Book 03
Chapter 07
Courage is rightness in how a person handles fear and confidence.

While what is frightening or terrible is not the same for everyone, we claim that there exist things that no one can stand against. These things are terrible to everyone, or at least to anyone that is in their right mind. Things, for instance, such floods or avalanches or other natural disasters. But for things other than these, some are harder to face, and some are not as hard to face. Here we might think of speaking before an assembly or facing an enemy in combat. And for the things that make us feel confidence, it is the same in that there is a more and a less: some things make us feel a lot of confidence and others make us feel only a bit of confidence. For example, perhaps we saw a good omen, or lucky sign or, perhaps, we woke up and started the day feeling strong and good.

Now the brave will fear terrible things at least somewhat, but they have a strength in them which allows them to face those things, and to do so especially when called upon to run risks for the sake of honor.

Feeling fear and facing it are two separate things; and as far as the feeling of it goes, it is possible to fear things more and to fear them less, and it is possible to fear something that will do us no harm as if it would. These things matter as far as virtue and vice go. Not taking fear as it should be taken is the reason why people fall into the vices. By not feeling the right amount of fear, someone will either not face something that they should (which is cowardice) or face something that really should be given way to (which is recklessness).

Likewise, when it comes to feeling confidence, there are various things which can fill us with hope. But there is a question as to whether we take that feeling in the right way or in the wrong way. In the right way, we have a good feeling as to what we are capable of and what is the risk, and neither overestimate or underestimate either of them (risk and capability). The heroes in the Iliad almost always show this virtue, they push forward when filled with confidence by the gods, but then they also give way and fall back when they see another is the stronger. As far as the wrong way goes, we have two vices to watch out for: (1) getting too puffed up by feelings of confidence (i.e. being rash) and (2) ignoring those confident feelings and missing a chance to accomplish something worthwhile (i.e. being daunted).

But we must remember that what makes a virtue be a virtue is the fact that good and noble things come out of it. This means that for something to be a courageous act, it must be that it is done for the sake of something good. Courageous people do not face danger and run risks for no good reason (e.g. just to show off and try to impress people).

Fearlessness means to not feel fear at terrible things. A person can have more or less fearlessness, but really it is just another way of saying how much fearfulness the person does not have. (It is like saying you are healthy vs. not sick, both the opposite words talk about the same thing.) Anyhow, we consider fearfulness to be the worse vice, worse than recklessness, and so we do not say that a courageous person has some amount of fearfulness (even though they do, technically speaking, because they do have some fear for those things that they ought to fear), we say instead that they have just the right amount of fearlessness. The meaning is the same, but it sounds better that way. On the side of excess, there are those who have too much fearlessness, so much as to not feel any fear (and hence to not be moved to be wary or to take care even when they should). We call these people reckless.

Besides the feeling of fear, we also have the feeling of confidence. If fear is related to how bad something is, then confidence is about how likely it is that we can successfully take an action that accomplishes something good, and at the same time escape the bad. People who have too much confidence (and not enough ability) are called rash. We say about some action that it is a rash thing to do when the person doing it did not even take into account what could go wrong (though they well could have).

Now there are also those people who mix together rashness and cowardice. They tend to be the type who are boastful and try to show off and impress people with how brave they are by doing stupid and rash things. They are able to do these things because they do not realize how dangerous it is to do them. But if they are ever faced with danger, and they know it really is a dangerous situation, you will see how quickly they show themselves to be a coward. And here, the point we are making is this: how feelings of fear are handled and how feelings of confidence are handled do not always line up with each other; they are separate things, so it is possible for a person to get them both wrong, but in opposite ways (an excess in one and a deficiency in the other).

Here also we should take note how the truly courageous person does both things right. They both are right in their thinking about how bad the thing is and in their feeling for how risky it would be to take action. Also, these people are the opposite of the rash and boastful people in that they tend not to try to talk themselves up, but they tend rather to be quiet before they undertake any dangerous course of action.

Lastly, we note that endurance is part of courage. When faced with poverty or losing the object of their love, some people choose rather to kill themselves than to endure. These people who face death in this way are not courageous, but rather cowardly, because they are fleeing from something bad. The courageous person does not flee from these things, but rather faces them and endures them.


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