Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 4, Chapter 2 (1122a18-1123a34)

By Aristotle

Book 4, Chapter 2 (1122a18-1123a34)

  • Now Aristotle will kick it up a notch to discuss "magnificence."
  • Think of liberality times a thousand. Magnificence is spending a lot of money on a large and noble thing/cause.
  • The level of magnificence is relative to the person spending the cash and to the nobility of the thing spent on. In any case, it has to be big.
  • A magnificent person is liberal, but not all liberal people have the financial capacity to be magnificent.
  • Magnificence is the "golden mean" between parsimony (the deficiency) and crassness/vulgarity (the excess).
  • Magnificence = knowledge, since a magnificent person has a head for knowing what to spend on and how much.
  • He will also make sure that the end result is noble and awesome. And he won't stop giving until it's done right. Whatever it is.
  • Aristotle says that while goods/possessions can be noble, they're nothing compared to the value of what they can buy or create—when everything is done well.
  • To be properly magnificent, the expenditure has to be on something noble—i.e. to honor the gods or benefit the community—and it has to come from someone who can afford it.
  • It's all about having the right relationship with money. A poor person can't be magnificent (and it would be foolish for him to try) because he has no coin.
  • While a magnificent person gives lavishly for the benefit of the community, he's also generous in his private lifestyle. He decks out his house beautifully—and not with stuff from IKEA.
  • A magnificent person must spend his cash on things that endure. He has a social duty to be awesome in every category of things that he buys.
  • Vulgar or crass people spend beyond what they need to and on all the wrong things. They overdo everything—except what they should really overdo it on.
  • On the other extreme, a parsimonious person is like the stingy person on steroids. It hurts him to spend even the least penny on anything—and he continuously complains about it.
  • And yet, though parsimony and vulgarity are vices, they don't much harm anyone and are not a big deal, unlike licentiousness.