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Abstract

This article examines the relation between shame and the notion of the noble starting from Alexander’s Ethical Problems. Problem 21 is prompted by the Aristotelian discussion of the concept of shame. NE 2.7 1108a30–35 and NE 4.9 1128b15–21 present an apparent contradiction that Alexander aspires to solve: in the former passage, Aristotle states that shame is virtue-like in being praiseworthy; in the latter, shame’s praiseworthiness is restricted to young people. Alexander solves this contradiction by rejecting the second passage: shame is not an emotion and its praiseworthiness applies to virtuous adults in particular. This article claims that, although Alexander rightly relates shame to the knowledge of the noble, neither of the Aristotelian passages must be rejected. The emotional status of shame is exhibited by Aristotle’s definition of shame as fear of disrepute. However, by considering shame and fear as ethical motivations, particularly in the case of courageous citizens and learners, the article shows that shame, unlike fear, implies knowledge of as well as sensitivity towards the noble. Moreover, the restriction of shame’s praiseworthiness to young people is defended by showing that shame is the best option in the absence of virtue. By contrast, the fully virtuous adult, i.e. the phronimos, is not supposed to feel shame. Neither does the phronimos act out of shame, nor does he feel prospective or retrospective shame.

In: Thinking, Knowing, Acting: Epistemology and Ethics in Plato and Ancient Platonism