Book 03
Chapter 09
In order to understand courage, we must understand how it relates to pleasure and pain.

Courage is about both confidence and fear, but it is not about them both equally. Courage is more concerned with things that inspire fear. Someone that can handle fear and does what is right in the face of danger is more virtuous than someone that can act right when they feel confident about something. You can see this if you think about the fact that facing fears involves pain, but handling confidence does not necessarily have to involve any fear or any pain. So in a way, handling confidence and handling fear are actually opposites. On the one hand, pain goes with feeling fear, and on the other hand, pleasure goes with feeling confidence. But it is harder to face what is painful than it is to avoid what is pleasant. We said before that virtue is about doing things that are hard, and since facing fear is harder, it is more of the nature of virtue.

But facing fear is not all pain; after all, what we get from having courage is pleasant. For example, think of the cheer of the crowd and the medal earned after winning a bout of boxing. To win would be pleasant, though to even have a chance to do that, a person would have to endure much, and may take many blows, and yet for all that, they might end up losing. So it takes a bit of courage to be a fighter, and those who do not have it, drop out.

It is like that with many other cases where courage is involved. Being courageous is a good thing and it can help a person to get the good things in life. But then again, we said virtue makes for happiness, and the happier that a person is, the more they have to lose. The more they have to lose, the more painful it is for them to lose.

This may seem like it is a paradox (that the more virtue that one has, the more they put at risk and may end up losing), but it is not a paradox. The truly courageous are all the more virtuous and happy because they do what they do for the sake of the greatest things. Think of how, in the Iliad, Hector says: "One omen is best: defending our country." And Hector was among the foremost of the Trojan citizens and had much to lose. To lose life is not pleasant, and neither is risking it, even if that means exercising virtue. But what is pleasant to virtuous people is to get something noble and good, something that makes it worth having taken the risk.

But we must also admit that there are those who are less virtuous, and yet they make as good or sometimes even better soldiers. Why? Because there is nothing holding them back (like thoughts of wife and child), their willingness to face danger is about all they have going for them, and so they are quite ready to risk their lives.

Well, at this point, we have talked enough about courage. By now one should have a basic sense of the nature of the thing.


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