Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics

Book IV


We will next speak of Liberality. Now this is thought to be the mean state, having for its object-matter Wealth: I mean, the Liberal man is praised not in the circumstances of war, nor in those which constitute the character of perfected self-mastery, nor again in judicial decisions, but in respect of giving and receiving Wealth, chiefly the former. By the term Wealth I mean "all those things whose worth is measured by money."

Now the states of excess and defect in regard of Wealth are respectively Prodigality and Stinginess: the latter of these terms we attach invariably to those who are over careful about Wealth, but the former we apply sometimes with a complex notion; that is to say, we give the name to those who fail of self-control and spend money on the unrestrained gratification of their passions; and this is why they are thought to be most base, because they have many vices at once.

[Sidenote: 1120a]

It must be noted, however, that this is not a strict and proper use of the term, since its natural etymological meaning is to denote him who has one particular evil, viz. the wasting his substance: he is unsaved (as the term literally denotes) who is wasting away by his own fault; and this he really may be said to be; the destruction of his substance is thought to be a kind of wasting of himself, since these things are the means of living. Well, this is our acceptation of the term Prodigality.

Again. Whatever things are for use may be used well or ill, and Wealth belongs to this class. He uses each particular thing best who has the virtue to whose province it belongs: so that he will use Wealth best who has the virtue respecting Wealth, that is to say, the Liberal man. Expenditure and giving are thought to be the using of money, but receiving and keeping one would rather call the possessing of it. And so the giving to proper persons is more characteristic of the Liberal man, than the receiving from proper quarters and forbearing to receive from the contrary. In fact generally, doing well by others is more characteristic of virtue than being done well by, and doing things positively honourable than forbearing to do things dishonourable; and any one may see that the doing well by others and doing things positively honourable attaches to the act of giving, but to that of receiving only the being done well by or forbearing to do what is dishonourable.

Besides, thanks are given to him who gives, not to him who merely forbears to receive, and praise even more. Again, forbearing to receive is easier than giving, the case of being too little freehanded with one's own being commoner than taking that which is not one's own.

And again, it is they who give that are denominated Liberal, while they who forbear to receive are commended, not on the score of Liberality but of just dealing, while for receiving men are not, in fact, praised at all.

And the Liberal are liked almost best of all virtuous characters, because they are profitable to others, and this their profitableness consists in their giving.

Furthermore: all the actions done in accordance with virtue are honourable, and done from the motive of honour: and the Liberal man, therefore, will give from a motive of honour, and will give rightly; I mean, to proper persons, in right proportion, at right times, and whatever is included in the term "right giving:" and this too with positive pleasure, or at least without pain, since whatever is done in accordance with virtue is pleasant or at least not unpleasant, most certainly not attended with positive pain.

But the man who gives to improper people, or not from a motive of honour but from some other cause, shall be called not Liberal but something else. Neither shall he be so [Sidenote:1120b] denominated who does it with pain: this being a sign that he would prefer his wealth to the honourable action, and this is no part of the Liberal man's character; neither will such an one receive from improper sources, because the so receiving is not characteristic of one who values not wealth: nor again will he be apt to ask, because one who does kindnesses to others does not usually receive them willingly; but from proper sources (his own property, for instance) he will receive, doing this not as honourable but as necessary, that he may have somewhat to give: neither will he be careless of his own, since it is his wish through these to help others in need: nor will he give to chance people, that he may have wherewith to give to those to whom he ought, at right times, and on occasions when it is honourable so to do.

Again, it is a trait in the Liberal man's character even to exceed very much in giving so as to leave too little for himself, it being characteristic of such an one not to have a thought of self.

Now Liberality is a term of relation to a man's means, for the Liberal-ness depends not on the amount of what is given but on the moral state of the giver which gives in proportion to his means. There is then no reason why he should not be the more Liberal man who gives the less amount, if he has less to give out of.

Again, they are thought to be more Liberal who have inherited, not acquired for themselves, their means; because, in the first place, they have never experienced want, and next, all people love most their own works, just as parents do and poets.

It is not easy for the Liberal man to be rich, since he is neither apt to receive nor to keep but to lavish, and values not wealth for its own sake but with a view to giving it away. Hence it is commonly charged upon fortune that they who most deserve to be rich are least so. Yet this happens reasonably enough; it is impossible he should have wealth who does not take any care to have it, just as in any similar case.

Yet he will not give to improper people, nor at wrong times, and so on: because he would not then be acting in accordance with Liberality, and if he spent upon such objects, would have nothing to spend on those on which he ought: for, as I have said before, he is Liberal who spends in proportion to his means, and on proper objects, while he who does so in excess is prodigal (this is the reason why we never call despots prodigal, because it does not seem to be easy for them by their gifts and expenditure to go beyond their immense possessions).

To sum up then. Since Liberality is a mean state in respect of the giving and receiving of wealth, the Liberal man will give and spend on proper objects, and in proper proportion, in great things and in small alike, and all this with pleasure to himself; also he will receive from right sources, and in right proportion: because, as the virtue is a mean state in respect of both, he will do both as he ought, and, in fact, upon proper giving follows the correspondent receiving, while that which is not such is contrary to it. (Now those which follow one another come to co-exist in the same person, those which are contraries plainly do not.)

[Sidenote:1121a] Again, should it happen to him to spend money beyond what is needful, or otherwise than is well, he will be vexed, but only moderately and as he ought; for feeling pleasure and pain at right objects, and in right manner, is a property of Virtue.

The Liberal man is also a good man to have for a partner in respect of wealth: for he can easily be wronged, since he values not wealth, and is more vexed at not spending where he ought to have done so than at spending where he ought not, and he relishes not the maxim of Simonides.

But the Prodigal man goes wrong also in these points, for he is neither pleased nor pained at proper objects or in proper manner, which will become more plain as we proceed. We have said already that Prodigality and Stinginess are respectively states of excess and defect, and this in two things, giving and receiving (expenditure of course we class under giving). Well now, Prodigality exceeds in giving and forbearing to receive and is deficient in receiving, while Stinginess is deficient in giving and exceeds in receiving, but it is in small things.

The two parts of Prodigality, to be sure, do not commonly go together; it is not easy, I mean, to give to all if you receive from none, because private individuals thus giving will soon find their means run short, and such are in fact thought to be prodigal. He that should combine both would seem to be no little superior to the Stingy man: for he may be easily cured, both by advancing in years, and also by the want of means, and he may come thus to the mean: he has, you see, already the 'facts' of the Liberal man, he gives and forbears to receive, only he does neither in right manner or well. So if he could be wrought upon by habituation in this respect, or change in any other way, he would be a real Liberal man, for he will give to those to whom he should, and will forbear to receive whence he ought not. This is the reason too why he is thought not to be low in moral character, because to exceed in giving and in forbearing to receive is no sign of badness or meanness, but only of folly.

[Sidenote:1121b] Well then, he who is Prodigal in this fashion is thought far superior to the Stingy man for the aforementioned reasons, and also because he does good to many, but the Stingy man to no one, not even to himself. But most Prodigals, as has been said, combine with their other faults that of receiving from improper sources, and on this point are Stingy: and they become grasping, because they wish to spend and cannot do this easily, since their means soon run short and they are necessitated to get from some other quarter; and then again, because they care not for what is honourable, they receive recklessly, and from all sources indifferently, because they desire to give but care not how or whence. And for this reason their givings are not Liberal, inasmuch as they are not honourable, nor purely disinterested, nor done in right fashion; but they oftentimes make those rich who should be poor, and to those who are quiet respectable kind of people they will give nothing, but to flatterers, or those who subserve their pleasures in any way, they will give much. And therefore most of them are utterly devoid of self-restraint; for as they are open-handed they are liberal in expenditure upon the unrestrained gratification of their passions, and turn off to their pleasures because they do not live with reference to what is honourable.

Thus then the Prodigal, if unguided, slides into these faults; but if he could get care bestowed on him he might come to the mean and to what is right.

Stinginess, on the contrary, is incurable: old age, for instance, and incapacity of any kind, is thought to make people Stingy; and it is more congenial to human nature than Prodigality, the mass of men being fond of money rather than apt to give: moreover it extends far and has many phases, the modes of stinginess being thought to be many. For as it consists of two things, defect of giving and excess of receiving, everybody does not have it entire, but it is sometimes divided, and one class of persons exceed in receiving, the other are deficient in giving. I mean those who are designated by such appellations as sparing, close-fisted, niggards, are all deficient in giving; but other men's property they neither desire nor are willing to receive, in some instances from a real moderation and shrinking from what is base.

There are some people whose motive, either supposed or alleged, for keeping their property is this, that they may never be driven to do anything dishonourable: to this class belongs the skinflint, and every one of similar character, so named from the excess of not-giving. Others again decline to receive their neighbour's goods from a motive of fear; their notion being that it is not easy to take other people's things yourself without their taking yours: so they are content neither to receive nor give.

[Sidenote:1122a] The other class again who are Stingy in respect of receiving exceed in that they receive anything from any source; such as they who work at illiberal employments, brothel keepers, and such-like, and usurers who lend small sums at large interest: for all these receive from improper sources, and improper amounts. Their common characteristic is base-gaining, since they all submit to disgrace for the sake of gain and that small; because those who receive great things neither whence they ought, nor what they ought (as for instance despots who sack cities and plunder temples), we denominate wicked, impious, and unjust, but not Stingy.

Now the dicer and bath-plunderer and the robber belong to the class of the Stingy, for they are given to base gain: both busy themselves and submit to disgrace for the sake of gain, and the one class incur the greatest dangers for the sake of their booty, while the others make gain of their friends to whom they ought to be giving.

So both classes, as wishing to make gain from improper sources, are given to base gain, and all such receivings are Stingy. And with good reason is Stinginess called the contrary of Liberality: both because it is a greater evil than Prodigality, and because men err rather in this direction than in that of the Prodigality which we have spoken of as properly and completely such.

Let this be considered as what we have to say respecting Liberality and the contrary vices.


Next in order would seem to come a dissertation on Magnificence, this being thought to be, like liberality, a virtue having for its object-matter Wealth; but it does not, like that, extend to all transactions in respect of Wealth, but only applies to such as are expensive, and in these circumstances it exceeds liberality in respect of magnitude, because it is (what the very name in Greek hints at) fitting expense on a large scale: this term is of course relative: I mean, the expenditure of equipping and commanding a trireme is not the same as that of giving a public spectacle: "fitting" of course also is relative to the individual, and the matter wherein and upon which he has to spend. And a man is not denominated Magnificent for spending as he should do in small or ordinary things, as, for instance,

"Oft to the wandering beggar did I give,"

but for doing so in great matters: that is to say, the Magnificent man is liberal, but the liberal is not thereby Magnificent. The falling short of such a state is called Meanness, the exceeding it Vulgar Profusion, Want of Taste, and so on; which are faulty, not because they are on an excessive scale in respect of right objects but, because they show off in improper objects, and in improper manner: of these we will speak presently. The Magnificent man is like a man of skill, because he can see what is fitting, and can spend largely in good taste; for, as we said at the commencement, [Sidenote: 1122b] the confirmed habit is determined by the separate acts of working, and by its object-matter.

Well, the expenses of the Magnificent man are great and fitting: such also are his works (because this secures the expenditure being not great merely, but befitting the work). So then the work is to be proportionate to the expense, and this again to the work, or even above it: and the Magnificent man will incur such expenses from the motive of honour, this being common to all the virtues, and besides he will do it with pleasure and lavishly; excessive accuracy in calculation being Mean. He will consider also how a thing may be done most beautifully and fittingly, rather, than for how much it may be done, and how at the least expense.

So the Magnificent man must be also a liberal man, because the liberal man will also spend what he ought, and in right manner: but it is the Great, that is to say tke large scale, which is distinctive of the Magnificent man, the object-matter of liberality being the same, and without spending more money than another man he will make the work more magnificent. I mean, the excellence of a possession and of a work is not the same: as a piece of property that thing is most valuable which is worth most, gold for instance; but as a work that which is great and beautiful, because the contemplation of such an object is admirable, and so is that which is Magnificent. So the excellence of a work is Magnificence on a large scale. There are cases of expenditure which we call honourable, such as are dedicatory offerings to the gods, and the furnishing their temples, and sacrifices, and in like manner everything that has reference to the Deity, and all such public matters as are objects of honourable ambition, as when men think in any case that it is their duty to furnish a chorus for the stage splendidly, or fit out and maintain a trireme, or give a general public feast.

Now in all these, as has been already stated, respect is had also to the rank and the means of the man who is doing them: because they should be proportionate to these, and befit not the work only but also the doer of the work. For this reason a poor man cannot be a Magnificent man, since he has not means wherewith to spend largely and yet becomingly; and if he attempts it he is a fool, inasmuch as it is out of proportion and contrary to propriety, whereas to be in accordance with virtue a thing must be done rightly.

Such expenditure is fitting moreover for those to whom such things previously belong, either through themselves or through their ancestors or people with whom they are connected, and to the high-born or people of high repute, and so on: because all these things imply greatness and reputation.

So then the Magnificent man is pretty much as I have described him, and Magnificence consists in such expenditures: because they are the greatest and most honourable: [Sidenote:1123a] and of private ones such as come but once for all, marriage to wit, and things of that kind; and any occasion which engages the interest of the community in general, or of those who are in power; and what concerns receiving and despatching strangers; and gifts, and repaying gifts: because the Magnificent man is not apt to spend upon himself but on the public good, and gifts are pretty much in the same case as dedicatory offerings.

It is characteristic also of the Magnificent man to furnish his house suitably to his wealth, for this also in a way reflects credit; and again, to spend rather upon such works as are of long duration, these being most honourable. And again, propriety in each case, because the same things are not suitable to gods and men, nor in a temple and a tomb. And again, in the case of expenditures, each must be great of its kind, and great expense on a great object is most magnificent, that is in any case what is great in these particular things.

There is a difference too between greatness of a work and greatness of expenditure: for instance, a very beautiful ball or cup is magnificent as a present to a child, while the price of it is small and almost mean. Therefore it is characteristic of the Magnificent man to do magnificently whatever he is about: for whatever is of this kind cannot be easily surpassed, and bears a proper proportion to the expenditure.

Such then is the Magnificent man.

The man who is in the state of excess, called one of Vulgar Profusion, is in excess because he spends improperly, as has been said. I mean in cases requiring small expenditure he lavishes much and shows off out of taste; giving his club a feast fit for a wedding-party, or if he has to furnish a chorus for a comedy, giving the actors purple to wear in the first scene, as did the Megarians. And all such things he will do, not with a view to that which is really honourable, but to display his wealth, and because he thinks he shall be admired for these things; and he will spend little where he ought to spend much, and much where he should spend little.

The Mean man will be deficient in every case, and even where he has spent the most he will spoil the whole effect for want of some trifle; he is procrastinating in all he does, and contrives how he may spend the least, and does even that with lamentations about the expense, and thinking that he does all things on a greater scale than he ought.

Of course, both these states are faulty, but they do not involve disgrace because they are neither hurtful to others nor very unseemly.


The very name of Great-mindedness implies, that great things are its object-matter; and we will first settle what kind of things. It makes no difference, of course, whether we regard the moral state in the abstract or as exemplified in an individual.

[Sidenote: 1123b] Well then, he is thought to be Great-minded who values himself highly and at the same time justly, because he that does so without grounds is foolish, and no virtuous character is foolish or senseless. Well, the character I have described is Great-minded. The man who estimates himself lowly, and at the same time justly, is modest; but not Great-minded, since this latter quality implies greatness, just as beauty implies a large bodily conformation while small people are neat and well made but not beautiful.

Again, he who values himself highly without just grounds is a Vain man: though the name must not be applied to every case of unduly high self-estimation. He that values himself below his real worth is Small-minded, and whether that worth is great, moderate, or small, his own estimate falls below it. And he is the strongest case of this error who is really a man of great worth, for what would he have done had his worth been less?

The Great-minded man is then, as far as greatness is concerned, at the summit, but in respect of propriety he is in the mean, because he estimates himself at his real value (the other characters respectively are in excess and defect). Since then he justly estimates himself at a high, or rather at the highest possible rate, his character will have respect specially to one thing: this term "rate" has reference of course to external goods: and of these we should assume that to be the greatest which we attribute to the gods, and which is the special object of desire to those who are in power, and which is the prize proposed to the most honourable actions: now honour answers to these descriptions, being the greatest of external goods. So the Great-minded man bears himself as he ought in respect of honour and dishonour. In fact, without need of words, the Great-minded plainly have honour for their object-matter: since honour is what the great consider themselves specially worthy of, and according to a certain rate.

The Small-minded man is deficient, both as regards himself, and also as regards the estimation of the Great-minded: while the Vain man is in excess as regards himself, but does not get beyond the Great-minded man. Now the Great-minded man, being by the hypothesis worthy of the greatest things, must be of the highest excellence, since the better a man is the more is he worth, and he who is best is worth the most: it follows then, that to be truly Great-minded a man must be good, and whatever is great in each virtue would seem to belong to the Great-minded. It would no way correspond with the character of the Great-minded to flee spreading his hands all abroad; nor to injure any one; for with what object in view will he do what is base, in whose eyes nothing is great? in short, if one were to go into particulars, the Great-minded man would show quite ludicrously unless he were a good man: he would not be in fact deserving of honour if he were a bad man, honour being the prize of virtue and given to the good.

This virtue, then, of Great-mindedness seems to be a kind of ornament of all the other virtues, in that it makes them better and cannot be without them; and for this reason it is a hard matter to be really and truly Great-minded; for it cannot be without thorough goodness and nobleness of character.

[Sidenote:1124a] Honour then and dishonour are specially the object-matter of the Great-minded man: and at such as is great, and given by good men, he will be pleased moderately as getting his own, or perhaps somewhat less for no honour can be quite adequate to perfect virtue: but still he will accept this because they have nothing higher to give him. But such as is given by ordinary people and on trifling grounds he will entirely despise, because these do not come up to his deserts: and dishonour likewise, because in his case there cannot be just ground for it.

Now though, as I have said, honour is specially the object-matter of the Great-minded man, I do not mean but that likewise in respect of wealth and power, and good or bad fortune of every kind, he will bear himself with moderation, fall out how they may, and neither in prosperity will he be overjoyed nor in adversity will he be unduly pained. For not even in respect of honour does he so bear himself; and yet it is the greatest of all such objects, since it is the cause of power and wealth being choiceworthy, for certainly they who have them desire to receive honour through them. So to whom honour even is a small thing to him will all other things also be so; and this is why such men are thought to be supercilious.

It seems too that pieces of good fortune contribute to form this character of Great-mindedness: I mean, the nobly born, or men of influence, or the wealthy, are considered to be entitled to honour, for they are in a position of eminence and whatever is eminent by good is more entitled to honour: and this is why such circumstances dispose men rather to Great-mindedness, because they receive honour at the hands of some men.

Now really and truly the good man alone is entitled to honour; only if a man unites in himself goodness with these external advantages he is thought to be more entitled to honour: but they who have them without also having virtue are not justified in their high estimate of themselves, nor are they rightly denominated Great-minded; since perfect virtue is one of the indispensable conditions to such & character.

[Sidenote:1124b] Further, such men become supercilious and insolent, it not being easy to bear prosperity well without goodness; and not being able to bear it, and possessed with an idea of their own superiority to others, they despise them, and do just whatever their fancy prompts; for they mimic the Great-minded man, though they are not like him, and they do this in such points as they can, so without doing the actions which can only flow from real goodness they despise others. Whereas the Great-minded man despises on good grounds (for he forms his opinions truly), but the mass of men do it at random.

Moreover, he is not a man to incur little risks, nor does he court danger, because there are but few things he has a value for; but he will incur great dangers, and when he does venture he is prodigal of his life as knowing that there are terms on which it is not worth his while to live. He is the sort of man to do kindnesses, but he is ashamed to receive them; the former putting a man in the position of superiority, the latter in that of inferiority; accordingly he will greatly overpay any kindness done to him, because the original actor will thus be laid under obligation and be in the position of the party benefited. Such men seem likewise to remember those they have done kindnesses to, but not those from whom they have received them: because he who has received is inferior to him who has done the kindness and our friend wishes to be superior; accordingly he is pleased to hear of his own kind acts but not of those done to himself (and this is why, in Homer, Thetis does not mention to Jupiter the kindnesses she had done him, nor did the Lacedæmonians to the Athenians but only the benefits they had received).

Further, it is characteristic of the Great-minded man to ask favours not at all, or very reluctantly, but to do a service very readily; and to bear himself loftily towards the great or fortunate, but towards people of middle station affably; because to be above the former is difficult and so a grand thing, but to be above the latter is easy; and to be high and mighty towards the former is not ignoble, but to do it towards those of humble station would be low and vulgar; it would be like parading strength against the weak.

And again, not to put himself in the way of honour, nor to go where others are the chief men; and to be remiss and dilatory, except in the case of some great honour or work; and to be concerned in few things, and those great and famous. It is a property of him also to be open, both in his dislikes and his likings, because concealment is a consequent of fear. Likewise to be careful for reality rather than appearance, and talk and act openly (for his contempt for others makes him a bold man, for which same reason he is apt to speak the truth, except where the principle of reserve comes in), but to be reserved towards the generality of men.

[Sidenote: II25a] And to be unable to live with reference to any other but a friend; because doing so is servile, as may be seen in that all flatterers are low and men in low estate are flatterers. Neither is his admiration easily excited, because nothing is great in his eyes; nor does he bear malice, since remembering anything, and specially wrongs, is no part of Great-mindedness, but rather overlooking them; nor does he talk of other men; in fact, he will not speak either of himself or of any other; he neither cares to be praised himself nor to have others blamed; nor again does he praise freely, and for this reason he is not apt to speak ill even of his enemies except to show contempt and insolence.

And he is by no means apt to make laments about things which cannot be helped, or requests about those which are trivial; because to be thus disposed with respect to these things is consequent only upon real anxiety about them. Again, he is the kind of man to acquire what is beautiful and unproductive rather than what is productive and profitable: this being rather the part of an independent man. Also slow motion, deep-toned voice, and deliberate style of speech, are thought to be characteristic of the Great-minded man: for he who is earnest about few things is not likely to be in a hurry, nor he who esteems nothing great to be very intent: and sharp tones and quickness are the result of these.

This then is my idea of the Great-minded man; and he who is in the defect is a Small-minded man, he who is in the excess a Vain man. However, as we observed in respect of the last character we discussed, these extremes are not thought to be vicious exactly, but only mistaken, for they do no harm.

The Small-minded man, for instance, being really worthy of good deprives himself of his deserts, and seems to have somewhat faulty from not having a sufficiently high estimate of his own desert, in fact from self-ignorance: because, but for this, he would have grasped after what he really is entitled to, and that is good. Still such characters are not thought to be foolish, but rather laggards. But the having such an opinion of themselves seems to have a deteriorating effect on the character: because in all cases men's aims are regulated by their supposed desert, and thus these men, under a notion of their own want of desert, stand aloof from honourable actions and courses, and similarly from external goods.

But the Vain are foolish and self-ignorant, and that palpably: because they attempt honourable things, as though they were worthy, and then they are detected. They also set themselves off, by dress, and carriage, and such-like things, and desire that their good circumstances may be seen, and they talk of them under the notion of receiving honour thereby. Small-mindedness rather than Vanity is opposed to Great-mindedness, because it is more commonly met with and is worse.

[Sidenote:1125b] Well, the virtue of Great-mindedness has for its object great Honour, as we have said: and there seems to be a virtue having Honour also for its object (as we stated in the former book), which may seem to bear to Great-mindedness the same relation that Liberality does to Magnificence: that is, both these virtues stand aloof from what is great but dispose us as we ought to be disposed towards moderate and small matters. Further: as in giving and receiving of wealth there is a mean state, an excess, and a defect, so likewise in grasping after Honour there is the more or less than is right, and also the doing so from right sources and in right manner.

For we blame the lover of Honour as aiming at Honour more than he ought, and from wrong sources; and him who is destitute of a love of Honour as not choosing to be honoured even for what is noble. Sometimes again we praise the lover of Honour as manly and having a love for what is noble, and him who has no love for it as being moderate and modest (as we noticed also in the former discussion of these virtues).

It is clear then that since "Lover of so and so" is a term capable of several meanings, we do not always denote the same quality by the term "Lover of Honour;" but when we use it as a term of commendation we denote more than the mass of men are; when for blame more than a man should be.

And the mean state having no proper name the extremes seem to dispute for it as unoccupied ground: but of course where there is excess and defect there must be also the mean. And in point of fact, men do grasp at Honour more than they should, and less, and sometimes just as they ought; for instance, this state is praised, being a mean state in regard of Honour, but without any appropriate name. Compared with what is called Ambition it shows like a want of love for Honour, and compared with this it shows like Ambition, or compared with both, like both faults: nor is this a singular case among the virtues. Here the extreme characters appear to be opposed, because the mean has no name appropriated to it.


Meekness is a mean state, having for its object-matter Anger: and as the character in the mean has no name, and we may almost say the same of the extremes, we give the name of Meekness (leaning rather to the defect, which has no name either) to the character in the mean.

The excess may be called an over-aptness to Anger: for the passion is Anger, and the producing causes many and various. Now he who is angry at what and with whom he ought, and further, in right manner and time, and for proper length of time, is praised, so this Man will be Meek since Meekness is praised. For the notion represented by the term Meek man is the being imperturbable, and not being led away by passion, but being angry in that manner, and at those things, and for that length of time, which Reason may direct. This character however is thought to err rather on [Sidenote:1126a] the side of defect, inasmuch as he is not apt to take revenge but rather to make allowances and forgive. And the defect, call it Angerlessness or what you will, is blamed: I mean, they who are not angry at things at which they ought to be angry are thought to be foolish, and they who are angry not in right manner, nor in right time, nor with those with whom they ought; for a man who labours under this defect is thought to have no perception, nor to be pained, and to have no tendency to avenge himself, inasmuch as he feels no anger: now to bear with scurrility in one's own person, and patiently see one's own friends suffer it, is a slavish thing.

As for the excess, it occurs in all forms; men are angry with those with whom, and at things with which, they ought not to be, and more than they ought, and too hastily, and for too great a length of time. I do not mean, however, that these are combined in any one person: that would in fact be impossible, because the evil destroys itself, and if it is developed in its full force it becomes unbearable.

Now those whom we term the Passionate are soon angry, and with people with whom and at things at which they ought not, and in an excessive degree, but they soon cool again, which is the best point about them. And this results from their not repressing their anger, but repaying their enemies (in that they show their feeings by reason of their vehemence), and then they have done with it.

The Choleric again are excessively vehement, and are angry at everything, and on every occasion; whence comes their Greek name signifying that their choler lies high.

The Bitter-tempered are hard to reconcile and keep their anger for a long while, because they repress the feeling: but when they have revenged themselves then comes a lull; for the vengeance destroys their anger by producing pleasure in lieu of pain. But if this does not happen they keep the weight on their minds: because, as it does not show itself, no one attempts to reason it away, and digesting anger within one's self takes time. Such men are very great nuisances to themselves and to their best friends.

Again, we call those Cross-grained who are angry at wrong objects, and in excessive degree, and for too long a time, and who are not appeased without vengeance or at least punishing the offender.

To Meekness we oppose the excess rather than the defect, because it is of more common occurrence: for human nature is more disposed to take than to forgo revenge. And the Cross-grained are worse to live with [than they who are too phlegmatic].

Now, from what has been here said, that is also plain which was said before. I mean, it is no easy matter to define how, and with what persons, and at what kind of things, and how long one ought to be angry, and up to what point a person is right or is wrong. For he that transgresses the strict rule only a little, whether on the side of too much or too little, is not blamed: sometimes we praise those who [Sidenote:1126b] are deficient in the feeling and call them Meek, sometimes we call the irritable Spirited as being well qualified for government. So it is not easy to lay down, in so many words, for what degree or kind of transgression a man is blameable: because the decision is in particulars, and rests therefore with the Moral Sense. Thus much, however, is plain, that the mean state is praiseworthy, in virtue of which we are angry with those with whom, and at those things with which, we ought to be angry, and in right manner, and so on; while the excesses and defects are blameable, slightly so if only slight, more so if greater, and when considerable very blameable.

It is clear, therefore, that the mean state is what we are to hold to.

This then is to be taken as our account of the various moral states which have Anger for their object-matter.


Next, as regards social intercourse and interchange of words and acts, some men are thought to be Over-Complaisant who, with a view solely to giving pleasure, agree to everything and never oppose, but think their line is to give no pain to those they are thrown amongst: they, on the other hand, are called Cross and Contentious who take exactly the contrary line to these, and oppose in everything, and have no care at all whether they give pain or not.

Now it is quite clear of course, that the states I have named are blameable, and that the mean between them is praiseworthy, in virtue of which a man will let pass what he ought as he ought, and also will object in like manner. However, this state has no name appropriated, but it is most like Friendship; since the man who exhibits it is just the kind of man whom we would call the amiable friend, with the addition of strong earnest affection; but then this is the very point in which it differs from Friendship, that it is quite independent of any feeling or strong affection for those among whom the man mixes: I mean, that he takes everything as he ought, not from any feeling of love or hatred, but simply because his natural disposition leads him to do so; he will do it alike to those whom he does know and those whom he does not, and those with whom he is intimate and those with whom he is not; only in each case as propriety requires, because it is not fitting to care alike for intimates and strangers, nor again to pain them alike.

It has been stated in a general way that his social intercourse will be regulated by propriety, and his aim will be to avoid giving pain and to contribute to pleasure, but with a constant reference to what is noble and expedient.

His proper object-matter seems to be the pleasures and pains which arise out of social intercourse, but whenever it is not honourable or even hurtful to him to contribute to pleasure, in these instances he will run counter and prefer to give pain.

Or if the things in question involve unseemliness to the doer, and this not inconsiderable, or any harm, whereas his opposition will cause some little pain, here he will not agree but will run counter.

[Sidenote:1127a] Again, he will regulate differently his intercourse with great men and with ordinary men, and with all people according to the knowledge he has of them; and in like manner, taking in any other differences which may exist, giving to each his due, and in itself preferring to give pleasure and cautious not to give pain, but still guided by the results, I mean by what is noble and expedient according as they preponderate.

Again, he will inflict trifling pain with a view to consequent pleasure.

Well, the man bearing the mean character is pretty well such as I have described him, but he has no name appropriated to him: of those who try to give pleasure, the man who simply and disinterestedly tries to be agreeable is called Over-Complaisant, he who does it with a view to secure some profit in the way of wealth, or those things which wealth may procure, is a Flatterer: I have said before, that the man who is "always non-content" is Cross and Contentious. Here the extremes have the appearance of being opposed to one another, because the mean has no appropriate name.


The mean state which steers clear of Exaggeration has pretty much the same object-matter as the last we described, and likewise has no name appropriated to it. Still it may be as well to go over these states: because, in the first place, by a particular discussion of each we shall be better acquainted with the general subject of moral character, and next we shall be the more convinced that the virtues are mean states by seeing that this is universally the case.

In respect then of living in society, those who carry on this intercourse with a view to pleasure and pain have been already spoken of; we will now go on to speak of those who are True or False, alike in their words and deeds and in the claims which they advance.

Now the Exaggerator is thought to have a tendency to lay claim to things reflecting credit on him, both when they do not belong to him at all and also in greater degree than that in which they really do: whereas the Reserved man, on the contrary, denies those which really belong to him or else depreciates them, while the mean character being a Plain-matter-of-fact person is Truthful in life and word, admitting the existence of what does really belong to him and making it neither greater nor less than the truth.

It is possible of course to take any of these lines either with or without some further view: but in general men speak, and act, and live, each according to his particular character and disposition, unless indeed a man is acting from any special motive.

Now since falsehood is in itself low and blameable, while truth is noble and praiseworthy, it follows that the Truthful man (who is also in the mean) is praiseworthy, and the two who depart from strict truth are both blameable, but especially the Exaggerator.

We will now speak of each, and first of the Truthful man: I call him Truthful, because we are not now meaning the man who is true in his agreements nor in such matters as amount to justice or injustice (this would come within the [Sidenote:1127b] province of a different virtue), but, in such as do not involve any such serious difference as this, the man we are describing is true in life and word simply because he is in a certain moral state.

And he that is such must be judged to be a good man: for he that has a love for Truth as such, and is guided by it in matters indifferent, will be so likewise even more in such as are not indifferent; for surely he will have a dread of falsehood as base, since he shunned it even in itself: and he that is of such a character is praiseworthy, yet he leans rather to that which is below the truth, this having an appearance of being in better taste because exaggerations are so annoying.

As for the man who lays claim to things above what really belongs to him 'without' any special motive, he is like a base man because he would not otherwise have taken pleasure in falsehood, but he shows as a fool rather than as a knave. But if a man does this 'with' a special motive, suppose for honour or glory, as the Braggart does, then he is not so very blameworthy, but if, directly or indirectly, for pecuniary considerations, he is more unseemly.

Now the Braggart is such not by his power but by his purpose, that is to say, in virtue of his moral state, and because he is a man of a certain kind; just as there are liars who take pleasure in falsehood for its own sake while others lie from a desire of glory or gain. They who exaggerate with a view to glory pretend to such qualities as are followed by praise or highest congratulation; they who do it with a view to gain assume those which their neighbours can avail themselves of, and the absence of which can be concealed, as a man's being a skilful soothsayer or physician; and accordingly most men pretend to such things and exaggerate in this direction, because the faults I have mentioned are in them.

The Reserved, who depreciate their own qualities, have the appearance of being more refined in their characters, because they are not thought to speak with a view to gain but to avoid grandeur: one very common trait in such characters is their denying common current opinions, as Socrates used to do. There are people who lay claim falsely to small things and things the falsity of their pretensions to which is obvious; these are called Factotums and are very despicable.

This very Reserve sometimes shows like Exaggeration; take, for instance, the excessive plainness of dress affected by the Lacedaemonians: in fact, both excess and the extreme of deficiency partake of the nature of Exaggeration. But they who practise Reserve in moderation, and in cases in which the truth is not very obvious and plain, give an impression of refinement. Here it is the Exaggerator (as being the worst character) who appears to be opposed to the Truthful Man.


[Sidenote:II28a] Next, as life has its pauses and in them admits of pastime combined with Jocularity, it is thought that in this respect also there is a kind of fitting intercourse, and that rules may be prescribed as to the kind of things one should say and the manner of saying them; and in respect of hearing likewise (and there will be a difference between the saying and hearing such and such things). It is plain that in regard to these things also there will be an excess and defect and a mean.

Now they who exceed in the ridiculous are judged to be Buffoons and Vulgar, catching at it in any and every way and at any cost, and aiming rather at raising laughter than at saying what is seemly and at avoiding to pain the object of their wit. They, on the other hand, who would not for the world make a joke themselves and are displeased with such as do are thought to be Clownish and Stern. But they who are Jocular in good taste are denominated by a Greek term expressing properly ease of movement, because such are thought to be, as one may say, motions of the moral character; and as bodies are judged of by their motions so too are moral characters.

Now as the ridiculous lies on the surface, and the majority of men take more pleasure than they ought in Jocularity and Jesting, the Buffoons too get this name of Easy Pleasantry, as if refined and gentlemanlike; but that they differ from these, and considerably too, is plain from what has been said.

One quality which belongs to the mean state is Tact: it is characteristic of a man of Tact to say and listen to such things as are fit for a good man and a gentleman to say and listen to: for there are things which are becoming for such a one to say and listen to in the way of Jocularity, and there is a difference between the Jocularity of the Gentleman and that of the Vulgarian; and again, between that of the educated and uneducated man. This you may see from a comparison of the Old and New Comedy: in the former obscene talk made the fun; in the latter it is rather innuendo: and this is no slight difference 'as regards decency'.

Well then, are we to characterise him who jests well by his saying what is becoming a gentleman, or by his avoiding to pain the object of his wit, or even by his giving him pleasure? or will not such a definition be vague, since different things are hateful and pleasant to different men?

Be this as it may, whatever he says such things will he also listen to, since it is commonly held that a man will do what he will bear to hear: this must, however, be limited; a man will not do quite all that he will hear: because jesting is a species of scurrility and there are some points of scurrility forbidden by law; it may be certain points of jesting should have been also so forbidden. So then the refined and gentlemanlike man will bear himself thus as being a law to himself. Such is the mean character, whether denominated the man of Tact or of Easy Pleasantry.

But the Buffoon cannot resist the ridiculous, sparing neither himself nor any one else so that he can but raise his laugh, saying things of such kind as no man of refinement would say and some which he would not even tolerate if said by others in his hearing. [Sidenote:1128b] The Clownish man is for such intercourse wholly useless: inasmuch as contributing nothing jocose of his own he is savage with all who do.

Yet some pause and amusement in life are generally judged to be indispensable.

The three mean states which have been described do occur in life, and the object-matter of all is interchange of words and deeds. They differ, in that one of them is concerned with truth, and the other two with the pleasurable: and of these two again, the one is conversant with the jocosities of life, the other with all other points of social intercourse.


To speak of Shame as a Virtue is incorrect, because it is much more like a feeling than a moral state. It is defined, we know, to be "a kind of fear of disgrace," and its effects are similar to those of the fear of danger, for they who feel Shame grow red and they who fear death turn pale. So both are evidently in a way physical, which is thought to be a mark of a feeling rather than a moral state.

Moreover, it is a feeling not suitable to every age, but only to youth: we do think that the young should be Shamefaced, because since they live at the beck and call of passion they do much that is wrong and Shame acts on them as a check. In fact, we praise such young men as are Shamefaced, but no one would ever praise an old man for being given to it, inasmuch as we hold that he ought not to do things which cause Shame; for Shame, since it arises at low bad actions, does not at all belong to the good man, because such ought not to be done at all: nor does it make any difference to allege that some things are disgraceful really, others only because they are thought so; for neither should be done, so that a man ought not to be in the position of feeling Shame. In truth, to be such a man as to do anything disgraceful is the part of a faulty character. And for a man to be such that he would feel Shame if he should do anything disgraceful, and to think that this constitutes him a good man, is absurd: because Shame is felt at voluntary actions only, and a good man will never voluntarily do what is base.

True it is, that Shame may be good on a certain supposition, as "if a man should do such things, he would feel Shame:" but then the Virtues are good in themselves, and not merely in supposed cases. And, granted that impudence and the not being ashamed to do what is disgraceful is base, it does not the more follow that it is good for a man to do such things and feel Shame.

Nor is Self-Control properly a Virtue, but a kind of mixed state: however, all about this shall be set forth in a future Book.