Skip over navigation

Nicomachean Ethics


Book IV

Book III

Book IV, page 2

page 1 of 3


Having discussed courage and temperance in Book III, Aristotle now moves through the rest of the virtues, discussing them one by one.

Liberality is the right disposition with regard to spending money, while prodigality and illiberality represent excess and deficiency respectively. The liberal person will give the right amounts of money to the right people at the right times and so will take pleasure in giving: giving money only grudgingly is a sign of illiberality. Feeling no strong attachment to money, the liberal person manages resources well and does not squander money as the prodigal person would. Prodigality is better than illiberality because it is a result of foolishness rather than vice and can be easily remedied.

While liberality deals with ordinary expenditures of money, magnificence is the virtue of properly spending large sums of money on liturgies, or public gifts. Magnificence requires good taste: gaudy displays of wealth exhibit the vice of vulgarity, while spoiling a liturgy through penny-pinching is a sign of pettiness.

Magnanimity is the quality of the person who knows himself or herself to be worthy of great honors. The person who overestimates self-worth is conceited, and the person who underestimates self-worth is pusillanimous. Neither vanity nor pusillanimity are so much bad as mistaken, though pusillanimity is generally worse. The magnanimous person is great and knows it. This person therefore accepts honors knowing they are deserved, but does not take excessive pleasure in these honors. Being aware of his or her greatness and status, the magnanimous person is uncomfortable when put in a position inferior to anyone and always seeks his or her rightful superior place. Aristotle asserts of the magnanimous person that “his gait is measured, his voice deep, and his speech unhurried.”

With regard to smaller honors, there is a virtuous mean, which lies between the excess of extreme ambition and the deficiency of lacking ambition entirely.

The right disposition toward anger is similar to patience, though patience can sometimes be a deficiency, as some anger is occasionally appropriate. The excess of irascibility manifests itself in people with hot tempers, or worse, people who hold grudges and remain irritable.

More Help

Previous Next

by ProfessorHinkley, April 06, 2014

The author of this commentary claims that Aristotle's "concept of distributive justice is meant to ensure that the greatest privilege go to those male aristocrats who exhibit the greatest virtue rather than to those who have the greatest wealth, the greatest military strength, or the most friends." This claim is superficial and grossly misleading. We need to approach books by trying to understand them as the author understands them, and in this case Aristotle articulates a principle of justice, called merit, that transcends gender and socia


8 out of 12 people found this helpful

Good Article

by m8292, September 30, 2014

Thanks for the good article.
To the previous poster: Can you explain where you see that Aristotle's principle is meant by the author to transcend gender etc.? I am especially confused by this because you state that we should not read the book as it might be interpreted, but as the author intended it to be interpreted (if I got you right). Doesn't it seem highly unlikely that someone like Aristotle would include anyone but citizens of the polis in his considerations? Do you have any citation that would support Aristotle including women ... Read more


9 out of 9 people found this helpful


by arclexico, February 23, 2015

Thank you Sparknotes for your great and concise articles. I got 95/100 on my exam.

Follow Us