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Aristotle Golden Mean Essays

♠Aristotle´s Ethical Theory:

“On the Concepts of Virtue and Golden Mean”:

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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 throughcontinuous acting in accordance with virtueswhich, 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 wordethos,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.

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Aristotle (384-322).-

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♠Read Aristotle´s Nicomachean Ethics (Full PDF Version):

Topics of this post correspond to Pages 22 /33 (Book I) & 34/53 (Book II): 

Click on the cover book to read “Nicomachean Ethics” by Aristotle.-

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♠Nota a los lectores en castellano:

Para leer artículos sobre Aristóteles los remito al siguiente listado:

Hacer click aquí.

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.-

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Links Post:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/#DocMea
http://www.john-uebersax.com/plato/words/arete.htm
http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/ethics/themes.html
http://ethicsinpr.wikispaces.com/Doctrine+of+the+Mean
http://richard-hooker.com/sites/worldcultures/GREECE/MEAN.HTM
http://www.anus.com/zine/articles/draugdur/golden_mean/

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Posted in Filosofía | Tagged Aristóteles, Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics | 118 Comments

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. It must not be confused with carnal or material pleasures, although there are many people who consider this to be real happiness, since they are the most basic form of pleasures. It is a way of life that enables us to live in accordance with our nature, to improve our character, to better deal with the inevitable hardships of life and to strive for the good of the whole, not just of the individual.

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. It is very important to develop certain principles in the early stages of life, for this will profoundly affect the later life. Aristotle's ethics is centered at a person's character, because by improving it, we also improve our virtues. A person must have knowledge, he must choose virtues for their own sake and his activities must originate from a firm and unshakeable character, which represents the conditions for having virtues. If we behave like this, our happiness will have a positive influence on other people as well, and will improve their characters.

The golden mean represents a balance between extremes, i.e. vices. For example, courage is the middle between one extreme of deficiency (cowardness) and the other extreme of excess (recklessness). A coward would be a warrior who flees from the battlefield and a reckless warrior would charge at fifty enemy soldiers. This doesn't mean that the golden mean is the exact arithmetical middle between extremes, but that the middle depends on the situation. There is no universal middle that would apply to every situation. Aristotle said, "It's easy to be angry, but to be angry at the right time, for the right reason, at the right person and in the right intensity must truly be brilliant." Because of the difficulty the balance in certain situations can represent, constant moral improvement of the character is crucial for recognizing it. This, however, doesn't imply that Aristotle upheld moral relativism because he listed certain emotions and actions (hate, envy, jealousy, theft, murder) as always wrong, regardless of the situation at hand. The golden mean applies only for virtues, not vices. In some ethical systems, however, murder can be justified in certain situations, like self-defense.

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. Today's modern man usually succumbs in the extreme of excess, which can be seen in the uncontrollable accumulation of material wealth, food, alcohol, drugs, but he can descend into deficiency as well, like inadequate attention to education, healthy sport activities, intellectual pursuits, etc. Since Aristotle was interested in the studying of nature, he, like any great person, quickly realized the importance of balance in nature and the tremendous effect it has on keeping up so many forms of life in nature going. Since human beings are from nature, which gives them life, isn't it reasonable to conclude that humans should also uphold the balance, just like nature? The problem is that the vast majority of people are unwilling to admit that they are not at the top of nature, just a part of it. The reason for this are the limits of human perception, which cannot grasp the complex ways that nature, that vastly intricate and greater system, operates, so they fear it because they don't fully understand it. That's why people invent god who is primarily concerned with them, because it is their arrogance and pride that propells their desperate need of wanting to be the center of everything, wanting to know everything, or at least pretend so. They explain away death, pain, suffering, thus robbing their lives of its natural aspects, turning it into a bus station to heaven, where they just keep waiting and waiting for a ride, while doing nothing.

The people in modern society need to overcome their pride and arrogance and look in nature for guidance, because we all depend on it. Staring into the sky and imagining ourselves in heaven will not accomplish anything; it is better instead to accept our role in the world and appreciate the beauty of life, and death, which gives meaning to it. We don't need "new" and "progressive" ways of life when the ancient wisdom of the world's greatest thinkers is in front of us, forgotten in the dusty shelves in some crumbling library. The balance, the golden mean of which Aristotle talked about must be recognized as beneficial and important, as it is in nature itself.

July 25, 2007


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