Courage: a Modern Look at an Ancient Virtue
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The purpose of this article is twofold: to demystify the ancient concept of courage, making it more palpable for the modern reader, and to suggest the reasonably specific constraints that would restrict the contemporary tendency of indiscriminate attribution of this virtue. The discussion of courage will incorporate both the classical interpretations of this trait of character, and the empirical studies into the complex relation between the emotion of fear and behavior. The Aristotelian thesis that courage consists in overcoming the fear of significant harm for a worthy cause will be further developed by exploring its relevance for military professionals today. Specific criteria will be offered in order to restrict the application of the term ‘courageous’ to a certain type of action, as well as to demarcate this virtue from the related vices, such as recklessness. The normative aspect of our study aims to make sense of what could qualify as a worthy goal of a fearless action in the modern world. It will be argued that a courageous agent aims at alleviating or preventing harm for others in a situation of potential risk for the agent himself, while respecting the factual conditions that determine the probability of success.