Varieties of Courage

by Peter Saint-Andre


In my post the other day about Aristotle's discussion of courage, I neglected to mention the restricted reference of his definition: roughly speaking, he says that the character trait of courage enables you to feel the appropriate level of fear and confidence when confronted with the possibility of dying in battle. It's true that he does mention other varieties of courage, since you can be brave when you might lose anything you hold valuable, such as your health (e.g., when diagnosed with a dread disease) or social status (e.g., when speaking out against injustice); yet he says that these varieties are merely analogous to the core or "focal" sense of the term.

We moderns can find this approach disconcerting, for we often try to formulate the most comprehensive definition covering the widest range of cases. By contrast, Aristotle usually works to identify the primary instance of a phenomenon, and then treats all the other instances as analogous to the paradigm. In practice this might be a distinction without a difference, but it's important to keep it in mind as we work our way through Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

(Cross-posted at


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