New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Chapter 5: Aristotle’s idea of magnanimity and transformative ambition
For Aristotle, magnanimity is the peak and completion of virtue, attainable only by the morally serious individual. An abiding characteristic of magnanimity is that it pertains to “great things,” such as great honors and great deeds (Ethics, 1123b, translated 2002). It is also defined by the right attitude toward the most valuable external good, honor. The magnanimous man’s desire for honor is based on his self-worth; he believes he deserves not only great, but the greatest things. This certainty of what he merits is not a fiction but is based on the presence of something truly great within him. Honor is a recognition of an individual’s worth and the starting point for the analysis of magnanimity. Like money, this external good is a fickle thing, but it differs from other external goods because honor refers to an individual’s intrinsic character. It points to the magnanimous man’s virtue; while honor is a fickle thing, virtue is not. As such, the magnanimous man’s view of himself is not empty self-esteem or narcissism. Aristotle argues that the magnanimous man must be the best human being, and it would be impossible for him not to be good (1123b27–8, 1123b36).
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