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Nicomachean Ethics   


despots when they sack cities and spoil temples, we do not call mean
but rather wicked, impious, and unjust. But the gamester and the
footpad (and the highwayman) belong to the class of the mean, since
they have a sordid love of gain. For it is for gain that both of them
ply their craft and endure the disgrace of it, and the one faces the
greatest dangers for the sake of the booty, while the other makes gain
from his friends, to whom he ought to be giving. Both, then, since
they are willing to make gain from wrong sources, are sordid lovers of
gain; therefore all such forms of taking are mean.
And it is natural that meanness is described as the contrary of
liberality; for not only is it a greater evil than prodigality, but
men err more often in this direction than in the way of prodigality as
we have described it.
So much, then, for liberality and the opposed vices.
2
It would seem proper to discuss magnificence next. For this also seems
to be a virtue concerned with wealth; but it does not like liberality
extend to all the actions that are concerned with wealth, but only to
those that involve expenditure; and in these it surpasses liberality
in scale. For, as the name itself suggests, it is a fitting
expenditure involving largeness of scale. But the scale is relative;
for the expense of equipping a trireme is not the same as that of
heading a sacred embassy. It is what is fitting, then, in relation to
the agent, and to the circumstances and the object. The man who in
small or middling things spends according to the merits of the case is
not called magnificent (e.g. the man who can say 'many a gift I gave
the wanderer'), but only the man who does so in great things. For the
magnificent man is liberal, but the liberal man is not necessarily
magnificent. The deficiency of this state of character is called
niggardliness, the excess vulgarity, lack of taste, and the like,
which do not go to excess in the amount spent on right objects, but by
showy expenditure in the wrong circumstances and the wrong manner; we
shall speak of these vices later.
The magnificent man is like an artist; for he can see what is fitting
and spend large sums tastefully. For, as we said at the begining, a
state of character is determined by its activities and by its objects.
Now the expenses of the magnificent man are large and fitting. Such,
therefore, are also his results; for thus there will be a great
expenditure and one that is fitting to its result. Therefore the
result should be worthy of the expense, and the expense should be
worthy of the result, or should even exceed it. And the magnificent
man will spend such sums for honour's sake; for this is common to the
virtues. And further he will do so gladly and lavishly; for nice
calculation is a niggardly thing. And he will consider how the result
can be made most beautiful and most becoming rather than for how much
it can be produced and how it can be produced most cheaply. It is
necessary, then, that the magnificent man be also liberal. For the
liberal man also will spend what he ought and as he ought; and it is
in these matters that the greatness implied in the name of the
magnificent man-his bigness, as it were-is manifested, since
liberality is concerned with these matters; and at an equal expense he
will produce a more magnificent work of art. For a possession and a
work of art have not the same excellence. The most valuable possession
is that which is worth most, e.g. gold, but the most valuable work of
art is that which is great and beautiful (for the contemplation of
such a work inspires admiration, and so does magnificence); and a work
has an excellence-viz. magnificence-which involves magnitude.
Magnificence is an attribute of expenditures of the kind which we call
honourable, e.g. those connected with the gods-votive offerings,
buildings, and sacrifices-and similarly with any form of religious
worship, and all those that are proper objects of public-spirited
ambition, as when people think they ought to equip a chorus or a
trireme, or entertain the city, in a brilliant way. But in all cases,
as has been said, we have regard to the agent as well and ask who he

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