Courage (also called bravery or valour) is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation. Physical courage is courage in the face of physical pain, hardship, death or threat of death, while moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss.
In some traditions, fortitude holds approximately the same meaning. In the Western tradition, notable thoughts on courage have come from philosophers, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and Kierkegaard; in the Eastern tradition, some thoughts on courage were offered by the Tao Te Ching. More recently, courage has been explored by the discipline of psychology.
Courageousness does not imply fearlessness, which terms such as bravery or boldness are sometimes used as synonyms for.
Theories of courage
There is a tradition moving back to Ancient Greek philosophy for counting courage or fortitude as one of the four cardinal virtues, along with prudence, justice, and temperance. ("Cardinal" in this sense means "pivotal"; it is one of the four cardinal virtues because to possess any virtue, a person must be able to sustain it in the face of difficulty.)
An early Greek philosopher, Plato (c. 428 BCE – c. 348 BCE), set the groundwork for how courage would be viewed to future philosophers. Plato’s early writings found in Laches show a discussion on courage, they fail to come to a satisfactory conclusion on what courage is. During the debate between three leaders, including Socrates, many definitions of courage are mentioned.
While many definitions are given in Plato’s Laches, all are refuted, giving a reader a sense of Plato’s argument style. Laches is an early writing of Plato’s, which may be a reason he does not come to a clear conclusion. In this early writing, Plato is still developing his ideas and shows influence from his teachers like Socrates.
In one of his later writings, The Republic, Plato gives more concrete ideas of what he believes courage to be. Civic courage is described as a sort of perseverance – "preservation of the belief that has been inculcated by the law through education about what things and sorts of things are to be feared". Ideas of courage being perseverance also are seen in Laches. Plato further explains this perseverance as being able to persevere through all emotions, like suffering, pleasure, and fear.
As a desirable quality, courage is discussed broadly in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, where its vice of shortage is cowardice and its vice of excess is recklessness.
In the Roman Empire, courage formed part of the universal virtue of virtus. Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero (106–43 BC) lists the cardinal virtues does not name them such:
In medieval virtue ethics, championed by Averroes and Thomas Aquinas and still important to Roman Catholicism, courage is referred to as "Fortitude".
According to Thomas Aquinas,
Part of his justification for this hierarchy is that
On fortitude's general and special nature, Aquinas says,
Aquinas holds fortitude or courage as being primarily about endurance, not attack:
In both Catholicism and Anglicanism, courage is also one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. For Thomas Aquinas, Fortitude is the virtue to remove any obstacle that keeps the will from following reason. Thomas Aquinas argues that Courage is a virtue along with the Christian virtues in the Summa Theologica can only be exemplified with the presence of the Christian virtues: faith, hope, and mercy. In order to understand true courage in Christianity it takes someone who displays the virtues of faith, hope, and mercy.Courage is a natural virtue which Saint Augustine did not consider a virtue for Christians. Thomas Aquinas considers courage a virtue through the Christian virtue of mercy. Only through mercy and charity can we call the natural virtue of courage a Christian virtue. Unlike Aristotle, Aquinas’ courage is about endurance, not bravery in battle.
The Tao Te Ching states that courage is derived from love ("慈 loving 故 causes 能 ability 勇 brave") and explains: "One of courage, with audacity, will die. One of courage, but gentle, spares death. From these two kinds of courage arise harm and benefit."
Courage (shauriya) and Patience (dhairya) appear as the first two of ten characteristics (lakshana) of dharma in the Hindu Manusmṛti, besides forgiveness (kshama), tolerance (dama), honesty (asthaya), physical restraint (indriya nigraha), cleanliness (shouchya), perceptiveness (dhi), knowledge (vidhya), truthfulness (satya), and control of anger (akrodh).
Islamic beliefs also present courage and self-control as a key factor in facing the Devil and in some cases Jihad to a lesser extent; many believe this because of the courage (through peace and patience) the Prophets of the past displayed against people who despised them for their beliefs.
Thomas Hobbes lists virtues into the categories of moral virtues and virtues of men in his work "Man and Citizen." Hobbes outlines moral virtues as virtues in citizens, that is virtues that without exception are beneficial to society as a whole. These moral virtues are justice (i.e. not violating the law) and charity. Courage as well as prudence and temperance are listed as the virtues of men. By this Hobbes means that these virtues are invested solely in the private good as opposed to the public good of justice and charity. Hobbes describes courage and prudence as a strength of mind as opposed to a goodness of manners. These virtues are always meant to act in the interests of individual while the positive and/or negative effects of society are merely a byproduct. This stems forth from the idea put forth in "Leviathan" that the state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." According to Hobbes courage is a virtue of the individual in order to ensure a better chance of survival while the moral virtues address Hobbes's social contract which civilized men display (in varying degrees) in order to avoid the state of nature. Hobbes also uses the idea of fortitude as an idea of virtue. Fortitude is "to dare" according to Hobbes, but also to "resist stoutly in present dangers." This a more in depth elaboration of Hobbes's concept of courage that is addressed earlier in "Man and Citizen." This idea relates back to Hobbes's idea that self-preservation is the most fundamental aspect of behavior.
David Hume listed virtues into two categories in his work A Treatise of Human Nature as artificial virtues and natural virtues. Hume noted in the Treatise that courage is a natural virtue. In the Treatise's section Of Pride and Humility, Their Objects and Causes, Hume clearly stated courage is a cause of pride: "Every valuable quality of the mind, whether of the imagination, judgment, memory or disposition; wit, good-sense, learning, courage, justice, integrity; all these are the cause of pride; and their opposites of humility" (Hume 434).
Hume also related courage and joy to have positive effects on the soul: "(...) since the soul, when elevated with joy and courage, in a manner seeks opposition, and throws itself with alacrity into any scene of thought or action, where its courage meets with matter to nourish and employ it" (Hume 666). Along with courage nourishing and employing, Hume also wrote that courage defends humans in the Treatise: "We easily gain from the liberality of others, but are always in danger of losing by their avarice: Courage defends us, but cowardice lays us open to every attack" (Hume 459).
Hume wrote what excessive courage does to a hero's character in the Treatise's section "Of the Other Virtues and Vices": "Accordingly we may observe, that an excessive courage and magnanimity, especially when it displays itself under the frowns of fortune, contributes in a great measure, to the character of a hero, and will render a person the admiration of posterity; at the same time, that it ruins his affairs, and leads him into dangers and difficulties, with which otherwise he would never have been acquainted" (Hume 900).
Other understandings of courage that Hume offered can be derived from Hume's views on morals, reason, sentiment, and virtue from his work An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.
Søren Kierkegaard opposed courage to angst, while Paul Tillich opposed an existential courage to be to non-being, fundamentally equating it with religion:
J.R.R. Tolkien identified in his 1936 lecture "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" a "Northern 'theory of courage'"—the heroic or "virtuous pagan" insistence to do the right thing even in the face of certain defeat without promise of reward or salvation:
Virtuous pagan heroism or courage in this sense is "trusting in your own strength," as observed by Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology,
Ernest Hemingway famously defined courage as "grace under pressure."
Winston Churchill stated, "Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others."
According to Maya Angelou, "Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage."
In Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche describes master–slave morality, in which a noble man regards himself as a "determiner of values;" one who does not require approval, but passes judgment. Later, in the same text, he lists man's four virtues as "courage, insight, sympathy, and solitude," and goes on to emphasize the importance of courage: "The great epochs of our life are the occasions when we gain the courage to re-baptize our evil qualities as our best qualities."
Society and symbolism
Its accompanying animal is the lion. Often, fortitude is depicted as having tamed the ferocious lion. Cf. e.g. the Tarot trump called Strength. It is sometimes seen in the Catholic Church as a depiction of Christ's triumph over sin (see Revelation 5:5). It also is a symbol in some cultures as a savior of the people who live in a community with sin and corruption.
Several awards claim to recognize courageous actions, including:
- The Edelstam Prize awarded for outstanding contributions and exceptional courage in standing up for one’s beliefs in the defense of Human Rights.
- The Victoria Cross is the highest military award that may be received by members of the British Armed Forces and the Armed Forces of other Commonwealth countries for valour "in the face of the enemy." A total of 1,356 have been awarded to individuals, 13 since World War II. The civilian equivalent being the George Cross.
- The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed on members of the United States armed forces who distinguish themselves "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States".
- Distinguished Service Cross (United States) is the second highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Army, awarded for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.
- The Carnegie Hero Fund – was established to recognize persons who perform extraordinary acts of heroism in civilian life in the United States and Canada, and to provide financial assistance for those disabled and the dependents of those killed saving or attempting to save others.
- The Profile in Courage Award is a private award given to recognize displays of courage similar to those John F. Kennedy described in his book Profiles in Courage. It is given to individuals (often elected officials) who, by acting in accord with their conscience, risked their careers or lives by pursuing a larger vision of the national, state or local interest in opposition to popular opinion or pressure from constituents or other local interests.
- The Civil Courage Prize is a human rights award which is awarded to "steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk — rather than military valor." It is awarded by the Trustees of The Train Foundation annually and may be awarded posthumously.
- Courage to Care Award is a plaque with miniature bas-reliefs depicting the backdrop for the rescuers' exceptional deeds during the Nazis' persecution, deportation and murder of millions of Jews.
- The Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage is a prize awarded by Georgia Institute of Technology to individuals who uphold the legacy of former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., whose actions in Atlanta, Georgia and testimony before congress in support of the 1963 Civil Rights Bill legislation set a standard for courage during the turbulent civil rights era of the 1960s.
- The Param Vir Chakra is the highest military award in India given to those who show the highest degree of valour or self-sacrifice in the presence of the enemy. It can be, and often has been, awarded posthumously.