An ancient virtue and its heirs: the reception of greatness of soul in the Arabic tradition

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This essay examines the reception of the ancient virtue of greatness of soul (or magnanimity) in the Arabic tradition, touching on a range of figures but focusing especially on Miskawayh and even more concertedly on al-Ghazālī. Influenced by a number of Greek ethical texts available in Arabic translation, both of these thinkers incorporate greatness of soul into their classifications of the virtues and the vices. Yet a closer scrutiny raises questions about this amicable inclusion, and suggests that this virtue stands in an uneasy relationship to the larger ethical schemes of both thinkers. This is substantiated by a careful probing of these thinkers’ considered views on the value of honor and the ethics of self-evaluation. Yet if the values embedded in the virtue of greatness of soul conflict with these thinkers’ ethical standpoints, there is then an interesting question to ask as to why this conflict should be obscured from view.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)688–731
JournalJournal of Religious Ethics
Issue number4
Early online date21 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • greatness of soul
  • kibar al-nafs
  • virtue ethics
  • Islamic ethics
  • al-Ghazālī
  • Miskawayh
  • magnanimity


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