Fortitude: A demanding virtue

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Giovanni Cucci, SJ

 Giovanni Cucci, SJ / Philosophy / 7 December 2021


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The term “fortitude” may appear to some to convey a negative message of strong power and physical prowess, or even violence and oppression. But in reality it is an indispensable virtue for living together. When it is lacking, evils of all kinds flourish, because those who could prevent them fail to take a stand. Think of recent historical tragedies such as the Holocaust and ethnic cleansing: in contrast to the enormous number of victims, it is striking how few were the perpetrators . Some have attributed the following to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Fortitude is the capacity to oppose destructive forces. Without fortitude it becomes impossible to implement justice, protect civil life, and make ordinary choices, which not infrequently entail sacrifices. “The field of fortitude is very broad, because this virtue is needed wherever threats must be resisted, fears must be overcome, boredom, tedium and the disgust of daily existence must be faced in order to succeed in doing good. This is why it is one of the fundamental human, moral virtues that every honest person should practice.”[1]

We can see the importance and complexity of this virtue from a cursory review of the terminology.

In antiquity

The Greek term employed for fortitude is andreia, the characteristic proper to a man (anēr) that makes him capable of facing the difficulties of life, protecting those under his charge, and for this he is willing even to die with dignity.

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