Wisdom and Courage in the <i>Protagoras</i> and the <i>Nicomachean Ethics</i>

C. C. W. Taylor

in Pleasure, Mind, and Soul

Published in print January 2008 | ISBN: 9780199226399
Published online May 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780191710209 | DOI:
 Wisdom and Courage in the Protagoras and the Nicomachean Ethics

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This chapter compares accounts of the relation of wisdom to courage given in the Protagoras and the Nicomachean Ethics. In the former, Socrates maintains that courage is identical with knowledge (= wisdom) of what is best for the agent, that fear is simply the belief that an envisaged outcome will be bad for the agent, and hence, since no-one intentionally does what they believe will be bad for them, that it is impossible for anyone intentionally to do what he or she fears. For Aristotle fear is not a belief, but an emotion which is naturally caused by envisaged harm. That emotion can, and typically does, coexist with the belief that the right thing to do is to face what is fearful, and courage consists, not in absence of fear, but in responding appropriately to fear (and also to tharros, boldness). Hence, Aristotle can allow that it is possible to do what one fears, and that doing so in the right way is characteristic of the courageous person. This has the paradoxical consequence that courageous action must be to some extent unpleasant, and involve some degree of motivational conflict, which is apparently at odds with Aristotle's general view that the virtuous person takes pleasure in acting virtuously, and is unconflicted in so acting. It is argued that this paradox is resolved, not by insisting that the courageous person must be totally without motivational conflict, but by recognizing that he or she, though to some degree conflicted, nevertheless exerts the necessary effort gladly and without hesitation.

Keywords: tharros; boldness; fear; harm; virtue of character; pathos; emotion; pleasure; distress; conflict of motivation

Chapter.  6244 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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