Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 4, Chapter 3 (1123a36-1125a35)

By Aristotle

Book 4, Chapter 3 (1123a36-1125a35)

  • Aristotle moves on to "greatness of soul," which deals with a person's ability to value themselves properly.
  • A great-souled person believes he's capable of great things—and he actually is.
  • There are also those people—you probably know some—who think they're capable of doing (or being) greater things than they actually are. These people are vain.
  • But if you underestimate your worth, you'd be considered "small-souled." Imagine that.
  • What kind of "great things" is Aristotle speaking of here? Only the best and greatest for people and gods: honor.
  • To be worthy of honor, a great-souled person has to be good and have the best of each virtue onboard. He would never be unjust.
  • Greatness of the soul is the crown of all virtues. A great-souled person not only possesses all virtues, he makes them better. This, friends, is a proper gentleman.
  • Clearly, this isn't easy to do. Therefore, there aren't many great-souled people running around.
  • In some ways, the great-souled man has to be a snob. He's most concerned with honor—but he doesn't want to be honored in small ways by the common horde. He wants the big honors.
  • These types of men go in for political power and wealth. They don't really care for the prestige—of course—but they go for it because, being morally superior, they should have it.
  • Remember, Aristotle has defined the political art as the very best for humans to engage in.
  • Aristotle says that being well-born often leads to great-souledness because it helps men feel that they are worthy of honor. In our day, we'd call this a sense of privilege.
  • These guys are "naturally" more suited to this particular virtue and more worthy of good things than your average Joe. (And this is called a sense of entitlement. Not a problem in A's day).
  • But Aristotle does step off the privilege train a bit here. He says that even with money and power, only a good person can really be honorable.
  • Aristotle reels in his praise of aristocracy even further by saying that wealthy people without virtue are not worthy of honor—and therefore not great-souled.
  • These types of people he calls "hubristic" because they have power and money without a moral life attached—which means they can't possibly use their position for good.
  • And even without virtue, they still think they're better than everyone else.
  • But even a great-souled person has his quirks: he's not careful with his life because he values nothing but honor; he won't accept help, but if he does, he has to one-up the giver in return.
  • A great-souled person always wants to be the big benefactor, but will take nothing for himself.
  • More on this personality: likes to procrastinate (unless honor is on the line), refuses to impress others on purpose (thinks this is "slavish").
  • Because of this, the GS isn't really a person you'd want to hang out with. He himself admires very little, since he's so dang awesome himself.
  • On the plus side, he doesn't hold grudges, gossip, or ask for your help when he moves to a new apartment.
  • He does surround himself with the "useless and beautiful," since he already has everything he needs. Sounds like a fun roommate, really.
  • What about the small-souled and the vain?
  • Well, they're not all bad.
  • The small-souled constantly undervalue themselves, so they're really missing out on life.
  • Vain people are ignorant, since they are clueless when it comes to their own true worth. They're posers, trying to act like a great-souled person but failing miserably because they don't have it.