What do you fear?

What makes a courageous man courageous? We had this conversation in the Plato class, and it split us down the line. It centered around the fear drink from the laws, where The Athenian says it would, after enough, send the most courageous man into “absolute terror”. I’m drawn to a particular reading of this dialogue. There is a model of temptation and giving in to that temptation throughout the dialogue. It seems to me that the courageous man is courageous because he feels the same fear that all of us do, but he does not give in to that fear. The cowardly man lets his fear control him. My professor took an Aristotelian approach, claiming that the courageous man is afraid of what he should be afraid of. That is, even the absolutely courageous man will be rightly afraid at a certain point, whereas he will not be afraid of what the cowardly man fears.

I think Plato is always framing this temptation model in his dialogues. Though I see the appeal of the Aristotelian model here, I’m not convinced it’s what Plato had in mind. The Aristotelian models robs the person (it seems to me) of the struggle in temptation. The courageous man is courageous because he has a particular strength, a strength to overcome the temptations presented to him. He battles with himself and wins. The other model seems to make the courageous person a well trained robot. It’s just that he doesn’t get scared. There is no battle overcome, no war won internally. It just is so. It may be that I’m giving Aristotle an uncharitable reading, but this seemed to be the reading my professor gave me.

The laws, at their heart, are not about politics. They are about people and their internal struggle. Looking at it any other way is misleading.

~ by Barky on September 25, 2011.

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