Aristotle on Pride (Megalopsuchia)


From the Nichomachean Ethics, Book IV, §3

350B.C.
(Translated by W. D. Ross)

 

‘[G]reatness in every virtue would seem to be characteristic of the proud man. And it would be most unbecoming for the proud man to fly from danger, swinging his arms by his sides, or to wrong another; for to what end should he do disgraceful acts, he to whom nothing is great? … pride, then, seems to be a sort of crown of the virtues; for it makes them greater, and it is not found without them. Therefore it is hard to be truly proud; for it is impossible without nobility and goodness of character.

 

It is chiefly with honours and dishonours, then, that the proud man is concerned; and at honours that are great and conferred by good men he will be moderately pleased … but honour from casual people and on trifling grounds he will utterly despise, since it is not this that he deserves, and dishonour too, since in his case it cannot be just … The proud man does not run into trifling dangers … but he will face great dangers, and when he is in danger he is unsparing of his life, knowing that there are conditions on which life is not worth having.

 

And he is the sort of man to confer benefits, but he is ashamed of receiving them; for the first is the mark of a superior, the second of an inferior. And he is apt to confer great benefits in return; for thus the original benefactor besides being repaid will incur a debt to him. … It is the mark of the proud man to ask for nothing or scarcely anything, but to give help readily, and to be dignified towards people who enjoy a high position but unassuming towards those of the middle class; for it is a difficult and lofty thing to be superior to the former, but easy to be so to the latter, and a lofty bearing over the former is no mark of ill-breeding, but among humble people it is as vulgar as a display of strength  against the weak …

 

He must also be open in his hate and in his love, for to conceal one’s feelings, i.e. to care less for truth than for what people think, is a coward’s part … Nor is he given to admiration, for to him nothing is great … Nor is he a gossip; for he will speak neither about himself nor about another, since he cares not to be praised nor for others to be blamed. Nor is he given to praising people. Hence he does not speak evil even of his enemies, except [when he responds to their] wanton aggression.

 

He especially avoids laments or entreaties about necessities or small matters, since these attitudes are proper to someone who takes these things seriously…

 

The proud man seems to have slow movements, a deep voice and calm speech. For since he takes few things seriously, he is in no hurry, and since he counts nothing great, he is not strident; and these are the causes of a shrill voice and hasty movements.

 

Such, then, is the proud man; the man who falls short of him is unduly humble, and the man who goes beyond him is vain.’

 

Interestingly, Bertrand Russell quoted the above passage in his History of Western Philosophy, remarked that
'One shudders to think what a vain man would be like.'

Russell also prefaced the quotation with this:
'The description of the proud or magnanimous man is very interesting as showing the difference between pagan and Christian ethics, and the
sense in which Nietzsche was justified in regarding Christianity as a slave morality.'

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