Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Joy of Magnanimity

The Spirit of Chivalry
One of the wellsprings of man's genius is his inclination to maximize the good for himself while minimizing the bad. In industry we seek efficiency, using all resources to maximum benefit, and in medicine we seek to isolate desirable effects from those which harm us. Today, though, spurred by the prevalence and success of this thinking in economics and science, we try to avoid the undesirable in all walks of life. We haggle, finagle, reschedule, reorder, and litigate to get as much of what we want as we can, and avoid as much of what we dislike. So has disappeared the virtue of magnanimity, which bids us act not from a spirit of self-interest, for gain is not always the ultimate arbiter of desideratum, but out of beneficence which comes from great strength.

Literally great-souledness, magnanimity contains three characteristics: generosity, clemency, and fortitude. If we can presume that virtue is a prerequisite for magnanimity I would like to focus on these three features.

First, the magnanimous man is generous. Not because he is good but because he is bountifully good, he is able to be liberal in his giving. Now by giving I don't mean from fortunes, necessarily, but rather I mean good deeds. The magnanimous man gives his time, patience, and energies to those who need them. He gives from all of his virtues because he has cultivated them to a great bounty and can afford to share them. He gives from joy and bounty and does not cultivate debts. The magnanimous man is able to give from himself without regard for his needs because he has met his needs; to his own satisfaction, we must add, for magnanimity requires besides virtue, self-knowledge.

Second, the magnanimous man is forgiving. He is able to bear slights and inequities because he has pity for those who are facing the struggles which he has already mastered or which he realizes he has avoided by prudence or fortune. Magnanimity enables man to engage with and support those who wander from the path of virtue. He is lenient with punishment and is able to forego his deserved justice, equity, or remuneration.

Finally, magnanimity consists of fortitude. The character of the magnanimous man is imperturbable and his energies indefatigable. Of course these superlatives are not absolute, but rather I mean that the magnanimous man has cultivated his strength to a degree which surpasses the necessities of his life. He is able to forego pleasantness and take up difficulty because he is strong.

As The Philosopher said, magnanimity can magnify other virtues and requires them, but great-souledness seems to result after one becomes aware of the successful practicing of the virtues. The magnanimous man appears to act out of pure magnanimity for he endures the bad not because of piety, tolerance, or obedience, but because he is able to, and does the good not out of virtue, but because he is able. He converts with apparent ease his strength into benefaction.

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