Eclipse of Courage: Technical Reason and the Limits of Self-Affirming Bravery
Courage is among the most popular and least-understood virtues, with a seemingly endless array of paradigms and descriptions. Does courage relate primarily to physical or to moral struggle? Is courage fortitude, or is it daring? Can villains be courageous? Does technology make courage obsolete? Theorists of courage may agree or disagree or any of these points, but the underlying question—what courage actually means—is frequently obscured. Centuries of moral and political theory have left us with a jumbled and ambiguous tradition. This thesis assesses the idea that courage, in its varying forms, ultimately means self-affirmation. It examines the original, heroic understanding of courage; Pericles’ appropriation of this tradition; and Plato’s critique of Pericles. These Greek ideas, in which the struggle to define courage was linked more clearly and self-consciously to the struggle for collective self-definition, show that the contemporary literature has suffered from its neglect of the deeper phenomenological role of courage. Many of the ambiguities that plague the contemporary analytic literature on courage have their roots in the Greek experience, and can be clarified by a renewed attention to this background. This thesis argues, however, that self-affirmation is incomplete as a phenomenological account of courage. Indeed, the tradition of courage that emphasises its self-affirming role—a tradition that also encompasses such figures as Montaigne, Heidegger, and Arendt, to be examined here—frequently overlooks the complementary courage of self-overcoming. The courage of admitting one’s errors, of opening oneself to the perspective of the other, is a key and often neglected dimension of the virtue.
Advisor: Spencer, Vicki A.
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Politics
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Political theory; Courage; Techne; Plato; Pericles; Heidegger; Arendt; Montaigne
Research Type: Thesis