In discussing the various moral virtues in existence, Aristotle focused on the issue of courage (Ross 39). He describes courage as a virtue that is associated with the feeling of fear, especially in a case of war where death is a real possibility. Under such circumstances, an individual who has the virtues of courage stands his ground, regardless of whether the others run away or not. This can be likened to the case of the soldiers at war where they have to keep pushing forward. When a colleague falls, there is no looking back. They seek to fill the position and soldier on. However, Aristotle observes that an individual cannot be given the title ‘courageous’ just by standing his ground. Rather, the motive of the brave act must also be assessed and qualify for the virtue (Ross 40). As indicated in a later part of this essay, Aristotle observes that there are scenarios which are branded as acts of courage but they actually are not. In order to set apart a courageous act from the others, the motive has to be noble. This is the main distinguishing characteristic of courage. An individual exhibiting this virtue does it with understanding, and for a good course. It is not just by impulse. For an act to qualify as courageous, it must involve the risk of losing something very valuable such as the life of an individual. It must also be done in the context of danger with the doer understanding the danger involved, but propelled by a considerable hope of success. Of course, the purpose for all these must be very noble.
There are vices associated with courage as well. Aristotle notes that cowardice and rashness are the main ones (Ross 41). Cowardice is the direct opposite of courage. A coward is an individual who is easily shaken, does not know what he stands for. Therefore, such an individual can easily give up. While courage drives an individual to stand and fight, cowardice is the instinct of fright and flight. The individual with this vice is not reliable, especially in the case of war.
Rashness can easily be misconstrued for courage, but it is actually very different. This is a scenario where an individual acts without rationality or reasoning. The act just comes out of impulse, and the individual can later on regret taking the action.teh motive for such an action is very ignoble since it is not well thought. As a matter of fact, it can even cause serious injury to the individual engaging in it. Rashness is a vice associated with courage since its motive and occurrences do not tally with the definition of a courageous act. However, between the two vices – cowardice and rashness- it can be said that rashness is closer to courage. This assertion is supported by the fact that an individual with the vice of cowardice will flee when faced by danger. On the other hand, a rash person would not flee but would take an action. However, the action taken is not well thought or planned. As such, it can escalate the danger rather than eliminate it. Whichever the case, an individual acting in rash might appear to be brave, which makes this vice more close to courage. It can be said that the difference between the two is that courage is about doing the things right, or efficiency, while rashness is about doing the right things or effectiveness. The means matter more in courage while the ends matter more in rashness. This draws the line between the virtue and vice.
In daily life activities, situations arise which call for the people to make courageous choices. Such a scenario can be as follows. A father who works 5 miles from his home receives a call from his neighbor telling him that his house is on fire. With the rush of adrenalin, the father leaves the office, rushes to his car and speeds off for home. On his way home, he over speeds and drives in a manner that is fit for racing cars, which leaves the other drivers blowing their horns. On reaching his compound, he finds his wife wailing, constrained by a few women. The firemen are already working, trying to put off the fierce fire, while one of them tries to create a hole at the top of the roof, with a clear intent of getting into the house. The father inquires why his wife seems so emotional and she explains that their three years old daughter was asleep in her crib when the fire started. The man does his mental calculations and realizes that should he try to get into the through the obvious way; the front door, the firemen would definitely prevent him. As such, in an attempt to save his daughter, he uses the secret back way door to get into the house, with no one noticing it. Five minutes later, the firemen having opened up the roof, retrieve two bodies from the house; the father and the daughter. In this case, the virtue of courage and a corresponding vice of rashness are evident.
Courage is seen through the activities of the firemen. They realize that they have to try and save the life of the young girl. However, they understand that it is a difficult affair and a high risk as well. They risk loosing not only the girl’s life but also their own. However, due to their experience, they are well aware that by carrying out the rescue operation right, they have a chance at saving the child.
Many people would be driven to think that the father was also a courageous man, ready to risk his life for her daughter. Well, a closer analysis at eth scenario reveals that his is not actually an act of courage but an act of rashness. Right from the beginning, he drives carelessly on his way home. Under such circumstances, he risks causing an accident which would cause many injuries, and probably cost a few lives. When he gets home and learns of the fate of his daughter, more rashness makes him make a wrong choice. It would be more courageous to control his emotions and wait for the firemen to do what they are good at. At the best, he could work in collaboration with the firemen in the rescue operation. Courage is also about having a grip on one’s emotions, not letting them have the better of an individual.
For every single issue in the world, there is a possibility that different people perceive it differently. In Ross (49-54), Aristotle explains the virtue of courage and how it applies in different scenarios. However, the modern understanding of the same is not very similar to what Aristotle thought. There are five main instances in the modern world where the understanding of courageous differs with what Aristotle expected. These are also explained in his account.
The first one is the state of the citizen-soldiers who are often seen as brave and courageous people. However, it should be noted that they act in such a manner since they know the consequences they would face should they relent. They soldier on not out of will but due to circumstance. This does not count as courage. Another instance is where an individual has experience in handling a particular issue. Faced by the same issue, the individual would be so confident and composed in handling it. However, if the facts are altered, it is likely that the individual would flee, implying that courage was not present in the first place. Some people are driven by passion to do certain things which might have them branded as courageous. These passions might be flared by anger, pain or other emotions. In as much as the individuals engaging in such activities expose themselves to danger, yet they cannot be said to be courageous because the action is not noble. Sanguine people and those ho are oblivious of danger might also appear to be courageous because they do not seem to mind. They face the danger in what can be said in the modern language as courageous. However, if these people get to know the facts on the ground about the danger, they would not hesitate to take off. However, brave and courageous people understand the dangers but still stand their grounds. The above scenarios of what can e termed as courage in the modern day indicate how different the understanding of courage is between Aristotle and the modern understanding.
Ross, David. (Trans.). Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. (Attached).