Quotes About Being a Man from Aristotle

Aristotle

When Philip of Macedon had to send his son Alexander to study philosophy, only one name came to mind. Undoubtedly the greatest philosopher in the Western tradition, Aristotle’s work can truly be called timeless.

Aristotle’s work is a bit dense for the modern American reader. It’s challenging to get guys to read a block of 250 words unless you put it into list form. One of the most popular websites out there is Buzzfeed – which is written at the same reading level as your first grade Daily Reader.

Yet the elegance of Aristotle’s work continues to inspire. This passage – on the Great or Noble man – was written in 350 B.C.:

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It is also characteristic of the great-souled man never to ask help from others, or only with reluctance, but to render aid willingly; and to be haughty towards men of position and fortune, but courteous towards those of moderate station, because it is difficult and distinguished to be superior to the great, but easy to outdo the lowly, and to adopt a high manner with the former is not ill-bred, but it is vulgar to lord it over humble people: it is like putting forth one’s strength against the weak.

He will not compete for the common objects of ambition, or go where other people take the first place; and he will be idle and slow to act, except when pursuing some high honor or achievement; and will not engage in many undertakings, but only in such as are important and distinguished.

He must be open both in love and in hate, since concealment shows timidity; and care more for the truth than for what people will think; and speak and act openly, since as he despises other men he is outspoken and frank, except when speaking with ironical self-depreciation, as he does to common people.

He will be incapable of living at the will of another, unless a friend, since to do so is slavish, and hence flatterers are always servile, and humble people flatterers.

He is not prone to admiration, since nothing is great to him. He does not bear a grudge, for it is not a mark of greatness of soul to recall things against people, especially the wrongs they have done you, but rather to overlook them.

He is no gossip, for he will not talk either about himself or about another, as he neither wants to receive compliments nor to hear other people run down (nor is he lavish of praise either); and so he is not given to speaking evil himself, even of his enemies, except when he deliberately intends to give offence.

In troubles that cannot be avoided or trifling mishaps he will never cry out or ask for help, since to do so would imply that he took them to heart.

He likes to own beautiful and useless things, rather than useful things that bring in a return, since the former show his independence more.

Other traits generally attributed to the great-souled man are a slow gait, a deep voice, and a deliberate utterance; to speak in shrill tones and walk fast denotes an excitable and nervous temperament, which does not belong to one who cares for few things and thinks nothing great.

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(Excerpted from the Nicomachean Ethics.)

What do you disagree with? Isn’t it amazing that Aristotle wrote those words nearly 2,500 years ago?

If you don’t feel like slogging through the Nichomachean Ethics, check out these quotes from Aristotle.

Read next: Quotes About Marriage from the Ancients.

  • http://markcsernuscopy.com Mark

    I’m not sure how to interpret ” … which does not belong to one who cares for few things and thinks nothing great.” Especially the part of thinking nothing is great. Maybe that refers to how great men are not easily excited. They’ve had many rich experiences, so they realize that wide-eyed enthusiasm is sort of immature.

    • Danger & Play

      Your comment reminds me why philosophy is so fun. It really is open ended and great for discussion.

      Think about when you’re a kid. Everything “latest and greatest” impresses you. Give me that new iPhone 5s. Give me the new iPad! The longer you live, the more you realize that the new gadgets and methods really aren’t anything special.

      There’s a line between being smug and not finding anything interesting and being wild-eyed. Aristotle’s concept of the Golden Mean would touch upon that: You respect things for what they are without reaping too much praise.

  • http://www.wellbuiltstyle.com Manny

    It’s interesting.

    There are definitely traits in there that would be considered “beta” or “blue pill” by many guys today.

    At the end of the day it appears Aristotle is describing a man that would have maximum utility towards a civilized society.

    He admonishes men for seeking fame, but think of all of the great men of antiquity that relished in it (Julius Cesar, Alexander The Great, etc.). Recognition among peers was the driving force behind these men (and men like them).

    • Danger & Play

      Aristotle was a philosopher and not a power seeker.

      If you read 48 Laws of Power, you’d see how different the perspectives are. THis would be horrible advice for one who would court kings, presidents, and CEOS: “He must be open both in love and in hate, since concealment shows timidity; and care more for the truth than for what people will think; and speak and act openly ….”

      Incidentally, I’m far more of a philosopher than a power seeker.

  • http://markcsernuscopy.com Mark

    I love reading stuff that was written thousands of years ago but is still as true today as it was then. That’s how you stay relevant for millenniums. Be timeless.

  • http://realitydoug.wordpress.com ‘Reality’ Doug

    Great find. The first crowd of philosophers will rule the future. I just hope the coupon clipping elite do not measure up to the task.

  • Chill

    This is a great post, and reading these passages sure bring a day to focus.

    Keep the quality posts coming!

  • byronicmate

    Hey D&P,

    Thanks for sharing this. I enjoyed reading. Not sure how to interpret some parts though. Anyone know what he means by

    “He likes to own beautiful and useless things, rather than useful things that bring in a return, since the former show his independence more”

    ? Is it Aristotle suggesting that great men have hobbies?

    • arizz-total

      No, he’s suggesting to be a baller and make yourself drown in lavish material goodz.

  • Matt

    This is truly the way of the superior man.

  • earl

    “In troubles that cannot be avoided or trifling mishaps he will never cry out or ask for help, since to do so would imply that he took them to heart.”

    That would be a case by case basis.

    But I would say if you need help…ask a man first. Asking a woman for help should be a last resort.

  • Derek

    He makes some good points, but I prefer Plutarch if we’re talking about ancient Greek exponents of virtuous character. His “Parallel Lives” is an absolutely epic timeless masterpiece that guided Western civilization for centuries and has sadly fallen into obscurity.

  • Jose L Romero

    Wow! The man was on point even thought 2,500 years has past! I have related with many of the points he talked about. Especially on how a man should not depend on others to make a living as he should be able to make his own living!

    I need to start reading more about men like this! I could learn more!