Aristotle on Pride

Titlepic: "Aristotle on Pride".

This article focuses on the concept of “pride” in Aristotle: what are the characteristics of a “great-souled” person?

KEYWORDS: aretē, Aristotle, emotions, excellence, great-souled person, Greatness of Soul, honor, lofty pride, megalopsychia, megalopsychos, pride, psychology, self-esteem, worth, worthy, worthiness.

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In this blog post I am going to talk about the concept of “pride” in Aristotle.

This post is planned to be one of a series of posts on the concept of “pride”. The overall aim of this series is to understand the different flavors of what pride is and how it manifests itself in the world of human affairs.

Also, at the end, I am hoping to return with a post about the differences of these accounts, and to come to a point of understanding about how we ourselves should think and act in relation to this concept.

But for now, let us first explore Aristotle’s idea of “pride”.

Aristotelian “megalopsychia”

In the beginning of Chapter 3 of Book 4 of the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle talks about “megalopsychia” (Aristotle 1934, p. 212). This is, for Aristotle, the highest virtue of them all.

This word has been translated by various people as “pride”, “Greatness of Soul”, etc.

In the two editions that I looked at (Aristotle 1934, p. 213; Aristotle 2001, p. 68), both translators (H. Rackham and Roger Crisp, respectively) are using the phrases “Greatness of Soul” and “great-souled” when translating the Ancient Greek words megalopsychia and megalopsychos.

However, in a footnote at the start of Chapter 3, Rackham explains that megalopsychia “means lofty pride and self-esteem rather than magnanimity or high-mindedness” (Aristotle 1934, p. 213, note b). [Note 1]

So in this interpretation of megalopsychia, pride is about self-esteem and one’s “worthiness”. And it is ‘lofty’ in the sense that it is very high.

Pride and Worthiness

The term megalopsychia is therefore “defined” like this by Aristotle (2001, p. 68):

“A person is thought to be great-souled if he thinks himself worthy of great things — and is indeed worthy of them”

So the idea presented in the above passage seems to be this: the great-souled person (i.e. the man with lofty pride) should definitely think that he is worthy of great things.

But that’s not all. He should also know that he is worthy of those great things. Thus, he needs to be able to estimate and evaluate his own state of affairs in a fair way, so that he properly also can compare his own capabilities and behavior with those of other people.

And what are those “great things” that he supposedly is worthy of? Well, according to Aristotle, great-souled men think that there is one thing in particular that they want (2001, p. 68):

“…it is honour most of all that they think themselves worthy of, and this accords with their real worth.”

Character and Behavior

And which person can have such high esteem of himself? It is only those who have taken the “long road” and really tried to achieve excellence (Gr. aretē) in the form of a superb standard of character.

Thus, Roth writes (1994, p. 694):

“Excellence of character and the pride that goes with it also translate into a certain style of action: The proud person not only does excellent things but also does them with grace and dignity.”

Because of this focus on pride, honor, grace, and dignity, it supposedly leads the person to avoid certain circumstances, as Crisp suggests in his introduction (2001, p. xviii):

“The great-souled person is unlikely to stir himself to help the vulnerable.”

Conclusion

Summing up: For Aristotle, being a great-souled person seems to require (at least) three things.

First, such a person must be able to practically reach the level of “excellence of character”. For if there is no “excellence of character”, then there is nothing to be proud of.

Second, one must think that one is worthy. People who do not think that they are worthy of great things are not great-souled.

Third, in addition to thinking one is worthy, one must also know that one is worthy. But, in my estimation, that knowledge probably comes first. So because the great-souled person knows his or her worthiness, it is only natural for him or her to also think that they are worthy.

Chris Bocay

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Notes

1. Terence Irwin has a long, interesting note about megalopsychia (1985 p. 326, 1123a34). Although Rackham clearly has stated that megalopsychia “means lofty pride and self-esteem rather than magnanimity or high-mindedness” (1934, p. 213, note b), Irwin is of the opinion that megalopsychia approximates the term “magnanimity” (which is the traditional Latinized form of megalopsychia).

References

Aristotle (1934), The Nicomachean Ethics. With an English Translation by H. Rackham. Series: Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press. [Link to book]

Aristotle (1985), The Nicomachean Ethics. Translated, with introduction, notes, and glossary, by Terence Irwin. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company. [Link to book]

Aristotle (2001), The Nicomachean Ethics. Translated and Edited by Roger Crisp. Series: Cambridge Texts In the History of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Link to book]

Roth, John K. (1994), Ethics. 3 vols. Pasadena, CA and Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, Inc. [Link to book]


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First published: Mon 14 Feb 2022
Last revised: Sun 7 Aug 2022

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