Book IV

The Several Moral Virtues and Vices⁠—Continued


Liberality, of which we will next speak, seems to be moderation in the matter of wealth. What we commend in a liberal man is his behaviour, not in war, nor in those circumstances in which temperance is commended, nor yet in passing judgment, but in the giving and taking of wealth, and especially in the giving⁠—wealth meaning all those things whose value can be measured in money.

But both prodigality and illiberality are at once excess and defect in the matter of wealth.

Illiberality always means caring for wealth more than is right; but prodigality sometimes stands for a combination of vices. Thus incontinent people, who squander their money in riotous living, are called prodigals. And so prodigals are held to be very worthless individuals, as they combine a number of vices.

But we must remember that this is not the proper use of the term; for the term “prodigal” (ἄσωτος) is intended to denote a man who has one vice, viz. that of wasting his substance: for he is ἄσωτος,69 or “prodigal,” who is destroyed through his own fault, and the wasting of one’s substance is held to be a kind of destruction of one’s self, as one’s life is dependent upon it. This, then, we regard as the proper sense of the term “prodigality.”

Anything that has a use may be used well or ill.

Now, riches is abundance of useful things (τὰ χρήσιμα).

But each thing is best used by him who has the virtue that is concerned with that thing.

Therefore he will use riches best who has the virtue that is concerned with wealth70 (τὰ χρήματα), i.e. the liberal man.

Now, the ways of using wealth are spending and giving, while taking and keeping are rather the ways of acquiring wealth. And so it is more distinctive of the liberal man to give to the right people than to take from the right source and not to take from the wrong source. For it is more distinctive of virtue to do good to others than to have good done to you, and to act nobly than not to act basely: but it is plain that doing good and acting nobly go with the giving, while having good done to you and not acting basely go with the taking.

Again, we are thankful to him who gives, not to him who does not take; and so also we praise the former rather than the latter.

Again, it is easier not to take than to give; for we are more inclined to be too stingy with our own goods than to take another’s.

Again, it is those who give that are commonly called liberal; while those who abstain from taking are not praised for their liberality especially, but rather for their justice; and those who take are not praised at all.

Again, of all virtuous characters the liberal man is perhaps the most beloved, because he is useful; but his usefulness lies in his giving.

But virtuous acts, we said, are noble, and are done for the sake of that which is noble. The liberal man, therefore, like the others, will give with a view to, or for the sake of, that which is noble, and give rightly; i.e. he will give the right things to the right persons at the right times⁠—in short, his giving will have all the characteristics of right giving.

Moreover, his giving will be pleasant to him, or at least painless; for virtuous acts are always pleasant or painless⁠—certainly very far from being painful.

He who gives to the wrong persons, or gives from some other motive than desire for that which is noble, is not liberal, but must be called by some other name.

Nor is he liberal who gives with pain; for that shows that he would prefer71 the money to the noble action, which is not the feeling of the liberal man.

The liberal man, again, will not take from wrong sources; for such taking is inconsistent with the character of a man who sets no store by wealth.

Nor will he be ready to beg a favour; for he who confers benefits on others is not usually in a hurry to receive them.

But from right sources he will take (e.g. from his own property), not as if there were anything noble in taking, but simply as a necessary condition of giving. And so he will not neglect his property, since he wishes by means of it to help others. But he will refuse to give to any casual person, in order that he may have wherewithal to give to the right persons, at the right times, and where it is noble to give.

It is very characteristic of the liberal man72 to go even to excess in giving, so as to leave too little for himself; for disregard of self is part of his character.

In applying the term liberality we must take account of a man’s fortune; for it is not the amount of what is given that makes a gift liberal, but the liberal habit or character of the doer; and this character proportions the gift to the fortune of the giver. And so it is quite possible that the giver of the smaller sum may be the more liberal man, if his means be smaller.

Those who have inherited a fortune seem to be more liberal than those who have made one; for they have never known want; and all men are particularly fond of what themselves have made, as we see in parents and poets.

It is not easy for a liberal man to be rich, as he is not apt to take or to keep, but is apt to spend, and cares for money not on its own account, but only for the sake of giving it away.

Hence the charge often brought against fortune, that those who most deserve wealth are least blessed with it. But this is natural enough; for it is just as impossible to have wealth without taking trouble about it, as it is to have anything else.

Nevertheless the liberal man will not give to the wrong people, nor at the wrong times; for if he did, he would no longer be displaying true liberality, and, after spending thus, would not have enough to spend on the right occasions. For, as we have already said, he is liberal who spends in proportion to his fortune, on proper objects, while he who exceeds this is prodigal. And so princes73 are not called prodigal, because it does not seem easy for them to exceed the measure of their possessions in gifts and expenses.

Liberality, then, being moderation in the giving and taking of wealth, the liberal man will give and spend the proper amount on the proper objects, alike in small things and in great, and that with pleasure; and will also take the proper amount from the proper sources. For since the virtue is moderation in both giving and taking, the man who has the virtue will do both rightly. Right taking is consistent with right giving, but any other taking is contrary to it. Those givings and takings, then, that are consistent with one another are found in the same person, while those that are contrary to one another manifestly are not.

But if a liberal man happen to spend anything in a manner contrary to what is right and noble, he will be pained, but moderately and in due measure; for it is a characteristic of virtue to be pleased and pained on the right occasions and in due measure.

The liberal man, again, is easy to deal with in money matters; it is not hard to cheat him, as he does not value wealth, and is more apt to be vexed at having failed to spend where he ought, than to be pained at having spent where he ought not⁠—the sort of man that Simonides would not commend.74

The prodigal, on the other hand, errs in these points also; he is not pleased on the right occasions nor in the right way, nor pained: but this will be clearer as we go on.

We have already said that both prodigality and illiberality are at once excess and deficiency, in two things, viz. giving and taking (expenditure being included in giving). Prodigality exceeds in giving and in not taking, but falls short in taking; illiberality falls short in giving, but exceeds in taking⁠—in small things, we must add.

Now, the two elements of prodigality are not commonly united in the same person:75 it is not easy for a man who never takes to be always giving; for private persons soon exhaust their means of giving, and it is to private persons that the name is generally applied.76

A prodigal of this kind [i.e. in whom both the elements are combined], we must observe, would seem to be not a little better than an illiberal man. For he is easily cured by advancing years and by lack of means, and may come to the middle course. For he has the essential points of the liberal character; he gives and abstains from taking, though he does neither well nor as he ought. If then he can be trained to this, or if in any other way this change in his nature can be effected, he will be liberal; for then he will give to whom he ought, and will not take whence he ought not. And so he is generally thought to be not a bad character; for to go too far in giving and in not taking does not show a vicious or ignoble nature so much as a foolish one.

A prodigal of this sort, then, seems to be much better than an illiberal man, both for the reasons already given, and also because the former does good to many, but the latter to no one, not even to himself.

But most prodigals, as has been said, not only give wrongly, but take from wrong sources, and are in this respect illiberal. They become grasping because they wish to spend, but cannot readily do so, as their supplies soon fail. So they are compelled to draw from other sources. At the same time, since they care nothing for what is noble, they will take quite recklessly from any source whatever; for they long to give, but care not a whit how the money goes or whence it comes.

And so their gifts are not liberal; for they are not noble, nor are they given with a view to that which is noble, nor in the right manner. Sometimes they enrich those who ought to be poor, and will give nothing to men of well-regulated character, while they give a great deal to those who flatter them, or furnish them with any other pleasure. And thus the greater part of them are profligates; for, being ready to part with their money, they are apt to lavish it on riotous living, and as they do not shape their lives with a view to that which is noble, they easily fall away into the pursuit of pleasure.

The prodigal, then, if he fail to find guidance, comes to this, but if he get training he may be brought to the moderate and right course.

But illiberality is incurable; for old age and all loss of power seems to make men illiberal.

It also runs in the blood more than prodigality; the generality of men are more apt to be fond of money than of giving.

Again, it is far-reaching, and has many forms; for there seem to be many ways in which one can be illiberal.

It consists of two parts⁠—deficiency in giving, and excess of taking; but it is not always found in its entirety; sometimes the parts are separated, and one man exceeds in taking, while another falls short in giving. Those, for instance, who are called by such names as niggardly, stingy, miserly, all fall short in giving, but do not covet other people’s goods, or wish to take them.

Some are impelled to this conduct by a kind of honesty, or desire to avoid what is disgraceful⁠—I mean that some of them seem, or at any rate profess, to be saving, in order that they may never be compelled to do anything disgraceful; e.g. the cheese-parer77 (and those like him), who is so named because of the extreme lengths to which he carries his unwillingness to give.

But others are moved to keep their hands from their neighbours’ goods only by fear, believing it to be no easy thing to take the goods of others, without having one’s own goods taken in turn; so they are content with neither taking nor giving.

Others, again, exceed in the matter of taking so far as to make any gain they can in any way whatever, e.g. those who ply debasing trades, brothel-keepers and suchlike, and usurers who lend out small sums at a high rate. For all these make money from improper sources to an improper extent.

The common characteristic of these last seems to be the pursuit of base gain; for all of them endure reproach for the sake of gain, and that a small gain. For those who make improper gains in improper ways on a large scale are not called illiberal, e.g. tyrants who sack cities and pillage temples; they are rather called wicked, impious, unjust. The dice-sharper, however, and the man who steals clothes at the bath, or the common thief, are reckoned among the illiberal; for they all make base gains; i.e. both the thief and the sharper ply their trade and endure reproach for gain, and the thief for the sake of his booty endures the greatest dangers, while the sharper makes gain out of his friends, to whom he ought to give. Both then, wishing to make gain in improper ways, are seekers of base gain; and all such ways of making money are illiberal.

But illiberality is rightly called the opposite of liberality; for it is a worse evil than prodigality, and men are more apt to err in this way than in that which we have described as prodigality.

Let this, then, be taken as our account of liberality, and of the vices that are opposed to it.


Our next task would seem to be an examination of magnificence. For this also seems to be a virtue that is concerned with wealth.

But it does not, like liberality, extend over the whole field of money transactions, but only over those that involve large expenditure; and in these it goes beyond liberality in largeness. For, as its very name (μεγαλοπρέπεια) suggests, it is suitable expenditure on a large scale. But the largeness is relative: the expenditure that is suitable for a man who is fitting out a warship is not the same as that which is suitable for the chief of a sacred embassy.

What is suitable, then, is relative to the person, and the occasion, and the business on hand. Yet he who spends what is fitting on trifling or moderately important occasions is not called magnificent; e.g. the man who can say, in the words of the poet⁠—

“To many a wandering beggar did I give;”

but he who spends what is fitting on great occasions. For the magnificent man is liberal, but a man may be liberal without being magnificent.

The deficiency of this quality is called meanness; the excess of it is called vulgarity, bad taste, etc.; the characteristic of which is not spending too much on proper objects, but spending ostentatiously on improper objects and in improper fashion. But we will speak of them presently.

But the magnificent man is like a skilled artist; he can see what a case requires, and can spend great sums tastefully. For, as we said at the outset, a habit or type of character takes its complexion from the acts in which it issues and the things it produces. The magnificent man’s expenses, therefore, must be great and suitable.

What he produces then will also be of the same nature; for only thus will the expense be at once great and suitable to the result.

The result, then, must be proportionate to the expenditure, and the expenditure proportionate to the result, or even greater.

Moreover, the magnificent man’s motive in thus spending his money will be desire for that which is noble; for this is the common characteristic of all the virtues.

Further, he will spend gladly and lavishly; for a minute calculation of cost is mean. He will inquire how the work can be made most beautiful and most elegant, rather than what its cost will be, and how it can be done most cheaply.

So the magnificent man must be liberal also; for the liberal man, too, will spend the right amount in the right manner; only, both the amount and the manner being right, magnificence is distinguished from liberality (which has the same78 sphere of action) by greatness⁠—I mean by actual magnitude of amount spent: and secondly, where the amount spent is the same, the result of the magnificent man’s expenditure will be more magnificent.79

For the excellence of a possession is not the same as the excellence of a product or work of art: as a possession, that is most precious or estimable which is worth most, e.g. gold; as a work of art, that is most estimable which is great and beautiful: for the sight of such a work excites admiration, and a magnificent thing is always admirable; indeed, excellence of work on a great scale is magnificence.

Now, there is a kind of expenditure which is called in a special sense estimable or honourable, such as expenditure on the worship of the gods (e.g. offerings, temples, and sacrifices), and likewise all expenditure on the worship of heroes, and again all public service which is prompted by a noble ambition; e.g. a man may think proper to furnish a chorus or a warship, or to give a public feast, in a handsome style.

But in all cases, as we have said, we must have regard to the person who spends, and ask who he is, and what his means are; for expenditure should be proportionate to circumstances, and suitable not only to the result but to its author.

And so a poor man cannot be magnificent: he has not the means to spend large sums suitably: if he tries, he is a fool; for he spends disproportionately and in a wrong way; but an act must be done in the right way to be virtuous. But such expenditure is becoming in those who have got the requisite means, either by their own efforts or through their ancestors or their connections, and who have birth and reputation, etc.; for all these things give a man a certain greatness and importance,

The magnificent man, then, is properly a man of this sort, and magnificence exhibits itself most properly in expenditure of this kind, as we have said; for this is the greatest and most honourable kind of expenditure: but it may also be displayed on private occasions, when they are such as occur but once in a man’s life, e.g. a wedding or anything of that kind; or when they are of special interest to the state or the governing classes, e.g. receiving strangers and sending them on their way, or making presents to them and returning their presents; for the magnificent man does not lavish money on himself, but on public objects; and gifts to strangers bear some resemblance to offerings to the gods.

But a magnificent man will build his house too in a style suitable to his wealth; for even a fine house is a kind of public ornament. And he will spend money more readily on things that last; for these are the noblest. And on each occasion he will spend what is suitable⁠—which is not the same for gods as for men, for a temple as for a tomb.

And since every expenditure may be great after its kind, great expenditure on a great occasion being most magnificent,80 and then in a less degree that which is great for the occasion, whatever it be (for the greatness of the result is not the same as the greatness of the expense; e.g. the most beautiful ball or the most beautiful bottle that can be got is a magnificent present for a child, though its price is something small and mean), it follows that it is characteristic of the magnificent man to do magnificently that which he does, of whatever kind it be (for such work cannot easily be surpassed), and to produce a result proportionate to the expense.

This, then, is the character of the magnificent man. The man who exceeds (whom we call vulgar) exceeds, as we said, in spending improperly. He spends great sums on little objects, and makes an unseemly display; e.g. if he is entertaining the members of his club, he will give them a wedding feast; if he provides the chorus for a comedy, he will bring his company on the stage all dressed in purple, as they did at Mesara. And all this he will do from no desire for what is noble or beautiful, but merely to display his wealth, because he hopes thereby to gain admiration, spending little where he should spend much, and much where he should spend little.

But the mean man will fall short on every occasion, and, even when he spends very large sums, will spoil the beauty of his work by niggardliness in a trifle, never doing anything without thinking twice about it, and considering how it can be done at the least possible cost, and bemoaning even that, and thinking he is doing everything on a needlessly large scale.

Both these characters, then, are vicious, but they do not bring reproach, because they are neither injurious to others nor very offensive in themselves.


High-mindedness would seem from its very name (μεγαλοψυχία) to have to do with great things; let us first ascertain what these are.

It will make no difference whether we consider the quality itself, or the man who exhibits the quality.

By a high-minded man we seem to mean one who claims much and deserves much: for he who claims much without deserving it is a fool; but the possessor of a virtue is never foolish or silly. The man we have described, then, is high-minded.

He who deserves little and claims little is temperate [or modest], but not high-minded: for high-mindedness [or greatness of soul] implies greatness, just as beauty implies stature; small men may be neat and well proportioned, but cannot be called beautiful.

He who claims much without deserving it is vain (though not everyone who claims more than he deserves is vain).

He who claims less than he deserves is little-minded, whether his deserts be great or moderate, or whether they be small and he claims still less: but the fault would seem to be greatest in him whose deserts are great; for what would he do if his deserts were less than they are?

The high-minded man, then, in respect of the greatness of his deserts occupies an extreme position, but in that he behaves as he ought, observes the mean; for he claims that which he deserves, while all the others claim too much or too little.

If, therefore, he deserves much and claims much, and most of all deserves and claims the greatest things, there will be one thing with which he will be especially concerned. For desert has reference to external good things. Now, the greatest of external good things we may assume to be that which we render to the gods as their due, and that which people in high stations most desire, and which is the prize appointed for the noblest deeds. But the thing that answers to this description is honour, which, we may safely say, is the greatest of all external goods. Honours and dishonours, therefore, are the held in which the high-minded man behaves as he ought.

And indeed we may see, without going about to prove it, that honour is what high-minded men are concerned with; for it is honour that they especially claim and deserve.

The little-minded man falls short, whether we compare his claims with his own deserts or with what the high-minded man claims for himself.

The vain or conceited man exceeds what is due to himself, though he does not exceed the high-minded man in his claims.81

But the high-minded man, as he deserves the greatest things, must be a perfectly good or excellent man; for the better man always deserves the greater things, and the best possible man the greatest possible things. The really high-minded man, therefore, must be a good or excellent man. And indeed greatness in every virtue or excellence would seem to be necessarily implied in being a high-minded or great-souled man.

It would be equally inconsistent with the high-minded man’s character to run away swinging his arms, and to commit an act of injustice; for what thing is there for love of which he would do anything unseemly, seeing that all things are of little account to him?

Survey him point by point and you will find that the notion of a high-minded man that is not a good or excellent man is utterly absurd. Indeed, if he were not good, he could not be worthy of honour; for honour is the prize of virtue, and is rendered to the good as their due.

High-mindedness, then, seems to be the crowning grace, as it were, of the virtues; it makes them greater, and cannot exist without them. And on this account it is a hard thing to be truly high-minded; for it is impossible without the union of all the virtues.

The high-minded man, then, exhibits his character especially in the matter of honours and dishonours and at great honour from good men he will be moderately pleased, as getting nothing more than his due, or even less; for no honour can be adequate to complete virtue; but nevertheless he will accept it, as they have nothing greater to offer him. But honour from ordinary men and on trivial grounds he will utterly despise; for that is not what he deserves. And dishonour likewise he will make light of; for he will never merit it.

But though it is especially in the matter of honours, as we have said, that the high-minded man displays his character, yet he will also observe the mean in his feelings with regard to wealth and power and all kinds of good and evil fortune, whatever may befall him, and will neither be very much exalted by prosperity, nor very much cast down by adversity; seeing that not even honour affects him as if it were a very important thing. For power and wealth are desirable for honour’s sake (at least, those who have them wish to gain honour by them). But he who thinks lightly of honour must think lightly of them also.

And so high-minded men seem to look down upon everything.

But the gifts of fortune also are commonly thought to contribute to high-mindedness. For those who are well born are thought worthy of honour, and those who are powerful or wealthy; for they are in a position of superiority, and that which is superior in any good thing is always held in greater honour. And so these things do make people more high-minded in a sense; for such people find honour from some. But in strictness it is only the good man that is worthy of honour, though he that has both goodness and good fortune is commonly thought to be more worthy of honour. Those, however, who have these good things without virtue, neither have any just claim to great things, nor are properly to be called high-minded; for neither is possible without complete virtue.

But those who have these good things readily come to be supercilious and insolent. For without virtue it is not easy to bear the gifts of fortune becomingly; and so, being unable to bear them, and thinking themselves superior to everybody else, such people look down upon others, and yet themselves do whatever happens to please them. They imitate the high-minded man without being really like him, and they imitate him where they can; that is to say, they do not exhibit virtue in their acts, but they look down upon others. For the high-minded man never looks down upon others without justice (for he estimates them correctly), while most men do so for quite irrelevant reasons.

The high-minded man is not quick to run into petty dangers, and indeed does not love danger, since there are few things that he much values; but he is ready to incur a great danger, and whenever he does so is unsparing of his life, as a thing that is not worth keeping at all costs.

It is his nature to confer benefits, but he is ashamed to receive them; for the former is the part of a superior, the latter of an inferior. And when he has received a benefit, he is apt to confer a greater in return; for thus his creditor will become his debtor and be in the position of a recipient of his favour.

It seems, moreover, that such men remember the benefits which they have conferred better than those which they have received (for the recipient of a benefit is inferior to the benefactor, but such a man wishes to be in the position of a superior), and that they like to be reminded of the one, but dislike to be reminded of the other; and this is the reason why we read82 that Thetis would not mention to Zeus the services she had done him, and why the Lacedaemonians, in treating with the Athenians, reminded them of the benefits received by Sparta rather than of those conferred by her.

It is characteristic of the high-minded man, again, never or reluctantly to ask favours, but to be ready to confer them, and to be lofty in his behaviour to those who are high in station and favoured by fortune, but affable to those of the middle ranks; for it is a difficult thing and a dignified thing to assert superiority over the former, but easy to assert it over the latter. A haughty demeanour in dealing with the great is quite consistent with good breeding, but in dealing with those of low estate is brutal, like showing off one’s strength upon a cripple.

Another of his characteristics is not to rush in wherever honour is to be won, nor to go where others take the lead, but to hold aloof and to shun an enterprise, except when great honour is to be gained, or a great work to be done⁠—not to do many things, but great things and notable.

Again, he must be open in his hate and in his love (for it is cowardly to dissemble your feelings and to care less for truth than for what people will think of you), and he must be open in word and in deed (for his consciousness of superiority makes him outspoken, and he is truthful except in so far as he adopts an ironical tone in his intercourse with the masses), and he must be unable to fashion his life to suit another, except he be a friend; for that is servile: and so all flatterers or hangers on of great men are of a slavish nature, and men of low natures become flatterers.

Nor is he easily moved to admiration; for nothing is great to him.

He readily forgets injuries; for it is not consistent with his character to brood on the past, especially on past injuries, but rather to overlook them.

He is no gossip; he will neither talk about himself nor about others; for he cares not that men should praise him, nor that others should be blamed (though, on the other hand, he is not very ready to bestow praise); and so he is not apt to speak evil of others, not even of his enemies, except with the express purpose of giving offence.

When an event happens that cannot be helped or is of slight importance, he is the last man in the world to cry out or to beg for help; for that is the conduct of a man who thinks these events very important.

He loves to possess beautiful things that bring no profit, rather than useful things that pay; for this is characteristic of the man whose resources are in himself.

Further, the character of the high-minded man seems to require that his gait should be slow, his voice deep, his speech measured; for a man is not likely to be in a hurry when there are few things in which he is deeply interested, nor excited when he holds nothing to be of very great importance: and these are the causes of a high voice and rapid movements.

This, then, is the character of the high-minded man.

But he that is deficient in this quality is called little-minded; he that exceeds, vain or conceited.

Now these two also do not seem to be bad⁠—for they do no harm⁠—though they are in error.

For the little-minded man, though he deserves good things, deprives himself of that which he deserves, and so seems to be the worse for not claiming these good things, and for misjudging himself; for if he judged right he would desire what he deserves, as it is good. I do not mean to say that such people seem to be fools, but rather too retiring. But a misjudgment of this kind does seem actually to make them worse; for men strive for that which they deserve, and shrink from noble deeds and employments of which they think themselves unworthy, as well as from mere external good things.

But vain men are fools as well as ignorant of themselves, and make this plain to all the world: for they undertake honourable offices for which they are unfit, and presently stand convicted of incapacity; they dress in fine clothes and put on fine airs and so on; they wish everybody to know of their good fortune; they talk about themselves, as if that were the way to honour.

But little-mindedness is more opposed to high-mindedness than vanity is; for it is both commoner and worse.

High-mindedness, then, as we have said has to do with honour on a large scale.


But, it appears (as we said at the outset) that there is also a virtue concerned with honour, which bears the same relation to high-mindedness that liberality bears to magnificence; i.e. both the virtue in question and liberality have nothing to do with great things, but cause us to behave properly in matters of moderate or of trifling importance. Just as in the taking and giving of money it is possible to observe the mean, and also to exceed or fall short of it, so it is possible in desire for honour to go too far or not far enough, or, again, to desire honour from the right source and in the right manner.

A man is called ambitious or fond of honour (φιλότιμος) in reproach, as desiring honour more than he ought, and from wrong sources; and a man is called unambitious, or not fond of honour (ἀφιλότιμος) in reproach, as not desiring to be honoured even for noble deeds.

But sometimes a man is called ambitious or fond of honour in praise, as being manly and fond of noble things; and sometimes a man is called unambitious or not fond of honour in praise, as being moderate and temperate (as we said at the outset).

It is plain, then, that there are various senses in which a man is said to be fond of a thing, and that the term fond of honour has not always the same sense, but that as a term of praise it means fonder than most men, and as a term of reproach it means fonder than is right. But, as there is no recognized term for the observance of the mean, the extremes fight, so to speak, for what seems an empty place. But wherever there is excess and defect there is also a mean: and honour is in fact desired more than is right, and less: therefore83 it may also be desired to the right degree: this character then is praised, being observance of the mean in the matter of honour, though it has no recognized name. Compared with ambition, it seems to be lack of ambition; compared with lack of ambition, it seems to be ambition; compared with both at once, it seems in a way to be both at once. This, we may observe, also happens in the case of the other virtues. But in this case the extreme characters seem to be opposed to one another [instead of to the moderate character], because the character that observes the mean has no recognized name.


Gentleness is moderation with respect to anger. But it must be noted that we have no recognized name for the mean, and scarcely any recognized names for the extremes. And so the term gentleness, which properly denotes an inclination towards deficiency in anger (for which also we have no recognized name), is applied to the mean.

The excess may be called wrathfulness; for the emotion concerned is wrath or anger, though the things that cause it are many and various.

He then who is angry on the right occasions and with the right persons, and also in the right manner, and at the right season, and for the right length of time, is praised; we will call him gentle, therefore, since gentleness is used as a term of praise. For the man who is called gentle wishes not to lose his balance, and not to be carried away by his emotions or passions, but to be angry only in such manner, and on such occasions, and for such period as reason shall prescribe. But he seems to err rather on the side of deficiency; he is loath to take vengeance and very ready to forgive.

But the deficiency⁠—call it wrathlessness or what you will⁠—is censured. Those who are not angered by what ought to anger them seem to be foolish, and so do those who are not angry as and when and with whom they ought to be; for such a man seems to feel nothing and to be pained by nothing, and, as he is never angered, to lack spirit to defend himself. But to suffer one’s self to be insulted, or to look quietly on while one’s friends are being insulted, shows a slavish nature.

It is possible to exceed in all points, i.e. to be angry with persons with whom one ought not, and at things at which one ought not to be angry, and more than one ought, and more quickly, and for a longer time. All these errors, however, are not found in the same person. That would be impossible; for evil is self-destructive, and, if it appears in its entirety, becomes quite unbearable.

So we find that wrathful men get angry very soon, and with people with whom and at things at which they ought not, and more than they ought; but they soon get over their anger, and that is a very good point in their character. And the reason is that they do not keep in their anger, but, through the quickness of their temper, at once retaliate, and so let what is in them come to light, and then have done with it.

But those who are called choleric are excessively quick-tempered, and apt to be angered at anything and on any occasion; whence the name (ἀκρόχολοι).

Sulky men are hard to appease and their anger lasts long, because they keep it in. For so soon as we retaliate we are relieved: vengeance makes us cease from our anger, substituting a pleasant for a painful state. But the sulky man, as he does not thus relieve himself, bears the burden of his wrath about with him; for no one even tries to reason him out of it, as he does not show it, and it takes a long time to digest one’s anger within one’s self. Such men are exceedingly troublesome to themselves and their dearest friends.

Lastly, hard (χαλεπός) is the name we give to those who are offended by things that ought not to offend them, and more than they ought, and for a longer time, and who will not be appeased without vengeance or punishment.

Of the two extremes the excess is the more opposed to gentleness; for it is commoner (as men are naturally more inclined to vengeance); and a hard-tempered person is worse to live with [than one who is too easy-tempered].

What we said some time ago84 is made abundantly manifest by what we have just been saying; it is not easy to define how, and with whom, and at what, and for how long one ought to be angry⁠—how far it is right to go, and at what point misconduct begins. He who errs slightly from the right course is not blamed, whether it be on the side of excess or of deficiency; for sometimes we praise those who fall short and call them gentle, and sometimes those who behave hardly are called manly, as being able to rule. But what amount and kind of error makes a man blamable can scarcely be defined; for it depends upon the particular circumstances of each case, and can only be decided by immediate perception.

But so much at least is manifest, that on the one hand the habit which observes the mean is to be praised, i.e. the habit which causes us to be angry with the right persons, at the right things, in the right manner, etc.; and that, on the other hand, all habits of excess or deficiency deserve censure⁠—slight censure if the error be trifling, graver censure if it be considerable, and severe censure if it be great.

It is evident, therefore, that we must strive for the habit which observes the mean.

This then may be taken as our account of the habits which have to do with anger.


In the matter of social intercourse, i.e. the living with others and joining with them in conversation and in common occupations, some men show themselves what is called obsequious⁠—those who to please you praise everything, and never object to anything, but think they ought always to avoid giving pain to those whom they meet. Those who take the opposite line, and object to everything and never think for a moment what pain they may give, are called cross and contentious.

It is sufficiently plain that both these habits merit censure, and that the habit which takes the middle course between them is to be commended⁠—the habit which makes a man acquiesce in what he ought and in the right manner, and likewise refuse to acquiesce. This habit or type of character has no recognized name, but seems most nearly to resemble friendliness (φιλία). For the man who exhibits this moderation is the same sort of man that we mean when we speak of an upright friend, except that then affection also is implied. This differs from friendliness in that it does not imply emotion and affection for those with whom we associate; for he who has this quality acquiesces when he ought, not because he loves or hates, but because that is his character. He will behave thus alike to those whom he knows and to those whom he does not know, to those with whom he is intimate and to those with whom he is not intimate, only that in each case he will behave as is fitting; for we are not bound to show the same consideration to strangers as to intimates, nor to take the same care not to pain them.

We have already said in general terms that such a man will behave as he ought in his intercourse with others, but we must add that, while he tries to contribute to the pleasure of others and to avoid giving them pain, he will always be guided by reference to that which is noble and fitting. It seems to be with the pleasures and pains of social intercourse that he is concerned. Now, whenever he finds that it is not noble, or is positively hurtful to himself, to contribute to any of these pleasures, he will refuse to acquiesce and will prefer to give pain. And if the pleasure is such as to involve discredit, and no slight discredit, or some injury to him who is the source of it, while his opposition will give a little pain, he will not acquiesce, but will set his face against it. But he will behave differently according as he is in the company of great people or ordinary people, of intimate friends or mere acquaintances, and so on, rendering to each his due; preferring, apart from other considerations, to promote pleasure, and loth to give pain, but regulating his conduct by consideration of the consequences, if they be considerable⁠—by consideration, I mean, of what is noble and fitting. And thus for the sake of great pleasure in the future he will inflict a slight pain now.

The man who observes the mean, then, is something of this sort, but has no recognized name.

The man who always makes himself pleasant, if he aims simply at pleasing and has no ulterior object in view, is called obsequious; but if he does so in order to get some profit for himself, either in the way of money or of money’s worth, he is a flatterer.

But he who sets his face against everything is, as we have already said, cross and contentious.

But the extremes seem here to be opposed to one another [instead of to the mean], because there is no name for the mean.


The moderation which lies between boastfulness and irony (which virtue also lacks a name) seems to display itself in almost the same field.

It will be as well to examine these qualities also; for we shall know more about human character, when we have gone through each of its forms; and we shall be more fully assured that the virtues are modes of observing the mean, when we have surveyed them all and found that this is the case with every one of them.

We have already spoken of the characters that are displayed in social intercourse in the matter of pleasure and pain; let us now go on to speak in like manner of those who show themselves truthful or untruthful in what they say and do, and in the pretensions they put forward.

First of all, then, the boaster seems to be fond of pretending to things that men esteem, though he has them not, or not to such extent as he pretends; the ironical man, on the other hand, seems to disclaim what he has, or to depreciate it; while he who observes the mean, being a man who is “always himself” (αὐθέκαστός τις), is truthful in word and deed, confessing the simple facts about himself, and neither exaggerating nor diminishing them.

Now, each of these lines of conduct may be pursued either with an ulterior object or without one.

When he has no ulterior object in view, each man speaks and acts and lives according to his character.

But falsehood in itself is vile and blamable; truth is noble and praiseworthy in itself.

And so the truthful man, as observing the mean, is praiseworthy, while the untruthful characters are both blamable, but the boastful more than the ironical.

Let us speak then of each of them, and first of the truthful character.

We must remember that we are not speaking of the man who tells the truth in matters of business, or in matters which come within the sphere of injustice and justice (for these matters would belong to another virtue); the man we are considering is the man who in cases where no such important issues are involved is truthful in his speech and in his life, because that is his character.

Such a man would seem to be a good man (ἐπιεικής). For he who loves truth, and is truthful where nothing depends upon it, will still more surely tell the truth where serious interests are involved; he will shun falsehood as a base thing here, seeing that he shunned it elsewhere, apart from any consequences: but such a man merits praise.

He inclines rather towards understatement than overstatement of the truth; and this seems to be the more suitable course, since all exaggeration is offensive.

On the other hand, he who pretends to more than he has with no ulterior object [the boaster proper] seems not to be a good character (for if he were he would not take pleasure in falsehood), but to be silly rather than bad.

But of boasters who have an ulterior object, he whose object is reputation or honour is not very severely censured (just as the boaster proper is not), but he whose object is money, or means of making money, is held in greater reproach.

But we must observe that what distinguishes the boaster proper from the other kinds of boasters, is not his faculty of boasting, but his preference for boasting: the boaster proper is a boaster by habit, and because that is his character; just as there is on the one hand the liar proper, who delights in falsehood itself, and on the other hand the liar who lies through desire of honour or gain.

Those who boast with a view to reputation pretend to those things for which a man is commended or is thought happy; those whose motive is gain pretend to those things which are of advantage to others, and whose absence may escape detection, e.g. to skill in magic or in medicine. And so it is usually something of this sort that men pretend to and boast of; for the conditions specified are realized in them.

Ironical people, on the other hand, with their depreciatory way of speaking of themselves, seem to be of a more refined character; for their motive in speaking thus seems to be not love of gain, but desire to avoid parade: but what they disclaim seems also85 to be especially that which men esteem⁠—of which Socrates was an instance.

But those who disclaim86 petty advantages which they evidently possess are called affected (βαυκοπανοῦργοι), and are more easily held in contempt. And sometimes this self-depreciation is scarcely distinguishable from boasting, as for instance dressing like a Spartan; for there is something boastful in extreme depreciation as well as in exaggeration.

But those who employ irony in moderation, and speak ironically in matters that are not too obvious and palpable, appear to be men of refinement.

Finally, the boaster seems to be especially the opposite of the truthful man; for he is worse than the ironical man.


Again, since relaxation is an element in our life, and one mode of relaxation is amusing conversation, it seems that in this respect also there is a proper way of mixing with others; i.e. that there are things that it is right to say, and a right way of saying them: and the same with hearing; though here also it will make a difference what kind of people they are in whose presence you are speaking, or to whom you are listening.

And it is plain that it is possible in these matters also to go beyond, or to fall short of, the mean.

Now, those who go to excess in ridicule seem to be buffoons and vulgar fellows, striving at all costs for a ridiculous effect, and bent rather on raising a laugh than on making their witticisms elegant and inoffensive to the subject of them. While those who will never say anything laughable themselves, and frown on those who do, are considered boorish and morose. But those who jest gracefully are called witty, or men of ready wit (εὐτράπελοι), as it were ready or versatile men.

For87 a man’s character seems to reveal itself in these sallies or playful movements, and so we judge of his moral constitution by them, as we judge of his body by its movements.

But through the prominence given to ridiculous things, and the excessive delight which most people take in amusement and jesting, the buffoon is often called witty because he gives delight. But that there is a difference, and a considerable difference, between the two is plain from what we have said.

An element in the character that observes the mean in these matters is tact. A man of tact will only say and listen to such things as it befits an honest man and a gentleman to say and listen to; for there are things that it is quite becoming for such a man to say and to listen to in the way of jest, and the jesting of a gentleman differs from that of a man of slavish nature, and the jesting of an educated from that of an uneducated man.

This one may see by the difference between the old comedy and the new: the fun of the earlier writers is obscenity, of the later innuendo; and there is no slight difference between the two as regards decency.

Can good jesting, then, be defined as making jests that befit a gentleman, or that do not pain the hearer, or that even give him pleasure? Nay, surely a jest that gives pleasure to the hearer is something quite indefinite, for different things are hateful and pleasant to different people.

But the things that he will listen to will be of the same sort [as those that he will say, whatever that be]: jests that a man can listen to he can, we think, make himself.

So then there are jests that he will not make [though we cannot exactly define them]; for to make a jest of a man is to vilify him in a way, and the law forbids certain kinds of vilification, and ought perhaps also to forbid certain kinds of jesting.

The refined and gentlemanly man, therefore, will thus regulate his wit, being as it were a law to himself.

This then is the character of him who observes the mean, whether we call him a man of tact or a man of ready wit.

The buffoon, on the other hand, cannot resist an opportunity for a joke, and, if he can but raise a laugh, will spare neither himself nor others, and will say things which no man of refinement would say, and some of which he would not even listen to.

The boor, lastly, is wholly useless for this kind of intercourse; he contributes nothing, and takes everything in ill part. And yet recreation and amusement seem to be necessary ingredients in our life.

In conclusion, then, the modes just described of observing the mean in social life are three in number,88 and all have to do with conversation or joint action of some kind: but they differ in that one has to do with truth, while the other two are concerned with what is pleasant; and of the two that are concerned with pleasure, one finds its field in our amusements, the other in all other kinds of social intercourse.


Shame (αἰδώς) cannot properly be spoken of as a virtue; for it is more like a feeling or emotion than a habit or trained faculty. At least, it is defined as a kind of fear of disgrace, and its effects are analogous to those of the fear that is excited by danger; for men blush when they are ashamed, while the fear of death makes them pale. Both then seem to be in a way physical, which is held to be a mark of a feeling or emotion, rather than of a habit or trained faculty.

Again, it is a feeling which is not becoming at all times of life, but only in youth; it is thought proper for young people to be ready to feel shame, because, as their conduct is guided by their emotions, they often are misled, but are restrained from wrong actions by shame.

And so we praise young men when they are ready to feel shame, but no one would praise a man of more advanced years for being apt to be ashamed; for we consider that he ought not to do anything which could make him ashamed of himself.

Indeed, shame is not the part of a good man, since it is occasioned by vile acts (for such acts should not be done: nor does it matter that some acts are really shameful, others shameful in public estimation only; for neither ought to be done, and so a man ought not to be ashamed); it is the part of a worthless man and the result89 of being such as to do something shameful.

But supposing a man’s character to be such that, if he were to do one of these shameful acts, he would be ashamed, it is absurd for him to fancy that he is a good man on that account; for shame is only felt at voluntary acts, and a good man will never voluntarily do vile acts.

At the utmost, shame would be hypothetically good; that is to say, supposing he were to do the act, a good man would be ashamed: but there is nothing hypothetical about the virtues.

Again, granting that it is bad to be shameless, or not to be ashamed to do shameful things, it does not therefore follow that it is good to do them and be ashamed of it.

Continence,90 in the same way, is not a virtue, but something between virtue and vice.

But we will explain this point about continence later;91 let us now treat of justice.