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Nicomachean Ethics   


contemptible sort of fellow (otherwise he would not have delighted in
falsehood), but seems futile rather than bad; but if he does it for an
object, he who does it for the sake of reputation or honour is (for a
boaster) not very much to be blamed, but he who does it for money, or
the things that lead to money, is an uglier character (it is not the
capacity that makes the boaster, but the purpose; for it is in virtue
of his state of character and by being a man of a certain kind that he
is boaster); as one man is a liar because he enjoys the lie itself,
and another because he desires reputation or gain. Now those who boast
for the sake of reputation claim such qualities as will praise or
congratulation, but those whose object is gain claim qualities which
are of value to one's neighbours and one's lack of which is not easily
detected, e.g. the powers of a seer, a sage, or a physician. For this
reason it is such things as these that most people claim and boast
about; for in them the above-mentioned qualities are found.
Mock-modest people, who understate things, seem more attractive in
character; for they are thought to speak not for gain but to avoid
parade; and here too it is qualities which bring reputation that they
disclaim, as Socrates used to do. Those who disclaim trifling and
obvious qualities are called humbugs and are more contemptible; and
sometimes this seems to be boastfulness, like the Spartan dress; for
both excess and great deficiency are boastful. But those who use
understatement with moderation and understate about matters that do
not very much force themselves on our notice seem attractive. And it
is the boaster that seems to be opposed to the truthful man; for he is
the worse character.
8
Since life includes rest as well as activity, and in this is included
leisure and amusement, there seems here also to be a kind of
intercourse which is tasteful; there is such a thing as saying- and
again listening to- what one should and as one should. The kind of
people one is speaking or listening to will also make a difference.
Evidently here also there is both an excess and a deficiency as
compared with the mean. Those who carry humour to excess are thought
to be vulgar buffoons, striving after humour at all costs, and aiming
rather at raising a laugh than at saying what is becoming and at
avoiding pain to the object of their fun; while those who can neither
make a joke themselves nor put up with those who do are thought to be
boorish and unpolished. But those who joke in a tasteful way are
called ready-witted, which implies a sort of readiness to turn this
way and that; for such sallies are thought to be movements of the
character, and as bodies are discriminated by their movements, so too
are characters. The ridiculous side of things is not far to seek,
however, and most people delight more than they should in amusement
and in jestinly. and so even buffoons are called ready-witted because
they are found attractive; but that they differ from the ready-witted
man, and to no small extent, is clear from what has been said.
To the middle state belongs also tact; it is the mark of a tactful man
to say and listen to such things as befit a good and well-bred man;
for there are some things that it befits such a man to say and to hear
by way of jest, and the well-bred man's jesting differs from that of a
vulgar man, and the joking of an educated man from that of an
uneducated. One may see this even from the old and the new comedies;
to the authors of the former indecency of language was amusing, to
those of the latter innuendo is more so; and these differ in no small
degree in respect of propriety. Now should we define the man who jokes
well by his saying what is not unbecoming to a well-bred man, or by
his not giving pain, or even giving delight, to the hearer? Or is the
latter definition, at any rate, itself indefinite, since different
things are hateful or pleasant to different people? The kind of jokes
he will listen to will be the same; for the kind he can put up with
are also the kind he seems to make. There are, then, jokes he will not
make; for the jest is a sort of abuse, and there are things that
lawgivers forbid us to abuse; and they should, perhaps, have forbidden

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