One praises that in which a being fulfills its potentialities or actualizes its perfections. Courage is the affirmation of one’s essential nature, one’s inner aim or entelechy, but it is an affirmation which has in itself the character of “in spite of”, it includes the possible and, in some cases, the unavoidable sacrifice of elements which also belong to one’s being but which, if not sacrificed, would prevent us from reaching our actual fulfillment. This sacrifice may include pleasure, happiness, even one’s own existence. In any case it is praiseworthy, because in the act of courage the most essential part of our being prevails against the less essential. It is the beauty and goodness of courage that the good and the beautiful are actualized in it. Therefore it is noble.
Perfection for Aristotle (as well as for Plato) is realized in degrees, natural, personal, and social; and courage as the affirmation of one’s essential being is more conspicuous in some of these degrees than in others. Since the greatest test of courage is the readiness to make the greatest sacrifice, the sacrifice of one’s life, and since the soldier is required by his profession to be always ready for this sacrifice, the soldier’s courage was and somehow remained the outstanding example of courage. The Greek word for courage, andreia (manliness) and the Latin word fortitude (strength) indicate the military connotation of courage. As long\as the aristocracy was the group which carried arms the aristocratic and the military connotations of courage merged. When the aristocratic tradition disintegrated and courage could be defined as the universal knowledge of what is good and evil, wisdom and courage converged and true courage became distinguished from the soldier’s courage. The courage of the dying Socrates was rational-democratic, not heroic- aristocratic. But the aristocratic line was revived in the early Middle Ages. Courage became again characteristic of nobility. The knight is he who represents courage as a soldier and as a nobleman. He has what was called hohe Mut, the high, noble, and courageous spirit.