Courage enjoys seemingly unlimited relevance to diverse contexts in human life. Existence is precarious, and achieving our goals frequently requires dealing with fear to take necessary risks. Even pacifists can find something admirable in the way soldiers withstand the temptation to flee from battle, with the possible loss of life and limb, for the protection of the homeland. We regularly commend the bravery of firefighters who risk their lives to rescue civilians from burning buildings. Similarly, we acknowledge that activists pursuing civil rights must possess the mettle to stand up for a just cause in the face of bigotry that may escalate into violence. We laud the courage of those who tell the truth, as when someone comes out as gay despite the risk of ostracism or physical harm. Additional examples may include cancer patients undertaking dangerous surgery, business persons pursuing ventures to develop a fledgling business and children tackling new tasks or dealing with bullies in school.
Given this broad relevance, it is no surprise that courage is among those admired traits we identify as virtues. The ancient Greeks, as well as St Thomas Aquinas, identified it as one of the cardinal virtues. Nevertheless, celebrating courage is not without its challenges. First, Aristotle identifies bravery on the battlefield as the paradigm of courage. What, then, are we to make of apparent instances that occur neither in battle nor in the face of death?