A man of great deserts, it would seem is most liable to be small minded, for what would he do if his deserts were not as great as they are? - Nicomachean Ethics: Aristotle.

I'm not looking for the philosophic meaning but rather how the word desert is being used here. Is it to imply vacuousness?

  • Just guessing... perhaps it means "rewards"? Not that the passage makes a great deal of sense (to me) that way: but it seems more likely than the other sense of deserts. If you can find the original and someone who knows Ancient Greek, that would help. – msh210 Jan 27 '12 at 16:01
  • -1 research not shown. – MetaEd Sep 2 '12 at 6:30

Something that is deserved or merited, especially a punishment. Often used in the plural.

From here.

  • Yes, but in OP's specific context, the "deservings" are positive, not negative - as per this citation. That, by the way, is the only instance of "man of great deserts" I could find in Google Books that isn't simply quoting OP's Nicomachean Ethics context. – FumbleFingers Jan 27 '12 at 17:27

In context, “a man of great deserts” means a “man deserving of great things”.¹ The word deserts means “what one deserves”. According to Online Etymology Dictionary, desert in this sense is attested

c.1300, from O.Fr. deserte, noun use of pp. of deservir "be worthy to have," ultimately from L. deservire "serve well"

The term is seen in Shakespeare; for example:

Use every man after his desert, and who should scape whipping?
—Hamlet: Act II, Scene ii


  1. The man who thinks he deserves great things, but does not, is vain. But the man who thinks he deserves greater things than he does is not in every case vain. The man who thinks he deserves less than he does is small-minded, whether he deserves great things or middling things; indeed even if, though he deserves little, he thinks he deserves even less. But this small-mindedness seems most of all to apply to the man who deserves great things. For what would he do, if he were not deserving of such great things? Well then, the high-minded man represents an extreme in greatness, but a mean in regard to how he ought to judge himself. For he thinks he deserves what in fact he does deserve. Others exceed the mean or fall short of it. [emphasis added] —Aristotle on High-mindedness from Nicomachean Ethics IV.3. http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~mwilson/Highmindedness.html

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