Indulgence regarding Aristotle and words.
|According to Aristotle, “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” Now first and foremost, prior to deciphering the worthy content from Aristotle’s written perspective, we must tackle the concept of absolutes and diversity. I cannot prove for a fact that there are no absolutes, which in itself would require absolutes to exist, but I am of the stout opinion that there is no such thing as an intrinsic truth. Perhaps I ought to also acknowledge the potential that if no absolutes exist then the lack of absolutes in itself is only temporary or subjective and therefore some absolutes do or can exist. I would see fit to say that some people believe in absolutes and then for them they are true, but I cannot find a reasonable defense for absolutism because everyone indeed thinks differently. It’s not something as simple as differing political opinions which tells me there is no objective truth about the universe; it is the fact that everyone seems to literally experience the world in a legitimate and personal way. There are so many great thinkers and so many conflicting beliefs; if there was such a thing as any objectivity in philosophy, wouldn’t someone have figured it out by now? You may view that as a naïve question, but think about beliefs and how we arrive upon ours. It is more or less a given that everyone cultivates their own personal beliefs, whether they make them up alone or get them from a religion or philosopher. And when asked, “Where do we get truth from? How do we know when something is right?” many intellectuals will say that you know it’s true through looking inside yourself and feeling or reasoning an answer. If that is the method to find, obviously truth is subjective because everyone is getting from the depths of self and not from any preordained logic, because even logic is subjective when you use yourself as the principle reasoning tool. Whether Aristotle is correct or not is up for grabs, as every bold statement ever made is equally unreliable, but I will explain what I perceive as the quote’s meaning and the extent to which it is relevant inside of my close-minded, subjective worldview.
People are each subjective. Therefore they are unique, because being subjective creates deviations in action. Therefore, situations too are all unique because in each person different deviations exist and that will cause different unpredictable outcomes. So Aristotle’s claim that all of us will never respectively do anything if we do not have courage is exceedingly bold. Yet that is only when I take his statement, as I take most statements, as if it were a steadfast proclamation of utter, universal truth. This aspect of my thought process comes more from my desire to discover universal truth than it comes from any logical or reasonable outlook, because in fact it is not necessarily true that Aristotle was literally declaring no one could ever do anything without courage. I would argue that certainly there are people who can do things without courage. I find it inconceivable that there isn’t anything, even the slightest of accomplishments, which was accomplished by someone who at no point during the doing had courage. Of course for me to argue that I need to be aware of the potential outlook that doing anything at all requires courage and therefore it’s true that nothing has been done without courage. It could be said that taking any chance, even the risk of standing up or walking, is an action that requires some miniscule amount of boldness to complete. In that case nothing has been done without courage, but that perspective would somewhat moot the point of the quote in the first place because then it would also require courage to fail and do nothing, since you’d still require boldness to resolve not to do.
None of that matters. The fact is that Aristotle may have only said “nothing” has been done to provide emphasis to his concept, and inspire boldness in humans. As proven by the fact that The Dao De Jing is written as beautiful poetry, and that Plato’s Socratic Dialogues were written essentially in fiction stories, if it is not entirely essential (for Socrates himself never wrote) then it is at least vastly common of good philosophers to also be good writers and crafters of language. If Aristotle was to say “There are some things you can’t accomplish without courage,” maybe that would have been powerful, but blatantly it effects me much more to hear the direct notion that “You will never do anything in this world without courage.” Because of its extremity and finality, it sets a fire in my belly and makes me want to go out and be courageous for the sake of accomplishing things.
Regarding the second sentence of the quote, Aristotle is known for being a noble, faithful man. So it is no surprise that he would pick honor as the essential aspect of mind. But picking courage as second is intriguing, and I can dig what he’s saying. In our world there is a bureaucratic infrastructure in place which tells us all what we should not do, and that bureaucracy is called society. It is society that killed Socrates for challenging complacency. And it seeks to stifle us all. One wanting to accomplish something needs courage to stand against society and anyone who will stand against them.
The main question is to what extent is Aristotle’s assessment of life’s essential mindsets relevant. To me relevancy is decided by the extent to which it exists in people’s lives, and more basically put: whether people believe in it or not. It is not unlikely that Socrates would agree with Aristotle’s assessment of courage because he himself had to stand against tradition and be viciously confronted for his beliefs. Plus Socrates, believing in virtue, would perhaps accept honor as another of the mind’s crucial aspects. Yet, since he described living a well-examined life as the key to living a worthwhile life, he may or may not have specifically labeled honor and courage as the top two spots for mentality. Closer to the contemporary, wit/playwright Oscar Wilde might similarly rate courage highly because his professional demeanor was one of intense self-assurance and he was not a stranger to standing against society as he was in fact jailed for homosexuality.
Likewise, The Dao and Confucianism both include an extent of self-assurance in their faith, but discipline and courage are not necessarily the same and therefore courage may or may not have been rated highly by Lao Tzu and Confucius themselves. Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalia Lama, includes courage as one of the quintessential aspects of life. However, he said love is the quintessential aspect of existence, and discipline is second. “The proper utilization of our intelligence and knowledge is to effect changes from within to develop a good heart,” (Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama, The Art Of Happiness, 51). Rather than putting focus on personal power, the Dalia Lama stresses humbleness and ultimate understanding. But he admits that deep strength, conviction, and patience are required to achieve inner-peace, and certainly for a man who was exiled from his own country he would admit that courage is essential to success. In fact it is noted by Howard C. Cutler that surveys have claimed people who receive good fortune such as winning the lottery are less happy than people who receive tragedy such as disease. Perhaps going through tragedy causes an increase in courage that is necessary to survive, and that courage carries over into the rest of their lives.
It would be too much for me to ask that every great thinker in the world would think the same thing about courage. However, because there is no intrinsic truth in philosophy, the individual opinions of great thinkers could be exemplary of an idea’s overall “truth.” The closer it is to a majority agreement, the closer it is to being true. If no one person is correct then maybe truth is defined by whatever is believed by the most people.
Another strategy for discovering the validity of the statement we can use is to “work-shop” the idea via life experiences. Life is filled with timid people. In fact, even outlandish people such as I often consider themselves to be cripplingly shy in actuality, as I do. So by that notion, we could say that an awful lot of things in this world get done when according to Aristotle these timid people should not be accomplishing anything. So on the “human scale” (and by “human scale” I mean to say the verdict of whether what he said applies to the majority of people’s lives) he seems to be incorrect. But undeniably all of these timid, shy people desire to be courageous, and most people say that when they take courageous steps (such as asking for a raise at a job or asking for a date) it is a positive influence on their life. Even if they don’t get the raise or the date, taking a chance is usually considered to be a good life experience. Most people would choose to be more courageous if they could; I know I certainly would. So it seems that Aristotle is right that courage is one of the most important parts of the mind.
Yet I have stated why I believe that there is no such thing as an objective truth, and therefore what is “truth” to me is simply and wholly whatever I perceive as being accurate to my own worldview. Therefore to assess the importance of Aristotle’s statement I need only look into myself. And to me, I love philosophy but I pursue it solely to answer one direct question: What should I do? What should I do with my life, what should I do with myself, what should I do with my relationships, nothing and everything specific, just right now at this very moment what should I do? I cannot trust what people tell me to do because different people tell me to do different things. So I have to use a crude mixture of strict logic and sensual conceptualism to decipher what actions will result in favorable circumstances. The personal concept that I get out of Aristotle’s “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor,” is the suggestion that I cannot accomplish anything particularly worthwhile without courage. I question whether I could accomplish anything eternal in the first place, but I understand the importance in courage (or as I call it, “balls”) plays in doing great things. I consider it to be crucial to my existence so that I can have the strength to believe in myself and follow my steadfast concepts of truth in a world which undeniably will not agree with me about what is truly worthwhile. It is not for money that I strive but inner-peace, and it is not religion I cherish but mind and raw sensuality. So, in summary, I think Aristotle is right. Literally speaking I disagree with him, but the idea he is expressing is important to my survival.