In Courage, Barbara Darling-Smith brings together various authors (primarily philosophers of religion, theology, literature, and political science) who contribute intriguing essays about their perspectives on courage. Darling-Smith begins this volume of philosophical essays by challenging readers to think of courage as more than a simple "dramatic quality exhibited only by infantry soldiers who plod stealthily through land-mine-laced jungles" (p. 1). She and ten other authors "bring their own wisdom to the discussion of courage" (p. 1) and urge readers to think of courage as something that can be, and often is, enacted by "ordinary" people daily. Although not explicitly addressed to educators, these essays about courage may inspire students, teachers, and others in educational institutions to take courageous action for needed reforms and/or social justice.
The book explores courage in three significant ways. The first part, "Courage in Philosophy and Literature," begins with an essay by William Desmond, a former professor of philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. In "The Secret Sources of Strengthening: Philosophical Reflections on Courage," Desmond explores the relationships among courage and knowing, willing, the passion of being, and philosophers. He also examines four forms of courage: vital self-insistence, affirming life in the face of threat, affirming a way of life, and affirming beyond one’s life. Desmond asserts that "we do not call upon courage; rather, something is called forth from us in courage" (p. 11). In educational settings, this may occur when teachers inspire students to take courageous acts, such as speaking up about their personal beliefs regardless of whether their thoughts are counter to any prevailing views.
In the next essay, Leroy S. Rouner, a professor of philosophy at Boston University, discusses "Stoics, Christians, and the Courage to Be." Rouner considers the role of Christianity by including an analysis of Tillich’s definition of courage: "The courage to accept the fact that we are accepted, in spite of the fact that we know ourselves to be unacceptable" (p. 37). Rouner suggests that, although we all have many faults, people in our lives often accept us for who we are, and all of us long for love to end loneliness and reconnect with God. Rouner’s essay is followed by Remi Brague’s "Facing Reality." Brague considers courage a "transcendental virtue" (p. 43) and explores courage as dangerous and necessary in modern times. He reflects on how work by philosophers like Plato and Aristotle help clarify the meaning of courage, and ends urging people to have the courage to live in the frightening world. Thus, although some people might find places like schools intimidating, Brague implies that students and faculty should not allow fear to interfere with their teaching and learning.
Geoffrey Hill, a professor of literature and religion at Boston University, follows with an analysis of instances in which some of Shakespeare’s leading and supporting characters display acts of courage. The book’s first part concludes with an essay by Philip J. Ivanhoe, a scholar of Asian languages and cultures and of philosophy, entitled "The Virtue of Courage in the Menicus," in which Ivanhoe compares Menicus’ ideas about courage with Aristotle’s.
Section two begins with historian John M. Taylor’s essay, "Courage, Duty, and Robert E. Lee," taking a critical look at how Lee displayed signs of courage by making decisions that were not officially approved by his military superiors. Taylor claims, "Courage can be found in the service of unworthy as well as noble causes, [and] deserves its high place in the pantheon of virtues, but . . . is best employed in combination with judgment, compassion, and righteousness" (p. 93). He suggests that courage is something that often supersedes organized hierarchies. The next essay takes a provocative spin by suggesting that "Courage Is a Verb; Do It." In this brief piece, Daniel Berrigan, poet and priest, challenges readers to take actions that display courage. Lucius T. Outlaw Jr., a professor of philosophy, ends the second section with an essay analyzing race in the United States, focusing on the lives of the "American Negro," their past and present struggles and courageous acts for freedom. These three essays urge readers to act courageously for social change and justice, regardless of personal position or social location in life.
Part three, "Courage Every Day," offers of two powerful essays. In the first, "Courage: Heroes and Anti-Heroes," Robert Neville, a professor of philosophy, religion, and theology at Boston University, shares his thoughts about having the courage to dare, stick to it, face random harm, be alone, love, and the courage of self-identity. Katherine Platt, in "Guts Is a Habit," then offers a detailed description of courage as "an action, not an attribute" (p. 134). Platt suggests that all courageous actions are preceded by "preexisting mental and spiritual labors" that include what she refers to as the "building blocks of courage": inner honesty, consciousness of choice, vision of the courageous action, intention, and decision to act (p. 135). She concludes with thoughts about the pedagogy of courage, asserting that students are consistently "reframing [their] own experience[s] and internalizing the example of others . . . practicing. We can only hope that this practice becomes a habit" (p. 145). Both essays describe courageousness in introspection and how understanding oneself is necessary for other types of courage, such as the ability to love.
The ten essays in this volume explore the meaning of courage in authentic and provocative ways. Readers may gain useful insights and find helpful suggestions from the authors’ various perspectives about how to recognize, enact, practice, and/or maintain courage in their daily lives within and outside of educational institutions.