Aristotle On Youth

by Jimmy Akin

in Philosophy

Speaking of Aristotle’s (blindingly obvious) observation that young people are reckless and like to have fun, here’s his description of young men and their character. Sound like anybody you know (or may have been)?

Young men have strong
passions, and tend to gratify them indiscriminately. Of the bodily
desires, it is the sexual by which they are most swayed and in which
they show absence of self-control.

They are changeable and fickle in
their desires, which are violent while they last, but quickly over:
their impulses are keen but not deep-rooted, and are like sick people’s
attacks of hunger and thirst.

They are hot-tempered, and quick-tempered,
and apt to give way to their anger; bad temper often gets the better of
them, for owing to their love of honour they cannot bear being slighted,
and are indignant if they imagine themselves unfairly treated.

they love honour, they love victory still more; for youth is eager for
superiority over others, and victory is one form of this.

They love both
more than they love money, which indeed they love very little, not
having yet learnt what it means to be without it — this is the point of
Pittacus’ remark about Amphiaraus.

They look at the good side rather
than the bad, not having yet witnessed many instances of wickedness.
They trust others readily, because they have not yet often been cheated.

They are sanguine; nature warms their blood as though with excess of
wine; and besides that, they have as yet met with few disappointments.

Their lives are mainly spent not in memory but in expectation; for
expectation refers to the future, memory to the past, and youth has a
long future before it and a short past behind it: on the first day of
one’s life one has nothing at all to remember, and can only look

They are easily cheated, owing to the sanguine disposition just

Their hot tempers and hopeful dispositions make them more
courageous than older men are; the hot temper prevents fear, and the
hopeful disposition creates confidence; we cannot feel fear so long as
we are feeling angry, and any expectation of good makes us confident.

They are shy, accepting the rules of society in which they have been
trained, and not yet believing in any other standard of honour.

have exalted notions, because they have not yet been humbled by life or
learnt its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition
makes them think themselves equal to great things — and that means
having exalted notions.

They would always rather do noble deeds than
useful ones: their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by
reasoning; and whereas reasoning leads us to choose what is useful,
moral goodness leads us to choose what is noble.

They are fonder of
their friends, intimates, and companions than older men are,  because they like spending their days in
the company of others, and have not yet come to value either their
friends or anything else by their usefulness to themselves.

All their
mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and
vehemently. They disobey Chilon’s precept by overdoing everything, they
love too much and hate too much, and the same thing with everything

They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about
it; this, in fact, is why they overdo everything.

If they do wrong to
others, it is because they mean to insult them, not to do them actual

They are ready to pity others, because they think every one an
honest man, or anyhow better than he is: they judge their neighbour by
their own harmless natures, and so cannot think he deserves to be
treated in that way.

They are fond of fun and therefore witty, wit being
well-bred insolence [Rhetoric II:12:1389a-b].

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Kevin February 3, 2005 at 10:25 am

As a Catholic high school teacher, so much of this rings true! I see so much of it in my students and athletes that I coach. Oh that time will make them grow out of their sophmoric ways!

BillyHW February 3, 2005 at 1:29 pm

The sky is blue?!!!

Don(Kiwi) February 3, 2005 at 11:18 pm

I remember that. I’ve been there – a long time ago.

Jimmy Akin February 3, 2005 at 11:27 pm

In a galaxy far, far away?

Tim J. February 4, 2005 at 11:08 am

Neat! I am printing this out and showing it to my son. If he ever wonders why I stay so actively (and annoyingly) involved in his young life, it is because I remember mine so well!
Thanks, Jimmy!

Patrick Quirk February 4, 2005 at 4:18 pm

Reminds me a little of this (see last line):
‘Youth is the cause of hope on these three counts, namely, because the object of hope is future, is difficult, and is possible. For the young live in the future and not in the past, they are not lost in memories but full of confidence. Secondly, their warmth of nature, high spirits, and expansive heart embolden them to reach out to difficult projects; therefore are they mettlesome and of good hope. Thirdly, they have not been thwarted in their plans and their lack of experience encourages them to think that where there’s a will there’s a way. The last two facts, namely good spirits and a certain recklessness, are also at work in people who are drunk.’
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (trans. Thomas Gilby) I-II 60.6.

Tim J. February 4, 2005 at 6:01 pm

Regarding the Aquinas quote, do you think this is what makes drinking so attractive to those of us approaching middle age? :)
At least, that’s what I heard…

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