Courage under the microscope

What is courage?

Is it only a matter of context? Not just. Even if we easily see cowardice everywhere, we know how to recognize the exceptions: those who will show courage in all circumstances. What do these resistance fighters have in common?

Courage is a mixture: survival instinct, controlled fear, danger faced, idealized self. Things that are willingly contradictory. Momentum certainly (difficult for the depressed to be courageous) but also control (sorting through the impulses). Coherent or explosive mixture. But then who is the bravest, basically? The one who knows perfectly what he has to do, or the one torn between several choices and who ends up taking the least easy?

It all depends on the point of view. Do we place ourselves inside the individual or in the collective that judges the acts? Inside, one can applaud more the unexpected courage of a restless and stormy mind, than the predictable courage of a solid mind. From the outside, the collective standardizes behaviors and is less concerned with the trials that courage goes through to show itself. It values its constancy.

Let’s comment on a review of the subject by Philomag using the first point of view, which better personalizes the reality of courage:

The false courage

situations in which there are strong protections against fear.

1) Have faith in an immortal soul or in an afterlife. The stronger this belief, the more the death of the body is a minor inconvenience. Plato is mistaken in defining courage as indifference to death because earthly life would be nothing. This goal makes courage easy.

2) Do not feel fear. Impassibility is not courage when the situation does not generate any fear. To have trained to remain adamantine in all circumstances demerits the title of courageous. Aristotle is mistaken in saying that “by getting used to despising danger and standing up to it, we become courageous.” It’s the opposite.

3) Ideal superior to personal desire: Kierkegaard sees the model of courage in Abraham, ready to sacrifice his son when God asks him to. Suspicious example. I hope Abraham met God in person rather than listening to a small inner voice. But biblical stories are remarkable for their disconnection from reality.

4) Telling the truth, despite personal risks, is courage according to Foucault. But the truth being personal in these individualists, we should check its collective character before talking about courage. Foucault falsely declares courageous all the conspiracy theorists who haunt the networks today.

Better courage

experiencing one’s own ability to overcome trials. Or observe oneself in the inability to be satisfied with the previous reason. Two contradictory definitions that reflect two perspectives, used in turn by thinkers. But we will see that they are inseparable.

5) Surpassing oneself: pulled forward by a confident image of the future self. Seneca thus sees courage stimulated by difficulties, nourished even by despair.

6) Passion: Descartes insists on the ontology of courage. When he places in the soul the “warmth or agitation that disposes […] to carry oneself powerfully to the execution of things”, we would attribute it today to impulses, survival instinct and singularism.

7) Ignoring the unknown: Kant insists on intellectual courage: throwing oneself into the void without reference, freeing oneself from guardianships, to think for oneself.

8) Assume the absurdity of the world: Camus also has an intellectual definition of courage, which is to continue to inhabit the world once it is admitted that it is meaningless.

9) Resisting the anguish of freedom: The parade of philosophical observers continues with Ricoeur. He worries that the springs of our choices remain unfathomable, and finds it courageous to integrate this anxiety into ourselves.

10) Fleeing false refuges: Deleuze completes Ricoeur by extolling the courage to leave the certainties and plunge into the “immense rout” of becoming.

11) Blind momentarily: let’s put our observer on vacation. It’s a heads or tails side at Jankelevich. Let us close our eyes to let our courage be expressed without reluctance.

True courage, finally

If I classify the previous visions with the double look, they are: upward for (2,6), downward for (1,3,4,7,8,9,10,11). The downward are obviously more numerous because reflecting the singular observers of philosophers. The upward, ontological vision is unique and can be summed up as follows: a vital impulse encourages us to glorify our individuality. It begins with the instinct to spread our genes, but can branch off into a desire to protect the species via its members who seem important to us. The individual is realized in collectivist action. A contradictory mixture that makes it difficult to appreciate courage. Is it directed towards oneself or others? It is important to locate it at the confluence of the two looks.

12) Cruelty to self and the strength to bear it: The human has the strength to overcome the pain he inflicts on himself. Nietzsche is the only one to use the double look. It combines the conscious observer (I oblige myself to) and the ontology of courage (vital impulse that pushes to).

Life is a conflict between impulses and cortical retro-control. This conflict oscillates around a balance. We could prove Aristotle right again, who sees courage in the “middle ground” between the excesses of ‘fear’ and ‘recklessness’. But balance is also a representation chosen by the cortical observer. Isn’t courage to renounce this balance, following more one’s instinct or on the contrary one’s reason, when the benefits are not immediate? Give another destiny a chance.

In the end, courage is not to be oneself, but to become passionately different.


Leave a Comment