours, as those with money. The excess is ambition, the deficiency is the lack of it.

Good temper is a mean between ill-temper--whether of the irascible, the sulky, or the cantankerous kind--and poor-spiritedness.

Friendliness comes between the excessive desire to please and boorishness. It is a social virtue which might be defined as goodwill plus tact. Sincerity [there is no English term quite corresponding to the Greek] is the quality opposed on the one side to boastfulness, and on the other to mock-modesty; it is displayed by the man who acknowledges, but who never exaggerates, his own merits. In the social display of wit and humour there is a marked mean between the buffoon and the dullard or prig.

Shame is a term implying a feeling rather than a habit; like fear, it has a physical effect, producing blushes, and seems, in fact, to be fear of disrepute. To the young, it is a safeguard against vice; the virtuous man need never feel it; to be unable to feel it implies the habit of vice. Continence is not strictly a moral virtue.

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