In preparation for a fall course I am teaching at Kaos Pilots entitled “Time to Get Tough,” I am reading William Ian Miller’s interesting book The Mystery of Courage. In the “Introduction,” Miller writes, “The core of courage’s ancient tale is attack and defense against the Other, other men to be exact. The core is about the fear of violent death, pain, and mutilation…” (12). Yet throughout the book, he takes a skeptical view, arguing that courage may not admit of a definition and that there may be no single disposition attachable to courage. Courage is a mystery, he might say, because while we can pick out paradigm cases we don’t know what inner quality makes courage what it is.
To see some sense of the mystery, I offer some puzzles inspired by Miller.
1.) Does courage have to do with risking death or with seeking death? If it has to do with risking death, then daredevils may be our paragons of courage, and yet we balk at the thought of people risking their lives for no apparent reason. However, if courage is about seeking death, then how is such a suicidal act not, as is often said, cowardly–the easy way out? Or is seeking one’s death actually, at least depending on circumstances, that which requires great courage?