17 October 2007

Wrapping Oneself in Glory

There are just five sentences in the passage I raised for consideration.

(1) τέλος δὲ πάσης ἐνεργείας ἐστὶ τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἕξιν.
A goal of each actualization of a state, is that which is in accordance with that state.

(2) καὶ τῷ ἀνδρείῳ δὲ ἀνδρεία καλόν.
But courage is something honorable (kalon) for a brave person as well.

Thus: a courageous man stands firm, and does those actions that are in accordance with courage, for the sake of the honor of it.
I agree with Rowe/Broadie, and commentators on this blog, that the passage explains why the definition of courage must mention the motive of the agent, and, specifically, that he aims to act so as to do something honorable (kalon). But why does Aristotle feel compelled to give such an explanation?

To simplify:
(5) merely states in greater detail that qualification which Aristotle had already included in his definition-- we may dismiss it then.
(4) is merely a reminder, aimed to justify the inclusion of this qualification.
(3) is meant to follow from (1) and (2).

So the real work of the passage is done by (1) and (2). But what are these comments directed at? I propose that they are aimed to correct for what Aristotle has already said.

Consider: He has so far explained courage as concerned in the first instance with military actions, but every time previously that he has mentioned military action in the Ethics, his view has been that its goal is victory. (Victory in fact is a star example of a goal in I.1.) Then, earlier in III.7, when discussing courageous action in particular, all that he says is that a courageous person stands firm given a reasonable assessment of and reaction to dangers: he fears those things that he should; to the degree that he should; when he should; and as reason indicates.

It would be understandable if someone concluded from all this that courage were simply reasonable behavior, and the modulation of the emotions, in the pursuit of military victory -- and that it had no role to play (for instance) when there was no hope of victory. In particular, from what Aristotle had said earlier, there would be no reason to think that a willingness to prefer death over retreat could ever be an expression of courage!

And yet preferring to die in some circumstances becomes for him an index of courage (see 1116b20, καὶ θάνατος τῆς τοιαύτης σωτηρίας αἱρετώτερος, 22, τὸν θάνατον μᾶλλον τοῦ αἰσχροῦ φοβούμενοι, and the suggestion at 1116a12-3, τὸ δ' ἀποθνήσκειν φεύγοντα πενίαν ἔρωτα τι λυπηρὸν οὐκ ἀνδρείου).

I suggest: the way Aristotle wishes to handle this is to build the intention, or willingness, to give up one's life (on behalf of one's friends and fatherland) into the description of what it is to be courageous. This is what talk of the kalon imports.

τέλος δὲ πάσης ἐνεργείας ἐστὶ τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἕξιν.
This is directed at the misunderstanding that the goal of a courageous action, when it is effective and victorious, is no more than the victory: Aristotle is insisting, rather, that the particular action needs to be interpreted in relation to the state; and (we are meant to think) in other circumstances someone with that state avoids acting shamefully and keeps to actions which are admirable--that is how the state governs the actions of (τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἕξιν) someone who has that state (cp. 1117b1, οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ δόξειεν ἂν εἶναι τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἀνδρείαν τέλος ἡδύ); thus the criterion there exhibited is also a goal of a courageous action that happens to be victorious.

καὶ τῷ ἀνδρείῳ δὲ ἀνδρεία καλόν.
This is directed at the misunderstanding that it's enough for a courageous agent to act reasonably as regards fearful objects and in his feelings of fear and boldness. We don't in fact praise and admire courageous actions simply (or even mainly) for their reasonability--though they must be like that. And those other grounds are available to the courageous agent as much as to us.


Louis Chartrand said...

I read an interesting account that suggested that the courageous man isn't really reasonable, maybe even somewhat anti-phronimos, because by putting his life on the line, he's putting his happiness on the line, which is after all his ultimate goal.
I don't remember the name of the author who mentionned it, but it isn't so important, because his suggestion was very sketchy and his arguments seemed rather shaky to me. On the other hand, I think you could find some good grounds for such a reading.
Anyways, if you take it this way, then Aristotle's emphasis on the courageous aiming for the kalon is a reminder that, in fact, one's goal is, more than attaining his own personal happiness, to ressemble the first motor. Thus, defending its people to assure its perenity is of major importance, and to put one's own life on the line for this cause has a nobility that transcends happiness.