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Re: [socratescafe-119] What is courage? (Jan. 2012 Socrates Cafe Meetup)

From: Scott C.
Sent on: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 3:07 AM
On the subject of foolhardiness vs. cowardice as opposites of courage . The hijackers were quite probably psychologically programmed to carry out their acts , this I do not believe is courage , simply a form of conditioned reaction that those of us on the outside observing perceive as something akin to courage . Conviction is not the same as reckless abandonment .
As for physical vs. intellectual , it seems to me that many times physical courage could be transient and fleeting while intellectual courage may very well place the individual at risk for a host of long term consequences . The physical fallout might be injury or lasting reduction in functioning . The intellectual could result in ostracizing , shunning or simply vilification by peers and opponents . These two categories without doubt have a considerable overlap in cascading effects . Tough proposition .
With regards to Hitchens , a grat deal of his statements and essays were aimed at the lunacy of the multitude of religions . in this function he no doubt had to face considerable pushback and retoric , much of which was quite personal and hostile . Whether one agrees with his ideas his consistent criticism of the often illogical religious precepts forced him at one point or another to evaluate the costs and benefits of taking such a public role as critic . Was money a modifier ? Possibly , however in those heated debates I suspect his focus was on the exchange rather than a car payment .
These have been my two cents worth since as is normally the case , my work schedule is not accomodqting .
Scott Collier

On Tue, Jan 10, 2012 at 9:10 AM, Andy <[address removed]> wrote:

Hello, Socrates Cafe-goers.

We ran out of time at our last meeting and didn't get around to choosing a topic for our meeting this month. So I picked a philosophical question that's been on my mind lately.

In the wake of the recent passing of writer and outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens, I found myself engaged in a discussion with some Facebook friends on the question, "What is courage?" Our initial question was whether Hitchens exhibited intellectual courage as a writer. Some thought he clearly had, agreeing with an appreciation of Hitchens published on the Psychology Today website (, while others maintained that defending controversial views does not count as intellectual courage when you're being paid to do it. The ideas of "moral courage" and "physical courage" found their way into the discussion as well.

All this got me wondering about just what courage is. This broad question divides into a number of more specific subsidiary ones, such as the following:

  • Are there truly different types of courage, for example physical courage and intellectual courage? If so, can a person possess one type but not the other?
  • What character trait does courage contrast with? Most people would say that the opposite of courage is cowardice. Aristotle thought courage had two opposites: cowardice and foolhardiness. Was he right, or is foolhardiness really a kind of courage?
  • Is courage always a virtue or is it morally neutral? Put somewhat differently, can courage be exhibited for a wicked cause? George W. Bush called the 9/11 hijackings "cowardly acts." This prompted the retort from Bill Maher, then hosting a TV show fittingly titled Politically Incorrect, that "Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly." Who was right?

I hope you can join us for the discussion Saturday.

Yours in Socrates,


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