From Plato’s writing on the dialogue titled The Laches concerned with the virtue of courage, when asked by Socrates to define courage, he starts by saying that a courage person is he who can face an enemy, which was rather an example of a person portraying courage than its meaning (Schmid & Plato, 1992). After a series of questioning posted by the Socrates, he finally settles on “endurance of the soul” as the definition of courage. On the other hand, Nicias contributes in finding the real meaning of courage. His first attempt to define courage was that courage is having the knowledge of grounds for fear and hope which was not the meaning expected. In an attempt to get the precise meaning of courage, he says that courage is having the knowledge of all evil and good things without giving reference to time.
It might be argued that Laches’s definition of courage in terms of endurance formed a foundation through which Nicias’s meaning of courage developed. Endurance refers to the ability to keep on doing things, which are painful, unpleasant, or difficult for longer period. By using the terms ‘fear’ and ‘hope’ in defining courage as having the knowledge of grounds for fear and hope, he used he bases his meaning on Laches’s definition (Rabieh, 2006). Fear arises from expected pain, an unpleasant encounter, or a difficult situation that has or may occur in future. Fear and endurance closely relate to each other since one has to endure suffering brought about by fear.
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Aristotle objected the Nicias meaning of courage by saying that courage is the situation whereby one has the right amount of near, it is neither too little nor too much (Rabieh, 2006). Nevertheless, this was not enough to take as the meaning of being courageous though he meant to object Nicias discussion. Defending his argument Aristotle said that being courageous is lacking fear of something or someone. Aristotle gave an example of a courageous person with someone going for a battle not knowing the dangers to face during the battle period. The battle may be difficult in the mind of the person only to find out it requires less force or power (Schmid & Plato, 1992).
Aristotle further came up with a discussion which was against the one Nicias had posed by saying that a courageous person is who can face an enemy. Aristotle posed five points in objection to what this definition by Nicias. These points include; facing danger because law requires you or you are under threat of punishment. This does not show how the person is courageous but it clearly shows that the person is succumbing from the fear itself. Giving in to the government or to the punishment does not portray courage rather the fear you have of what will happen if the government find you.
He also gave an example of a person driven by passion to do dangerous activities knowing what might happen to him or the outcome after the activity. Concerning the definition of courage, this person cannot be termed as courageous. The anger, lust or greed in him drives him towards the danger and not courage. The person might face the enemy but not out of courage but rather passion (greed, lust or anger) that drives him to the involvement of such kind of a situation. Another point of discussion is on a person who is ignorant of danger (Rabieh, 2006). The person is aware of danger but he/she assumes that the danger does not exist. The person faces the danger not because he is courageous but because of ignorance.
Another point he noted was being calm and confident about a situation because of experience about something but then the worse happens. The person involved will face the danger not because of being courageous but due to the situation involved. The other point raised by Aristotle objecting from the definition by Nicias was of a situation where action is need spontaneously. The commanding situation will force a person to act contrary to Nicias who says that the person acts out of courage.
In conclusion courage according to Aristotle is has been linked with many arguments to an extent the more you try to understand it the more you find yourself on the sea of confusion. Nicias gives a simpler definition of courage. The definition leads to objections from Aristotle who raises questions and comes up with a definition. Aristotle definition of a courageous man in regard to battlefield gives an ambiguous thing that prohibits defining courage. Therefore, we can define courage in many ways in which all will pose an answerable question leading to objection.
- SCHMID, W. T., & PLATO. (1992). On manly courage: a study of Plato’s Laches. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press.
- RABIEH, L. R. (2006). Plato and the virtue of courage. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.