Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Greatness of Soul

Here’s a comment I got on the thread below:

A quick and obvious point in light of the discussion on No Left
Turns: Aristotle’s treatment of the magnanimous man in the Ethics for
the most part oscillates between a report of what he thinks of himself
and what other non-magnanimous men say about him. Unlike the discussion
of Socrates’ magnanimity in the Posterior Analytics, Aristotle here
largely treats magnanimity from the perspective of the city and hence
political life. I agree with you that as Aristotle tends to present him
in the Ethics, the magnanimous man is the paradigmatic example of the
overly stuffed shirt-he thinks (and others think he thinks) that nothing
is greater than himself and that no one can perform the great deeds he
can. For this reason, he is "slow to act and procrastinates, except
when some great honor is at stake; his actions are few but they are
great and distinguished"-interestingly in this last statement Aristotle
speaks in his own name. As you point out, the magnanimous man tends to
think about himself in abstraction from everyone else; this explains his
belief in his own self-sufficiency. And as you also note, this is most
obviously the case in his indifference or unwillingness to wonder and
our related need for love and friendship. Yet, to me, Aristotle
presents the magnanimous man as being aware of a chink in his armor; in
particular he seems to have nagging doubts and perhaps a begrudging
recognition of his greatness resting on others. To the extent that he
thinks in terms of great political actions, the magnanimous man must on
some level recognize that he is dependent on the city and its
citizens-at least in terms of it providing opportunities-for his
actions. His estimation of himself rests in part on his, to be sure,
unstated recognition that he must live with other men in order to act
magnanimously and in order to be honored as magnanimous. One cannot
really think of himself as a magnanimous man if he lives alone or among
a small group of human beings. Rather, he needs the venue on which his
"great and distinguished" actions can be performed and put on display.
This also raises the related problem of potential frustrations that
would nag a man who thinks he may be magnanimous: what if one lives at a
time when "great and distinguished" actions are not needed or called
for-this obviously gets expressed in your criticism of the end of
history thesis. But apart from the fictive and undesirable nature of an
end of history, it may well be the case that the greatest external
impediment to magnanimity is the failure of a human being to live in
truly interesting-hence humanly fertile-times.

Discussions - 2 Comments

You know, 'some great honor' means something as pathetic as something slighting you by an epithet.

I meant ...

You know, 'some great honor' can mean something as pathetic as someone slighting you by an epithet.

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