Aristotle discusses (not in our reading) examples that seem like courage but are not. This helps us understand what he means when he says that the courageous person does the right thing in fearful situations for the right reason, for the sake of something fine or good. He cites an example from Homer’s Iliad (the story of the Trojan War) where Hector, the leader of the Trojan army, urges his soldiers to fight the Greeks, and says to them that if they don’t fight, he “will feed them to the dogs.” His soldiers do fight well, but only out of fear of what will happen if they don’t. So for Aristotle they did the right thing in a dangerous situation but for the wrong reason, so what they did only resembled courage, but it was not courageous.
Another example: soldiers who fight bravely but do so because they want to be honored for heroism. Honor is not a bad thing, but for Aristotle, if that’s their reason for fighting, then they are not courageous.
So what do you think is the right sort of reason for soldiers to endure what is fearful by fighting the enemy?
Now suppose a student in a class, in which there is no physical danger, is shy and nervous and fears participating in discussions and won’t ask questions or answer them, because he/she fears sounding stupid and appearing to lack the confidence that other students seem to possess.
So suppose that this student at last does participate in discussion, or asks or answers some questions. Give two examples of such a student: The student who overcomes their fear for the right reason, and so is courageous, and the one who overcomes their fear but for the wrong reason, and so is not courageous. (Be specific about those reasons.)
Aristotle, like Socrates and Plato, is not a relativist, so he thinks that courage is not in the eye of the beholder but instead is quite real. What do you think about that student who overcomes fear for the right reason? Would you agree with Aristotle that he/she was really courageous, or do you think that whether he/she was courageous is merely in the eye of the beholder?
For Aristotle, one cannot live well – achieve happiness – unless one possesses virtues such as courage. For Aristotle, one cannot perform one’s human function well – one cannot reason well, deliberate about what to do well, choose well, and act on one’s choices well – without courage and the other virtues. Try to explain, by an example or two, why a person who is not courageous cannot perform their human function well — why they cannot deliberate about what to do, choose, and act on those choices well. (Remember that courage always involves a situation in which there is something to fear, so it involves deliberating and choosing and acting in such a situation.)
What do you think? Can a person live well without courage?