♠Aristotle´s Ethical Theory:
“On the Concepts of Virtue and Golden Mean”:
The concept of Aristotle’s theory of golden mean is represented in his work called “Nicomachean Ethics”, in which Aristotle explains the origin, nature and development of virtues which are essential for achieving the ultimate goal, happiness (Greek: eudaimonia), which must be desired for itself.
The virtue (areté ) or excellence of a thing causes that thing both to be itself in good condition and to perform its function well. Virtue, then, is a kind of moderation as it aims at the mean or moderate amount.
Aristotle’s ethics is strongly teleological, practical, which means that it should be the action that leads to the realization of the good of the human being as well as the whole. This end is realized through continuous acting in accordance with virtues which, like happiness, must be desired for themselves, not for the short term pleasures that can be derived from them. This is not to say that happiness is void of pleasures, but that pleasures are a natural effect, not the purpose. In order to act virtuously, we must first acquire virtues, by parental upbringing, experience and reason.
For Aristotle, virtue is an all-or-nothing affair. We cannot pick and choose our virtues: we cannot decide that we will be courageous and temperate but choose not to be magnificent. Nor can we call people properly virtuous if they fail to exhibit all of the virtues.
Though Aristotle lists a number of virtues, he sees them all as coming from the same source. A virtuous person is someone who is naturally disposed to exhibit all the virtues, and a naturally virtuous disposition exhibits all the virtues equally.
The word ethics descends from the Greek word ethos, which means that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. Aristotle’s concern is then, is what constitutes a good character. All the virtues spring from a unified character, so no good person can exhibit some virtues without exhibiting them all. Aristotle describes ethical virtue as a “hexis” (“state” “condition” “disposition”)—a tendency or disposition, induced by our habits, to have appropriate feelings (Nicomachean Ethics. 1105b25–6).
Aristotle says that when the good person chooses to act virtuously, he does so for the sake of the “kalon”—a word that can mean “beautiful,” “noble,” or “fine.”. This term indicates that Aristotle sees in ethical activity an attraction that is comparable to the beauty of well-crafted artifacts, including such artifacts as poetry, music, and drama. He draws this analogy in his discussion of the mean, when he says that every craft tries to produce a work from which nothing should be taken away and to which nothing further should be added (Nicomachean Ethics. 1106b5–14).
Aristotle develops the doctrine of the mean in the course of his discussion of aretê, excellence or virtue, in Book II of the Nicomachean. There he writes that: “all excellence makes what has it good, and also enables it to perform its function well. For instance, the excellence of an eye makes the eye good and enables it to function well as an eye; having good eyes means being able to see well. Likewise, the excellence of a horse makes it a good horse, and so good at galloping, carrying its rider, and facing the enemy. If this is true in all cases, then, the excellence of a human being will be that disposition which makes him a good human being and which enables him to perform his function well”. (1106a16-25. Source: History of Philosophy Quarterly 4/3, July 1987.)
In “The virtue of Aristotle’s ethics “, Gottlieb (1) identifies the three core aspects of the doctrine of the mean. First, virtue, like health, is produced and preserved by avoiding extremes. Second, virtue is a mean relative to us. Third, each virtue is a mean between two vices, one of excess and one of deficiency.
It is no easy matter to hit the mean but Aristotle has some general advice to offer those who are aiming at, trying to observe, the mean: “What is necessary first in aiming at the mean is to avoid that extreme which is the more opposed to the mean. Since of the two extremes one is a more serious error than the other, and since hitting the mean accurately is hard, the second-best thing… is to take the lesser of the evils” (Source: History of Philosophy Quarterly 4/3, July 1987).
The golden mean represents a balance between extremes or vices. For example, courage is the middle between one extreme of deficiency (cowardness) and the other extreme of excess (recklessness).
The mean as concerns fear and confidence is courage: those that exceed in fearlessness are foolhardy, while those who exceed in fear are cowardly.
The mean in respect to certain pleasures and pains is called temperance, while the excess is called profligacy. Deficiency in this matter is never found, so this sort of person does not have a name .
In the matter of giving and earning money, the mean is liberality, excess and deficiency are prodigality and miserliness. But both vices exceed and fall short in giving and earning in contrary ways: the prodigal exceeds in spending, but falls short in earning; the miser exceeds in earning, but falls short in spending.
With respect to honor and disgrace, the mean is “high-mindedness,” the excess might be called vanity, and the deficiency might be called humility or small-mindedness. . .
The importance of the golden mean is that it re-affirms the balance needed in life. It remains puzzling how this ancient wisdom, known before Aristotle re-introduced it, (it is present in the myth of Icarus, in a Doryc saying carved in the front of the temple at Delphi: “Nothing in Excess,” in the teachings of Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato) can be so forgotten and neglected in the modern society.
♠Read Aristotle´s Nicomachean Ethics (Full PDF Version):
Topics of this post correspond to Pages 22 /33 (Book I) & 34/53 (Book II):
♠Nota a los lectores en castellano:
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Como autora del blog me reservo el derecho que me asiste discrecionalmente y me lleva a optar por el idioma inglés para publicar artículos, en este caso de filosofía. Tiene que ver con un interés absolutamente personal y con una comunidad de lectores asiduos y activos del blog cuyo idioma nativo es el inglés. También con una mayor vastedad de los temas en idioma inglés, cuando el blog ya cuenta con un considerable número de entradas en castellano, cuyos temas ya han sido abarcados en mayor o menor medida. Esto no implica que no se publiquen artículos en castellano. Los temas también definen el idioma en el que se publica.
Atentamente saludos, Aquileana.-