Virtues of Greatness in the Arabic Tradition

ISBN : 9780198842828

Sophia Vasalou
192 ページ
135 x 216 mm

There are few ideals of character as distinctive and divisive as the ancient virtue of 'greatness of soul'. A larger-than-life virtue embodying nothing less than a vision of human greatness, it has often been seen as a relic of the Homeric world and its honour-loving heroes. In philosophy, it found its most celebrated expression in Aristotle's ethics, and it has lived on in the minds of philosophers and theologians in different forms ever since. Yet among the many lives this virtue has led in intellectual history, one remains conspicuously unwritten. This is the life it led in the Arabic tradition. A virtue of Greek warriors and their democratic epigones - what happened when this splendid virtue made landfall in the Islamic world? This world, too, had its native heroes, who bequeathed their conception of extraordinary virtue to posterity. Heroic virtue is above all expressed in a boundless aspiration to what is greatest. Could we admire such virtue enough to want it as our own? What can we learn from the Arabic tradition of the virtues? In answering these questions, Sophia Vasalou elucidates a larger family of virtues that are united by their preoccupation with all things great: the 'virtues of greatness'. An important constituent of the character ideals expounded within the Islamic world, this type of virtue tells us as much about the content of these ideals as about their kaleidoscopic genealogies.


1 Greatness of soul: the reception of an ancient virtue
2 Greatness of spirit: the transfiguration of heroic virtue
3 Postlude: a living virtue?


Sophia Vasalou is currently a Senior Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow in Philosophical Theology at the University of Birmingham. She studied at SOAS University of London and the University of Cambridge, and has published widely on Islamic ethics and other philosophical subjects. Her books include Moral Agents and their Deserts: The Character of Mu'tazilite Ethics (Princeton 2008), Schopenhauer and the Aesthetic Standpoint: Philosophy as a Practice of the Sublime (Cambridge 2013), Wonder: A Grammar (SUNY 2015), and Ibn Taymiyya's Theological Ethics (Oxford 2015). She is also the editor of The Measure of Greatness: Philosophers on Magnanimity (Oxford 2019).