Tuesday, July 20, 2004


Pride and Humility

Bill Keezer has an excellent discussion of pride and humility, in which he argues that they are complementary, not opposites.

The title of Richard Chenevix Trench's book Synonyms of the New Testament (London, 1880; rpt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948) is too limiting. Trench travels freely throughout classical literature and illuminates Latin words no less than Greek ones.

Pages 98-105 of Trench's book deal with the Greek words alazon, hyperephanos, and hybristes ("the boastful in words, the proud and overbearing in thoughts, the insolent and overbearing in acts"). Humility (tapeinophrosyne) is covered on pages 148-151. Since Trench quotes most of his examples in the original languages, it might be useful to present two key passages from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics in H. Rackham's translation. I have added Greek words in brackets. Central to Aristotle's analysis is the notion that virtue is located midway between extremes.

In respect of truth [to alethes] then, the middle character may be called truthful [alethes], and the observance of the mean Truthfulness [aletheia]; pretence in the form of exaggeration is Boastfulness [alazoneia], and its possessor a boaster [alazon]; in the form of understatement, Self-depreciation [eironeia], and its possessor the self-depreciator [eiron].
Now a person is thought to be great-souled [megalopsychos] if he claims much and deserves much; he who claims much without deserving it is foolish [elithios], but no one of moral excellence is foolish or senseless. The great-souled man is then as we have described. He who deserves little and claims little is modest or temperate [sophron], but not great-souled, since to be great-souled involves greatness just as handsomeness involves size: small people may be neat and well-made, but not handsome [kalos]. He that claims much but does not deserve much is vain [chaunos]; though not everybody who claims more than he deserves is vain. He that claims less than he deserves is small-souled [micropsychos], whether his deserts be great or only moderate, or even though he deserves little, if he claims still less. The most small-souled of all would seem to be the man who claims less than he deserves when his deserts are great; for what would he have done had he not deserved so much? Though therefore in regard to the greatness of his claim the great-souled man is an extreme, by reason of its rightness he stands at the mean point, for he claims what he deserves; while the vain and the small-souled err by excess and defect respectively.

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