Souls great and small: Aristotle on self-knowledge, friendship and civic engagement

Stern-Gillet, Suzanne ORCID: 0000-0002-4672-8633 (2014) Souls great and small: Aristotle on self-knowledge, friendship and civic engagement. In: Stern-Gillet, Suzanne and Gurtler, Gary M., (eds.) Ancient and Medieval concepts of Friendship. State University of New York Press, Albany, pp. 51-87. ISBN 978-1-4384-5365-1

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Aristotle’s portrait of the man of great soul (ho megalopsychos) in both the Eudemian and the Nicomachean Ethics has long perplexed commentators. Although his portrait of the man of small soul (ho mikropsychos) has been all but ignored by commentators, it, too, contains a number of claims that are profoundly counter-intuitive to the modern cast of mind. The paper is an attempt at identifying the nature of the discrepancies between Aristotle’s values and our own, and at placing the ethical claims that he makes on greatness and smallness of soul within the context of his ethics and political philosophy. The Aristotelian man of great-soul, it is here contended, is best understood as a man who assesses external and internal goods, both his own and those of others, at their true value. His overall excellence fits him to play a key political role, not only in states where the principle of distributive justice dictates that the best should rule, but also in states with a democratic constitution, in which citizens take it in turn to rule and be ruled. He is therefore paradigmatically capable of engaging in civic friendship, a relationship that Aristotle left largely undefined in spite of holding it to be a powerfully cohesive force in the state. The man of small-soul, by contrast, is best understood as a man whose disinclination to take risks of any kind makes him reluctant to contribute to the well-being of his city and who, as a result, proves incapable of engaging in civic friendship.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Divisions: School of Education and Psychology > Philosophy
Depositing User: Sarah Taylor
Date Deposited: 16 Jan 2018 15:11
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2018 15:39

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