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Essay/Term paper: Courage

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Both men and woman have intentions and act, so both are capable of
virtue. Virtue ethics as a theory of morality has existed, most
notably, since Aristotle. Courage is one such virtue and to display
this persons need to experience fear and perceive danger. The
circumstances surrounding an act of courage need to be proportionate to
perceived risk to avoid the activity becoming an enterprise of
foolishness. Also the potential costs associated with the risk must be

proportionate to the ends concerning the bravery. These elements
associated with courage are undoubtedly equally available to both sexes
and in the sense of equality feminism woman can and have been
courageous. However, in light of difference feminism, another facet
may need to be added to the modern meaning of courage, as an
acknowledgement that virtues are characterised with respect to
attitudes held within the context of definition.

A virtue is a prescription of how someone should be. It is a
component of character. Aristotle (cited in Hinman, 1998, pp.
334-335), described virtue as being a mean, or average of attitude
which could be uncovered via reasoning and displayed through
personality and behaviour styles. For example, the average between an
excess like contrariness and a deficiency like sycophancy might be
honest opinion.
Hinman mentions further the difference between substantive virtues,
those that are closer to the ethical good, like philanthropy, and
executive virtues those less associated with being morally good and
more directly linked with qualities of desirable persona. Courage is
said to be an executive virtue (Ibid., p. 336).

The virtue of courage contains at least two components. First there
must be an internal factor of fear or even phobia. Psychology tells
us that fear is an awareness of physiological changes in response to
some stimulus or other. These changes include increased respiration,
heart-beat, blood-pressure, and higher production of epinephrine
(adrenaline). Other changes such as pupil dilation, increased sweating
and decreased production of saliva are often present too. This process
occurs in a part of the autonomic, non-voluntary, nervous system called
the sympathetic division (Aitkenson, Atkinson, & Hilgard, 1983 p.
331). All healthy humans, male or female have sympathetic divisions of
the autonomic nervous system and are thus prone to the physiological,
and thus the psychological, experience of fear.

Second, there must be an external factor of perceived danger in a
circumstance for a courageous deed to be possible. The degree of such
will depend on how the individual relates the present circumstance with
experiences of past events and situations. For example, if I see a
torrentially flooded river an attempt to cross it would be perceived as
dangerous because I have seen many such situations on television where
lives have been put at risk. This cognitive component is important in
danger because I may enter a dangerous situation without realising it
and thus act without courage. It could be imagined that an individual
has no idea that, to get a culled animal for feeding their family, they
may have to walk across a minefield. If the minefield is unknown to
the individual then no fear will be experienced because no danger is
attached to collecting the prey on the other side of the field. So in
this case no act of bravery has been committed. Alternatively, it
appears! courage can be displayed without any real danger existing.
Phobias have the component of fear without physical danger. A phobia

may be defined as an irrational fear, associated with a stimulus
containing no objective hazard. To confront a phobia takes similar
courage needed in non-phobic situations because the associated
behaviours necessary to conquer the phobia are manifested despite fear
or anxiety.

This is contrary to Hinman's concept of rightly ordered fears. He
maintains that once phobias have been overcome courage is no longer
part of the relationship between actor and situation. He also
maintains that if courage is responding to objectively identifiable
danger then responses to psychological dangers will not count and if
individuals do not perceive objective dangers as such they will not be
counted as courageous. This all appears acceptable. However, Hinman
then seems to discount facing phobias as a valid form of courage
(1998; p. 338).

Phobias may be placed in the objective realm of rightly ordered fears
because for the phobic actor, no matter how illogical the response is
to the stimulus, all elements of fear and danger still exist. The
proportion of fear to actual risk to an unempathetic observer, may be
unbalanced. But because fear is a subjective emotion, it seems
illogical to try and objectively quantify, or comparatively ordinate it
with dangers that are also subjectively assessed by the phobic. All of
this infers that courage is more attached to overcoming fear rather
than danger. Indeed, the dangerousness of a situation is often out of
the actor's control. However, fear is not always a controllable
phenomena either, and this is perhaps why when people act against
perceived danger, in spite of fear, they are considered courageous
(Hinman, 1998; p. 338). Again it appears that most healthy, rational
humans, woman and men alike, are capable of recognising dangerous
situations with the relevant knowled! ge in tow. Both men and woman
also confront phobias, and so in these respects courage does not appear
to be a gender specific virtue.

There must also be appropriate self-confidence and a relatively
accurate assessment of the risk involved in any action for it to be
courageous, rather than foolish. To skydive without training would be
risky. A person who partook in such an activity without worrying
about the likely consequences, would be quite foolish. However, the
same act carried out by someone who is properly trained can be seen as
moderately courageous, at least for the first few times. Once more
skill and experience is gained the less fear is likely to be
experienced. Indeed, the physiological components once associated with
fear may be associated with an experience of exhilaration.
Sensibility, is also a factor in courage. It would also be foolish to
do something like risk one^s life for the sake of something like a TV,
because the risk involved, when compared with the outcome, is just not
worth it. But, to risk life or injury for the sake of another human

being would not be so foolish because!
the intended ends justify the possible cost (Hinman, p. 339).

As all of the above appears to be equally applicable to both men and
woman it seems almost inane to ask whether or not courage is a gender
specific virtue. But the context of the question needs to be
illustrated. For Aristotle the virtue of courage is associated with
actions of soldiers in battle and soldiers in the armies of his times
were all men. Also acts of courage exhibited by woman have tended to
be under-valued, or even unrecognised (Hinman, p. 341).

The above modern framing of the concept of courage is far wider than
Aristotle's and woman are generally more accepted as equals to men now,
and this is why it is safe to say courage is not gender-specific.
Courage is not just something which can be displayed in battle, it can
be displayed in any risky situation. For example, many woman become
pregnant without the means material and or psychological to cope with
such. Much pressure is experienced by woman who abort as a result of
their immediate circumstances. Not only is there huge moral debate
about the act of abortion, which must increase trauma, but the
procedure is hugely stressful physically and psychologically. Surely,
courage is needed to make decisions in circumstances such as these. The
act of giving birth is also one which requires great courage.
Historically, this ordeal was extremely risky because of crude medical
technology as Hinman recognises (1998; pp. 341-342). Now, birth is
still a very painful proce! ss and in order to have a child woman are
still at risk of complications associated with such. Woman also
partake in military roles traditionally exclusive to men. The Red Army
contained female regiments, some modern Muslim armies contain female
regiments also, woman fighter pilots are part of some modern airforces
and, the Royal New Zealand Navy, amongst others, employs woman on its
warships. M any police forces and fire departments have woman assigned
to front-line duty. Courage is now equally available to woman, in
consideration of this, even if the Aristotelian definition of such is
adhered to. Maybe now woman, because of the sex roles they partook in
historically, require another facet to be added to the definition of
courage. This addition may make the acts of courage exhibited by woman
more obvious.

The implications of how to act in order to display the virtue of
courage appear to lean towards male sex role stereotypes. The
stereotypes have been displayed over centuries by men who have been
socialised accordingly. Now in the late 20th century, in order to
attain gender equality, it seems as if females have to display
courageous behaviours according to how men have defined them, rather
than modifying how one should act in order to manifest such.
Historically, it appears that Hinman^s definition of courage is
applicable to how men have been defining and displaying courage. It
may be argued that the traditional role of woman in the family and
society is one that has been directed by men resulting in the
suppression of real female freedom and ability, and thus female

Socialisation is perhaps the reason why female emancipation, to the
extent it exists now, did not occur until the 1960s. This seems
reasonable to assume, because if woman are as courageous as men,
according to the overcoming of fear in the face of danger definition,
equality should have been achieved long before it was. But it was not
until late last century, and in this century, that considerations such
as; females obtaining equal voting rights, having control over foetal
conception, and the confirmation of potential equality in the workplace
through mass employment mobilisation in the two World Wars, that
notions of gender equality were seriously considered by large numbers
of the female populace. All of this ascribes to the notion of ^equality
feminism^, where female equality is associated with having the same
opportunities and aspirations as men (Gilligan, cited in Hinman, 1998;
p. 383).

However, the notion of ^difference feminism^ recognises that females
see the world differently, and this may implicate, that virtues will be
manifested within them in ways other than defined to date (Ibid.). In
psychologist Carol Gilligan^s view, woman^s morality focuses primarily
on caring, emotionality, and responsibility (Hinman, 1998; pp.
375-377). With reference to Hinman^s discussion of Gilligan^s stages of
woman^s moral development, courage could be seen as maintaining a
responsibility for oneself and others, despite circumstances of duress
and hardship. Continuing to live one^s life as a responsible and
caring agent, in spite of oppression, and making the most out of the
resources available whilst being oppressed, might be seen as a form of
female courage in history. In contemporary times, however, the female
voice will be extended from within, to the outside world, for the
purpose of recognition as a valid point of view in spite of discounting
attitudes (Ibid. p. 3! 84).

Brown and Gilligan^s qualitative research (1992, cited in Hinman,
1998; p.342), concerning the hardship experienced in the female voyage
from adolescence to adulthood leans towards this idea and is consistent
with Gilligan^s conception of ^difference feminism^. The courage
described, appears to be less of facing a concrete danger, and more of
a self determined endurance concerning the righteousness of emotional,
intra-personal, and interpersonal attitudes and actions. Despite
apparent external pressure to the contrary, caring for oneself, and
taking responsibility for acknowledging the validity of this
developmental process had high priority in these young woman^s lives.
Importantly, these internalised conflicting mind sets were allowed by
the younger woman, to be voiced publicly. Older woman interviewed,
appeared to be less forthcoming, more restrained, and self-censored in
voicing opinions pertaining to similar experiences in woman-hood. The
research implied the censo! rship and subjective perception of
relevance of the personal voice was due to changing patterns in
socialisation rather than attitudinal differences developed through the
life-span (Reimer, 1996).

MacIntyre (cited in Csongradi, 1996), proposes that virtues are based
on sources, gathered through historical perspectives, allowing society
to retrospect and then endeavour to find standards of excellence based
on such. These standards encourage individuals to behave according to
moral perspectives found in areas such as in popular culture. Thus,
different genders could have very different thoughts about what is an
issue of courage and, also have different perspectives on how to deal
with such issues. This para-evolutionary approach appears to be
congruent with the Brown and Gilligan study mentioned above. An example
of this is the present notion of ^girl-power^ in youth culture. Due to
influences of bands such as The Spice Girls, traditionally downplayed
aspects of personality like acute-femininity are being acknowledged as
being as powerful and as sound as personality expressions associated
with acute-masculinity. Naturally, the band is heavily marketed, but
still their image gives credence to this point. The Spice Girls are
unashamedly all-female, dress according to youth culture, and
underline their stance with lyrics, consistently reinforcing the
relevance of the young female reality, such as in the song ^One of
These Girls^ (Furguson, 1998). Other bands like The All Saints, and
New Zealand^s own Mary, follow along similar lines.

The discussion above highlights the relevance of Hinman^s plurality
ethics (Hinman, 1998; pp. 35-36). He bases his pluralism on four
principles. First, is a principal of understanding. Through a sincere
desire to comprehend variance, we must effort to embrace different
expressions of virtues regarding how such are defined by cultures and
sub-cultures. Second, by acceptance of the validity of different
manifestations of courage as a virtue in different sexes, diversity in
such can be recognised and Hinman^s principal of tolerance will be
accommodated. Although, tolerance appears to have a slightly negative
connotation in that it implies an attitude of putting up with
something. Here, a principle of acknowledgement is possibly more
appropriate. Third, acceptance of multiplicity in the expression of
courage endorses its non-gender specific nature. Because courage is a
virtue, validating diversity in the expression of such will likely
reinforce its proliferation and, wil! l apply to the principal of
standing up against evil, and perhaps help extinguish the vice of
cowardice. Fourth, in the above discussion, Hinman^s principle of
fallibility is also relevant because, regarding Gilligan^s difference
feminism, it has been the implication that a traditional male
conception of the dangerousness aspect in courage may be subtly lacking
in points of emotion and responsibility. Importantly, the realisation
of this emotional facet in perception of danger, will validify not only
difference feminism, but also related experiences faced by men. Today,
although perhaps to a decreasing extent, we live in a society wherein
emotionality as a part of how men experience fear and danger, and thus
display courage, is inclined to be discounted too.

In conclusion, it is apparent that courage is not a gender-specific
virtue. In all aspects, for courage to be expressed, males and females
appear to be equally equipped. Both sexes experience fear and are
capable of assessing dangerous situations, accurately or erroneously.
Both sexes are involved in roles which regularly necessitate courage.
These observations are aligned with the idea of equity feminism.
However, recently recognised facets of the female intra-personal and
inter-personal experience adds greater dimensionality to how courage
may be identified and expressed by woman. Consequently, the
existing framework surrounding criteria for what is an act or
pre-disposition for courage may have to be modified. This point is
reinforced by moral attitudes apparent in contemporary culture and, is
congruent with Gilligan's notion of difference feminism and Hinman's
ethics of plurality.


Aitkenson, R. L., Atkinson, R. C., & Hilgard, E. R., (1983). Introduction to Psychology (8th Ed.) San Diego; Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

Csongradi, C., (1996). Why the Topic of Bioethics in Science Classes? http://www.gene.com/ae/21st/SER/BE/index.html

Furguson, G. M., (1998). The Spice Girls Space. http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Hills/8699/oneof.html

Hinman, L.., (1998). Ethics (2nd Ed.). San Diego. Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Reimer, S., (1996). In the Works of the Bard Woman Find True Voices. http://www.sunspot.net/columnists/data/reimer/0721reimer.shtml


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