In this assignment, I am going to analyze whether suicide bombers are brave or not from an Aristotelian perspective in the light of his book “The Nicomachean Ethics”. I will claim that Aristotle would never regard suicide bombers as courageous since he prefers intermediate behaviors to extreme ones. In order to arrive at that point, I will start by explaining Aristotle’s ideas in the Book II of “Ethics”. Later, I am going to define the concept of suicide bombers and apply Aristotle’s views to suicide bombers example. I will make it clear that I agree with Aristotle’s reasoning and do not believe that suicide bombing is an act of courage.
In the Book II, Aristotle talks about the “moral virtue”. He begins the chapter by stating that there are two types of virtues: intellectual and moral virtue. In Aristotelian thinking, intellectual virtue is acquired as a result of education and teaching whereas “moral virtue comes about as a result of habit” (Aristotle, p. 28). In other words, he asserts that moral virtue, like the arts is acquired by repetition of the corresponding acts. We can say that Aristotle’s conception of the adoption of moral virtue is like the internalization of a habit. He later says that moral virtues are not caused by nature. “From this it is also plain that none of the moral virtues arises in us by nature; for nothing that exists by nature can form a habit contrary to its nature” (Aristotle, p. 28). He gives the example of a stone which naturally moves downwards and cannot be able to move upwards. So, he claims that the nature provides us a convenient environment to discover and internalize these virtues by transforming them into habits. “Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit” (Aristotle, p. 28). In the case of lyre player for instance, the man has to learn playing lyre and become very good at doing this in order to have the virtue of lyre player. It is from the activity of playing the lyre that a man becomes a good or bad lyre player. For Aristotle this is the same for moral virtues and people become virtuous and brave by doing good and courageous acts. “This, then, is the case with the virtues also; by doing the acts that we do in our transactions with other men we become just or unjust, and by doing the acts that we do in the presence of danger, and by being habituated to feel fear or confidence, we become brave or cowardly” (Aristotle, p. 29).
Later, Aristotle claims that it is the “nature of actions; namely how we ought to do them” determines whether we are virtuous or not (Aristotle, p. 30). In other words, it is not only the things we do but also how we do is very important for Aristotle. In his view, we must act according to the right rule and this should be the common principle. Aristotle always prefers intermediary solutions to excessive or deficient ones. For himself, a man who fears and runs away from everything is a coward which is a negative defective quality but also a man who fears nothing and engages in all troubles is rash which is a negative excessive quality (Aristotle, p. 31). Aristotle thinks that taking pleasure from doing good, virtuous acts is a sign of the adoption of moral virtues. Aristotle believes that by separating virtue from vice, we must differentiate “the noble, the advantageous, the pleasant” from “the base, the injurious and the painful” (Aristotle, p. 33). This rule of pleasure and pain should be our guide in Aristotelian thinking. According to Aristotle, while doing good, virtuous acts, we must in the first place have knowledge, secondly we must choose the acts for their own sakes, not for ourselves and thirdly, we must have a “firm and unchangeable character” (Aristotle, p. 34). Aristotle also makes it clear that he always favors intermediate solutions to excessive or defective ones. He explains “intermediary” by an arithmetical example. He says that if 10 is excessive and 2 is few, we must take 6 as intermediary. Similarly, we must choose the intermediary acts while trying to be virtuous. He says “…then virtue must have the quality of aiming at the intermediate” (Aristotle, p. 38). He thinks that for different emotions we must “feel them at the right times, with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way, is what is both intermediate and best, and the characteristic of virtue” (Aristotle, p. 38).
Now, let us apply Aristotelian views to our example. Suicide bombers can be defined generally as people who defend a political cause and who try to harm the other side by organizing violent attacks. These people are generally so fanatical that even their lives are not important for them so they could easily accept to suicide for their ideology or religious belief. First of all, Aristotle believes that men should obey the right laws. “Now, that we must act according to the right rule is a common principle and must be assumed” (Aristotle, p. 30). Thus, if laws are right doing a meaningless and violent protest would not be a courageous but rather a stupid act. Secondly, even we accept that suicide bombers’ ideas are right and they defend the true political view against the wrong laws, I think Aristotle would not accept these people because he believes that not only the thing we do but also how we do is important. Although these suicide bombers might have right to protest government’s decisions and what they do (protesting the laws) is right and courageous, how they perform this protestation would make them courageous and virtuous or not. Aristotle always prefers intermediary solutions to excessive or defective ones. In this example, the solution is far being intermediary. Suicide bombers kill innocent civilian people to defend their cause, a view which can never be accepted and which has nothing to do with bravery in my opinion. Thirdly, the rule of pleasure and pain should be our guide while doing something in Aristotelian ideology. So, these suicide bombers cause pain rather than pleasure which is another sign that Aristotle would never approve such acts. For all these reasons, as far as I am concerned Aristotle would never defend suicide bombers.
However, one objection could be made on the basis of this argument. Aristotle says that “… it is on the account of the pleasure that we do bad things, and on account of the pain that we abstain from noble ones” (Aristotle, p. 32). One may claim that suicide bombers are people who do not escape from pain for their noble cause and sacrifice their lives courageously. Moreover, according to Aristotle, although death is the most fearful of all things because it is the end, it is not even sufficient to claim that a man is brave if he can risk his life. Rather what matters for Aristotle is to die nobly. Aristotle points out that “… then, he will be called brave who is fearless in face of a noble death, and of all emergencies that involve death; and the emergencies of war are in the highest degree of this kind’ (Aristotle, p. 64). At this point, one might notice that, from Aristotle’s point of view, the fear of death in battle represents an appropriate illustration of nobility; therefore whoever possesses such a feeling of fear can be labeled as brave or courageous. In other words, Aristotle maintains that the motive of courage is the sense of honor. Aristotle indicates that “… the end of every activity is conformity to the corresponding state of character… but courage is noble. Therefore, the end is also noble; for each thing is defined by its end. Therefore it is for a noble end that the brave man endures and acts as courage directs” (Aristotle, p. 65-66).
However, while doing something virtuous (protesting the wrong and unjust laws), these people use wrong and violent means and act stupidly by sacrificing their lives. Although being able to resist to pain for something good is honorable, killing innocent people and committing suicide is very stupid and wrong. Although soldiers who fight in wars can be considered as courageous and honorable from Aristotelian point of view, suicide bombers who aim to protest something by killing innocent people who have nothing to do with their cause, is a kind of violence. Furthermore, we see that these suicide bombers do these acts mostly because of fanatical religious or political beliefs and to satisfy their desires. There cannot be a justifiable ground for killing innocent people if we use our reason so, I agree with Aristotle’s reasoning and think that these suicide bombers are not courageous people.
In my opinion, Aristotle’s reasoning is very good and shows us clearly the difference between courage and slavery to desires. Even if we accept that suicide bombers’ cause can be right, the mean used by them cause damage and harm innocent people. As far as I am concerned, there is no honor in killing innocent people that is why I agree with Aristotle’s reasoning and do not consider suicide bombers as courageous people. I should also say that what these people do, lead to nothing but the death of many people including themselves. Their acts do not cause sympathy for their cause but rather make them hatred by other people who could defend their ideas. That is why, I am precise about my view that suicide bombing is not an act of courage. For instance, 11 September disaster can be a good example for this. What these plane hijackers did, did not lead not to sympathy for Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Rather, it led to the death of thousands of people and humiliation of Islam in the world.
Finally, in my opinion, this type of excessive behaviors should never be approved by Aristotle. Although people have right to resist and protest, they should do this by not causing pain and harm to themselves and also to other people. I do not believe that things can be better and change by making suicide bombings.
- Aristotle, “The Nicomachean Ethics”, Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (June, 1998), Translated with an Introduction by David Ross, Revised by J. L. Ackrill and J. O. Urmson.