Virtues of Greatness in the Arabic Tradition

Research output: Book/ReportBook


There are few ideals of character as distinctive as the ancient virtue of “greatness of soul.” A larger-than-life virtue embodying 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 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? One of the aims of this book is to answer this question. Yet in the process, it opens out to become a story about a larger family of virtues united by their preoccupation with greatness and things great. We may call them “virtues of greatness.” An important constituent of the character ideals expounded across a range of genres within the Islamic world, this type of virtue tells us as much about the content of these ideals as about their kaleidoscopic genealogies. The Islamic 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?
Original languageEnglish
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages192
ISBN (Print)9780198842828
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2019


  • Aristotle
  • greatness of soul
  • virtues of greatness
  • greatness of spirit
  • aspiration
  • virtue ethics


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