Aristotle in the Nichomaen Ethics works in triads; he has a triadic notion of courage, whose extremities are recklessness and cowardice. Thes are all natural notions of character.

However, there are 'un-natural' notions of character, of character in extremesis, ie paranoia, or euphoria (the kind of emotions and character that are in view in El Grecos opening of the Firth Seal), and these appear to lie on the same axis; can we extend the triad to a pentad?

Does this Pentadal notion work here, and can it be extended to other notions in Aristotles ethics, or is it appropriate only here?

  • 1
    How is Deleuze related here? – Joseph Weissman Jan 5 '15 at 16:27
  • @weissman: not as far as I now, but given he has a book called Capitalism & Schizophrenia, I thought that there might be one; even if I can't see one. – Mozibur Ullah Jan 5 '15 at 16:31

It's not exactly that Aristotle works in triads, so much as he thinks that certain dispositions of character have known excesses and deficiencies.

We begin with the definition Aristotle supplies for virtue:

Next we must consider what virtue is. Since things that are found in the soul are of three kinds- passions, faculties, states of character, virtue must be one of these. By passions I mean appetite, anger, fear, confidence, envy, joy, friendly feeling, hatred, longing, emulation, pity, and in general the feelings that are accompanied by pleasure or pain; by faculties the things in virtue of which we are said to be capable of feeling these, e.g. of becoming angry or being pained or feeling pity; by states of character the things in virtue of which we stand well or badly with reference to the passions, e.g. with reference to anger we stand badly if we feel it violently or too weakly, and well if we feel it moderately; and similarly with reference to the other passions.

Now neither the virtues nor the vices are passions, because we are not called good or bad on the ground of our passions, but are so called on the ground of our virtues and our vices, and because we are neither praised nor blamed for our passions (for the man who feels fear or anger is not praised, nor is the man who simply feels anger blamed, but the man who feels it in a certain way), but for our virtues and our vices we are praised or blamed.

For these reasons also they are not faculties; for we are neither called good nor bad, nor praised nor blamed, for the simple capacity of feeling the passions; again, we have the faculties by nature, but we are not made good or bad by nature; we have spoken of this before. **If, then, the virtues are neither passions nor faculties, all that remains is that they should be states of character. ** (Nicomachean Ethics --> EN II.5-6).

In other words, a virtue is how we respond to certain feelings. Aristotle defines courage thusly:

With regard to feelings of fear and confidence courage is the mean; of the people who exceed, he who exceeds in fearlessness has no name (many of the states have no name), while the man who exceeds in confidence is rash, and he who exceeds in fear and falls short in confidence is a coward (EN 2.7)

Not every virtue has a triadic structure, because what's more important is that you react appropriately to the emotion and situation in question. (Even courage does not have a triadic structure [there's 4 named possibilities in the quote] -- note that some have no name -- and as you go through other virtues, some have no existing version of excess in one direction).


In what way do they fall on the same axis? These do capture two of the three main options ancient medicine saw in mental disease: mania, catatonic melancholy, and dementia precox, as surveyed by Krepelin early in the history of modern psychology. Excessive euphoria is by definition manic and Paranoia is often schizophrenic (which is the disease that was seen as premature dementia -- like senile dementia but with the energy of youth, and therefore dangerous to others.)

But we no longer see thing this way. We think these problems were seen as primary in Classical systems simply because they were the most dangerous to others, not because they were in some sense more basic diseases.

From modern personality theory, we think they are independent and lie on no common axis.

The most common set of independent factors in vocabularies of personality are the Big-5 set: Openness to new experience, attention to Conscience, Extraversion, tendency to seek Agreement, and Negativity/Neurosis or tendency to question purposes.

From that perspective the totality of Aristotle's 'courage' is a segmentation of the axis of 'openness to new experience' into three ranges: lack of respect for known patterns (recklessness), genuine willingness to risk (courage), and fear of unknown outcomes (cowardice).

Paranoia may look like a character trait, but it is mostly an aspect of psychosis. It arises primarily from unrestrained intuitive information gathering when one's ability to collate information changes unexpectedly. When one is unconsciously aware that one's grasp of reality is changing, the mind obsessively seeks patterns to give reality a sense of solidity. One is also afraid, both consciously and unconsciously, so there is a bias toward those obsessive patterns being made up of objective things to be afraid of.

People do not tend to change characterologically when they become paranoid. They attend obsessively to correlating facts into a threats. But they may then address these delusional threats boldly, timorously, or recklessly, as they would address genuine threats.

Euphoria is no longer seen as something people have in isolation. It is a passing state which is part of a tendency toward breadth of mood (bipolarity) -- no one is characterologically euphoric without also being severely depressed. Breadth of mood itself is part of the Negativity axis. To vastly oversimplify, when one is habitually conflicted and uncertain, one responds alternately with fear and anger at the outside world for its lack of reassurance, which makes one artificially certain, and with disgust at ones own lack of intelligence or fiber in not being able to make stable decisions.

So I don't see this axis, and neither does most statistical analysis of language used to describe other people, or observed trends in people's styles of functioning.

  • Fear, correlating with cowardice, in extremesis becoming paranoia; recklessness, correlating with the adrenalized joy, becoming euphoria? – Mozibur Ullah Jan 4 '15 at 16:23
  • I'm not disagreeing that its not a character trait - it isn't; that's why I called them un-natural; but they are natural in that they occur, though as extreme states. – Mozibur Ullah Jan 4 '15 at 16:25
  • OK, but paranoia is not fear. Conspiracy theorists can be quite unafraid of the government conspiracies to control their thoughts. In fact, the ability to be afraid kind of vanishes as will recedes in schizophrenia -- bizarre threats just become a matter of course. Even the paranoia of pot is not fear -- if the fear is not already there because one is under threat from the law, it takes a very different form. – user9166 Jan 4 '15 at 16:25
  • Sure - otherwise it would be correlated to cowardice; I'm suggesting a relationship with fear, not its identity; useful distinction about conspiracy theorists - it wasn't them I had in mind. – Mozibur Ullah Jan 4 '15 at 16:28
  • OK, so who else is 'paranoid' in your sense. Most other folks are just legitimately afraid. Are you really thinking of obsessionality, and not of what is currently considered paranoia. Because obsessionality is quite directly related to fear, and is characterological. (Sorry, one gets too used to technical terms, and then can sometimes no longer understand normal English.) – user9166 Jan 4 '15 at 16:29

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