Magnanimity (literally, "greatness of soul") seems even
from its name to be concerned with great things. What sort of great
things is the first question we must try to answer. It makes no
difference whether we consider the state of character or the individual
characterized by it.
Now one is thought to be magnanimous who thinks himself
worthy of great things, when he is worthy of them. He who does so
beyond his deserts is a fool, but no virtuous man is foolish or
silly. The magnanimous person, then, is the one we have described.
For he who is worthy of little and thinks himself worthy of little
is moderate, but not magnanimous; for magnanimity implies greatness,
as beauty of body implies size. Small people may be neat and well-proportioned
but cannot be beautiful.
On the other hand, he who thinks himself worthy of
great things, being unworthy of them, is vain; though not every
one who thinks himself worthy of more than he really is worthy of
is vain. The one who thinks himself worthy of less than he is really
worthy of is small-souled, whether his deserts be great or moderate,
or his deserts be small but his claims yet smaller. And the man
whose deserts are great would seem most small-souled; for what would
he have done if they had been less?
The magnanimous person, then, is an extreme in respect
of the greatness of his claims, but a mean in respect of the rightness
of them; for he claims what is accordance with his merits, while
the others go to excess or fall short.
If, then, he deserves and claims great things, and
indeed the greatest things, he will be concerned with one thing
in particular. Desert is relative to external goods; and the greatest
of these, we should say, is that which we render to the gods, and
which people of position most aim at, and which is the prize appointed
for the noblest deeds. This is honor; which is surely the greatest
of external goods. The magnanimous individual is therefore the one
who has the right disposition with respect to honors and dishonors.
And even apart from argument it is with honor that the magnanimous
appear to be concerned; for it is honor that they chiefly claim,
but in accordance with their deserts.
The small-souled individual falls short both in comparison
with his own merits and in comparison with the magnanimous individual's
claims. The vain person goes to excess in comparison with his own
merits, but does not exceed the magnanimous individual's claims.
Now the magnanimous individual, since he deserves
most, must be good in the highest degree; for the better always
deserves more, and the best the most. Therefore the truly magnanimous
individual must be good. And greatness in every virtue would seem
to be characteristic of a magnanimous individual. And it would be
most unbecoming for a magnanimous person 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?
If we consider him point by point we shall see the
utter absurdity of a magnanimous person who is not good. Nor, again,
would he be worthy of honor if he were bad; for honor is the prize
of virtue, and it is to the good that it is rendered. Magnanimity,
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 magnanimous; for it is impossible without nobility and
goodness of character.
It is chiefly with honors and dishonors, then, that
the magnanimous person is concerned; and at honors that are great
and conferred by good people he will be moderately pleased, thinking
that he is coming by his own or even less than his own; for there
can be no honor that is worthy of perfect virtue, yet he will at
any rate accept it since they have nothing greater to bestow on
him. Honor from casual people and on trifling grounds he will utterly
despise, since it is not this that he deserves. He will also despise
dishonor, since in his case it cannot be just.
In the first place, then, as has been said, the magnanimous
individual is concerned with honors; yet he will also bear himself
with due measure towards wealth and power and all good or evil fortune,
whatever may befall him, and will be neither over-joyed by good
fortune nor over-pained by evil. For not even towards honor does
he bear himself as if it were a very great thing. Power and wealth
are desirable for the sake of honor (at least those who have them
wish to get honor by means of them); and for him to whom even honor
is a little thing the others must be so too. Hence magnanimous persons
are thought to be disdainful.
The goods of fortune also are thought to contribute
towards magnanimity. For those who are well-born are thought worthy
of honor, and so are those who enjoy power or wealth; for they are
in a superior position, and everything that has a superiority in
something good is held in greater honor. Hence even such things
make individuals more magnanimous; for they are honored by some
for having them; but in truth the good individual alone is to be
honored; he, however, who has both advantages is thought the more
worthy of honor. But those who without virtue have such goods are
neither justified in making great claims nor entitled to the name
of "magnanimous"; for these things imply perfect virtue.
Those who have such goods without virtue become disdainful and insolent.
For without virtue it is not easy to bear gracefully the goods of
fortune; and, being unable to bear them, and thinking themselves
superior to others, they despise others and themselves do what they
please. They imitate the magnanimous individual without being like
him, and this they do where they can; so they do not act virtuously,
but they do despise others. For the magnanimous individual despises
justly (since he thinks truly), but the many do so at random.
He does not run into trifling dangers, nor is he fond
of danger, because he honors few things; 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 person to confer benefits, but he is ashamed of
receiving them; for the one is the mark of a superior, the other
of an inferior. And he is apt to confer greater benefits in return;
for thus the original benefactor besides being paid will incur a
debt to him, and will be the gainer by the transaction.
Magnanimous people seem also to remember any service
they have done, but not those they have received (for he who receives
a service is inferior to him who has done it, but the magnanimous
person wishes to be superior), and to hear of the former with pleasure,
of the latter with displeasure; this, it seems, is why Thetis did
not mention to Zeus the services she had done him, and why the Spartans
did not recount their services to the Athenians, but those they
It is a mark of the magnanimous person also to ask
for nothing or scarcely anything, but to give help readily, and
to be dignified towards people who enjoy high position and good
fortune, 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.
Again, it is characteristic of the magnanimous person
not to aim at the things commonly held in honor, or the things in
which others excel; to be sluggish and to hold back except where
great honor or a great work is at stake, and to be a person of few
deeds, but of great and notable ones.
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 will think, is a coward's part), and must speak and
act openly; for he is free of speech because he is contemptuous,
and he is given to telling the truth, except when he speaks in irony
to the vulgar.
He must be unable to make his life revolve round another,
unless it be a friend; for this is slavish, and for this reason
all flatterers are servile and people lacking in self-respect are
flatterers. Nor is he given to admiration; for nothing to him is
Nor is he mindful of wrongs; for it is not the part
of a magnanimous person to have a long memory, especially for wrongs,
but rather to overlook them. 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 again is he given to praise;
and for the same reason he is not an evil-speaker, even about his
enemies, except from haughtiness. With regard to necessary or small
matters he is least of all me given to lamentation or the asking
of favors; for it is the part of one who takes such matters seriously
to behave so with respect to them.
He is one who will possess beautiful and profitless
things rather than profitable and useful ones; for this is more
proper to a character that is self-sufficient.
Further, a slow step is thought proper to the magnanimous
individual, a deep voice, and a level utterance; for the one who
takes few things seriously is not likely to be hurried, nor the
one who thinks nothing great to be excited, while a shrill voice
and a rapid gait are the results of hurry and excitement.
Such, then, is the magnanimous person; the one who falls short of
him is small-souled, and the one who goes beyond him is vain. Now
even these are not thought to be bad (for they are not malicious),
but only mistaken. For those of small soul, being worthy of good
things, robs himself of what he deserves, and to have something
bad about him from the fact that he does not think himself worthy
of good things, and seems also not to know himself; else he would
have desired the things he was worthy of, since these were good.
Yet such people are not thought to be fools, but rather unduly retiring.
Such a reputation, however, seems actually to make them worse; for
each class of people aims at what corresponds to its worth, and
these people stand back even from noble actions and undertakings,
deeming themselves unworthy, and from external goods no less.
Vain people, on the other hand, are fools and ignorant
of themselves, and that manifestly; for, not being worthy of them,
they attempt honorable undertakings, and then are found out; and
they adorn themselves with clothing and outward show and such things,
and wish their strokes of good fortune to be made public, and speak
about them as if they would be honored for them.
But smallness of soul is more opposed to magnanimity
than vanity is; for it is both commoner and worse.
Magnanimity, then, is concerned with honor on the
grand scale, as has been said.