What Is Courage?

What Is Courage?

Of those who go to excess he who exceeds in fearlessness has no name... but he would be a sort of madman or insensible person if he feared nothing... The man who exceeds in fear is a coward; for he fears both what he ought not and as he ought not... The coward is a despairing sort of person; for he fears everything.

- Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 1115b24

Podcast of the Day

We describe people as brave all the time, but what do we really mean? Does the bravery of a firefighter have anything in common with the courage of reading books that challenge our deepest beliefs? Is there a specific kind of courage that comes from living in a democracy? What do we learn from looking at the Greek roots of the word and how is their experience relevant to ours? On this episode of Why? we’re going to look at the classical roots of courage and examine its meaning in modern democracies.

Listen to Ryan Balot discuss Courage on the Why? podcast

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

It seems odd, even unpatriotic, to speak of cowardice on a day meant to honor the men and women who have served in the American military. But then, as history has shown, it is never a good time to speak of cowardice.

Plato’s “Laches” shows how it is typically shunted aside. The dialogue mentions cowardice a couple of times in relation to the main subject, courage, and then about halfway through Socrates asks, “Then what are cowardice and courage? This is what I wanted to find out.” Much more about courage follows; cowardice is not mentioned again. Kierkegaard probably paid more attention to cowardice than any other philosopher — and one of his main themes is how it evades our attention, and how we evade it. “There must be something wrong with cowardice,” he wrote, “since it is so detested, so averse to being mentioned….” If it ever appeared in “its true form” we would banish it from our lives — “for who would choose to dwell with this wretchedness?”

Continue reading Chris Walsh's article: The Soul of Cowardice

Further Reading

Why, Laches, I do not call animals or any other things which have no fear of dangers, because they are ignorant of them, courageous, but only fearless and senseless. Do you imagine that I should call little children courageous, which fear no dangers because they know none? There is a difference, to my way of thinking, between fearlessness and courage. I am of opinion that thoughtful courage is a quality possessed by very few, but that rashness and boldness, and fearlessness, which has no forethought, are very common qualities possessed by many men, many women, many children, many animals. And you, and men in general, call by the term "courageous" actions which I call rash;-my courageous actions are wise actions.

Continue reading Plato's dialogue: Laches

Related Topics

Human Nature | Moral Psychology

Each day I post short quotes by great thinkers on a particular philosophical, scientific or historical topic, along with videos, interviews and articles by contemporary thinkers that explore each topic in more detail. Find me on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to learn about the ideas that helped shape our world.

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