Book 04
Chapter 02
What it means to be magnificent, and extravagant, and parsimonious.

We humans are social animals, and much of our happiness comes from times spent with others. Among the best of those are the times spent at weddings and holiday festivals and other great and memorable events. We can all appreciate what a good thing it is for those who put on such events to make them into something truly outstanding. If life were a suit of clothing, then a grand occasion is a very fine ornament which perfectly complements it, and makes the whole thing be all the more beautiful. With this in mind, we now turn to the virtue of magnificence.

Magnificence is like liberality, in that both are about using wealth. But magnificence is about things on a grander scale and on a whole nother level. It is like the difference between giving a good wedding gift (liberality) and putting on a great wedding (magnificence). Anyone who has the virtue of magnificence will be liberal also, but someone that is liberal might not have magnificence (they may not have enough money, for instance). Also note that while liberality deals with giving and taking, magnificence is only about spending. And, of course, being a virtue, magnificence has two opposed vices. People who spend wrong and do so on the side of deficiency are called parsimonious. Those on the side of excess are called extravagant.

We can think of the magnificent person as an artist of putting on grand shows (e.g. sponsoring the production of a play) and hosting big occasions (e.g. a costume ball). Like an artist, they do things tastefully and in proportion. It is like we said before: What it means to have a certain virtue is based on what that virtue tries to make happen (i.e. its objects) and how it makes it happen (i.e. its actions). The virtue of magnificence is about trying to make sure that the production has everything it needs for it to be a great and memorable experience (these are the objects) and it involves spending large sums of money to make that happen (which are the actions). It will not be enough to simply have people show up, nor will it be enough to simply spend a lot of money. Just because you do something at all, that does not mean that you are sure to get a good result; rather, you must do the thing right and well if you want it to turn out good.

Now, a person that truly has the virtue of magnificence will gain honor on account of them doing something that is for the good of many (just as the other virtues also get a person honor on account of their results). And recall what we said before, that virtuous people do what they do gladly, and not grudgingly. So the magnificent person is going to spend to make the occasion be the best that it can be. A magnificent person is not going to be worrying about spending too much, nor are they going to try to get away with buying cheap versions of things. So, again, we can think of the magnificent person like the liberal person: a liberal person gives whatever they have to in order to help a friend in need, and is not thinking about what it is costing them. It is the same kind of thinking in both the virtues, but the difference is in scale, or how much money is involved.

Note also that magnificence especially involves appreciating of the fineness of things, like the fineness of a work of art. This is different from someone knowing how much money this or that sells for, what value other people put on the thing. The magnificent person must be the one that decides themselves that the money spent on this or that will be worth it for the occasion. Being virtuous, they make the right decision. This will be confirmed by the people that come to the event. But the people there that agree that the event is great, unless they also have the virtue of magnificence, would not have known beforehand what would be worth the expense (or even what to get), any more than people know what a piece of art is worth before the artist becomes famous.

Though we also have to emphasize that it is not just taste that is part of magnificence, but also proportion. Whoever would be magnificent should spend both in proportion to their means (otherwise they would be like the prodigal) and in proportion to the occasion (otherwise they are parsimonious or extravagant).

So it should be clear that someone who is poor cannot be magnificent. Big events all call for a lot of money to be spent, and someone poor is not going to have that kind of money. If such a person tries anyways, then they are being foolish and two errors will be made. First, they will be living beyond their means. Second, they still will not do enough to make for a special event. Really, it would be better if they would leave such doings to someone else, someone that is more able.

Those of high birth or great reputation are most suited for the virtue of magnificence. This is because they have the means by which they can get such a virtue. They have the money to spend, and so they can learn how to spend it right.

Besides big occasions, we can also find the virtue of magnificence displayed in whatever things are public for such a person. I mean here their house (as it is open to visitors), their family tomb, and so on. These will have money spent on them tastefully and in good proportion. (And where ever you see the magnificent person has spent money on something, it is notable how well-done and suitable it is.) But it is also important to note that the things that the magnificent will put out are not just nice, but great, and we might well say that such things are rightly great, to where one really cannot imagine what would be better.

The person who goes to the side of excess is called extravagant. This person spends too much on the wrong things. This is the kind of person to turn what should be a minor banquet into a huge feast. Or, if they put on a play, then they go way overboard on the budget, and spend a ridiculous amount on the costumes. And yet such a person is likely to also to not spend much on other things, not because they are being stingy, but because they simply don't know what is right and they have no sense of proportion. For example, they may spend too much getting a great venue, but then they spend too little on decorations. But for whatever they do spend big on, they expect that everyone will be impressed by it, and give them honor for it.

A parsimonious person tries to spend as little as possible, and so makes cheap the occasion. Or even if such a person does spend a lot of money, they have a way of wasting it by not spending proportionally, and so they ruin even what meager effects they would have produced. This is because they are not trying to do a good job of putting on the event, but rather they are trying to see where they can cut costs. Perhaps, for example, the venue and decorations are fine, but then they ruin it by hiring second-rate caterers (knowing full well that they are second-rate). This is also the type of person to complain to people about how much they had to spend, as if they had spent too much when they really did not even spend enough.

While extravagance and parsimoniousness are vices, they are different from the other vices in that they do not really hurt other people; and while these vices are in bad taste, they are not terribly bad, so they are probably not going to cause disgrace.


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