What courage is and how it stands between cowardice and rashness

What courage is and how it stands between cowardice and rashness


Fear is not the same for all men, but we put down as fearful even something which is beyond human strength. This, then, is fearful to every sensible man; but whatever is within human strength differs both in magnitude and in degree. And similarly with things that are fearless.

But the courageous man is undaunted in so far as he is a man. However, he as well will fear things that are terrible and within human strength, but he will endure them for the sake of what is noble, as reason prescribes and in the right way — for this is the end at which virtue aims. And it is possible for one to be afraid of these things in a more or less degree, and even things that are not terrible as if they were.

Mistakes happen some because we are afraid of what we ought not, others because not as we ought to, others because not at the time we ought to, or the like. And similarly with what is fearless.

The courageous

Hence he who fears and endures the things he ought to, for the right purpose, as he ought to and at the time he ought to, as well as the one who dares accordingly, is a courageous man; for the courageous man feels and acts in as much as merit requires and reason prescribes.

Moreover, the end of every activity is in correspondence with the analogous state. And for such a man courage is noble. Therefore the end is noble too; for it is because of the end that each thing is defined. Hence the courageous man endures and acts deeds concerned with courage for the sake of what is noble.

Of those who exceed the limits, he who exceeds in fearlessness has no name (we have said before that many things have no name), but he would be some sort of maniac or unsympathetic man if he feared nothing, neither earthquake nor waves, as it is said of the Celts.

The rash

On the other hand, he who exceeds in confidence about terrible things is rash. And the rash man seems also to be arrogant and some one who pretends to be brave. The attitude, then, which the courageous man demonstrates in matters terrible, the same attitude the rash man wishes to appear as of his own; therefore he imitates him as far as he can. This is why most of them are cowardly; for, while they display confidence where they can, they cannot stand what is terrible.

The  coward

Again, he who exceeds in fear is a coward; for both what he ought not and as he ought not, and all the like follow on him. He is also deficient in confidence; but he is more apparent in situations involving pain. The coward, then, is a despairing person; for he fears everything. On the other hand, the courageous man is the reverse; for confidence is a trait belonging to a hopeful person.

The coward and the rash man, therefore, as well as the courageous man are concerned with the same things, but they are differently disposed towards them; for the two former exceed and fall short, while the latter is moderate and as he ought to. Furthermore, the rash are reckless, and ready before danger but fled when it comes, while the courageous are keen at the time of action and quiet before.


As we have said, then, courage is a mean concerning things that involve confidence or fear, in the circumstances we have stated; and the courageous man chooses and endures things because it is noble to do so, or because it is shameful not to do so. However, to die in order to escape from poverty or love or anything painful is not the trait of the courageous man, but rather of a coward; for it is flabbiness to flee from what is painful, and such a man endures death not because it is noble, but because he escapes from an evil.

Bibliography: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (1115b.7 to 1116a.15)  
Translation: George Kotsalis