Page 29 of 87

The Mean man will be deficient in every case, and even where he has spent the most he will spoil the whole effect for want of some trifle; he is procrastinating in all he does, and contrives how he may spend the least, and does even that with lamentations about the expense, and thinking that he does all things on a greater scale than he ought.

Of course, both these states are faulty, but they do not involve disgrace because they are neither hurtful to others nor very unseemly.


The very name of Great-mindedness implies, that great things are its object-matter; and we will first settle what kind of things. It makes no difference, of course, whether we regard the moral state in the abstract or as exemplified in an individual.

1123b] Well then, he is thought to be Great-minded who values himself highly and at the same time justly, because he that does so without grounds is foolish, and no virtuous character is foolish or senseless. Well, the character I have described is Great-minded. The man who estimates himself lowly, and at the same time justly, is modest; but not Great-minded, since this latter quality implies greatness, just as beauty implies a large bodily conformation while small people are neat and well made but not beautiful.

Again, he who values himself highly without just grounds is a Vain man: though the name must not be applied to every case of unduly high self-estimation. He that values himself below his real worth is Small-minded, and whether that worth is great, moderate, or small, his own estimate falls below it. And he is the strongest case of this error who is really a man of great worth, for what would he have done had his worth been less?

The Great-minded man is then, as far as greatness is concerned, at the summit, but in respect of propriety he is in the mean, because he estimates himself at his real value (the other characters respectively are in excess and defect). Since then he justly estimates himself at a high, or rather at the highest possible rate, his character will have respect specially to one thing: this term “rate” has reference of course to external goods: and of these we should assume that to be the greatest which we attribute to the gods, and which is the special object of desire to those who are in power, and which is the prize proposed to the most honourable actions: now honour answers to these descriptions, being the greatest of external goods. So the Great-minded man bears himself as he ought in respect of honour and dishonour. In fact, without need of words, the Great-minded plainly have honour for their object-matter: since honour is what the great consider themselves specially worthy of, and according to a certain rate.

The Small-minded man is deficient, both as regards himself, and also as regards the estimation of the Great-minded: while the Vain man is in excess as regards himself, but does not get beyond the Great-minded man. Now the Great-minded man, being by the hypothesis worthy of the greatest things, must be of the highest excellence, since the better a man is the more is he worth, and he who is best is worth the most: it follows then, that to be truly Great-minded a man must be good, and whatever is great in each virtue would seem to belong to the Great-minded. It would no way correspond with the character of the Great-minded to flee spreading his hands all abroad; nor to injure any one; for with what object in view will he do what is base, in whose eyes nothing is great? in short, if one were to go into particulars, the Great-minded man would show quite ludicrously unless he were a good man: he would not be in fact deserving of honour if he were a bad man, honour being the prize of virtue and given to the good.

This virtue, then, of Great-mindedness seems to be a kind of ornament of all the other virtues, in that it makes them better and cannot be without them; and for this reason it is a hard matter to be really and truly Great-minded; for it cannot be without thorough goodness and nobleness of character.

124a] Honour then and dishonour are specially the object-matter of the Great-minded man: and at such as is great, and given by good men, he will be pleased moderately as getting his own, or perhaps somewhat less for no honour can be quite adequate to perfect virtue: but still he will accept this because they have nothing higher to give him. But such as is given by ordinary people and on trifling grounds he will entirely despise, because these do not come up to his deserts: and dishonour likewise, because in his case there cannot be just ground for it.

Now though, as I have said, honour is specially the object-matter of the Great-minded man, I do not mean but that likewise in respect of wealth and power, and good or bad fortune of every kind, he will bear himself with moderation, fall out how they may, and neither in prosperity will he be overjoyed nor in adversity will he be unduly pained. For not even in respect of honour does he so bear himself; and yet it is the greatest of all such objects, since it is the cause of power and wealth being choiceworthy, for certainly they who have them desire to receive honour through them. So to whom honour even is a small thing to him will all other things also be so; and this is why such men are thought to be supercilious.

It seems too that pieces of good fortune contribute to form this character of Great-mindedness: I mean, the nobly born, or men of influence, or the wealthy, are considered to be entitled to honour, for they are in a position of eminence and whatever is eminent by good is more entitled to honour: and this is why such circumstances dispose men rather to Great-mindedness, because they receive honour at the hands of some men.

Now really and truly the good man alone is entitled to honour; only if a man unites in himself goodness with these external advantages he is thought to be more entitled to honour: but they who have them without also having virtue are not justified in their high estimate of themselves, nor are they rightly denominated Great-minded; since perfect virtue is one of the indispensable conditions to such & character.

124b] Further, such men become supercilious and insolent, it not being easy to bear prosperity well without goodness; and not being able to bear it, and possessed with an idea of their own superiority to others, they despise them, and do just whatever their fancy prompts; for they mimic the Great-minded man, though they are not like him, and they do this in such points as they can, so without doing the actions which can only flow from real goodness they despise others. Whereas the Great-minded man despises on good grounds (for he forms his opinions truly), but the mass of men do it at random.

Moreover, he is not a man to incur little risks, nor does he court danger, because there are but few things he has a value for; but he will incur great dangers, and when he does venture he is prodigal of his life as knowing that there are terms on which it is not worth his while to live. He is the sort of man to do kindnesses, but he is ashamed to receive them; the former putting a man in the position of superiority, the latter in that of inferiority; accordingly he will greatly overpay any kindness done to him, because the original actor will thus be laid under obligation and be in the position of the party benefited. Such men seem likewise to remember those they have done kindnesses to, but not those from whom they have received them: because he who has received is inferior to him who has done the kindness and our friend wishes to be superior; accordingly he is pleased to hear of his own kind acts but not of those done to himself (and this is why, in Homer, Thetis does not mention to Jupiter the kindnesses she had done him, nor did the Lacedmonians to the Athenians but only the benefits they had received).

Free Learning Resources