Essay on Aristotle and the Doctrine of the Mean

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Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean and the Problem of Self-Control

Aristotle’s Nicomahean Ethics is a rich text of ancient wisdom, much of which has become ingrained into today’s rhetoric in many schools of thought in the western world. It is with Aristotle’s views on Virtue that this paper is primarily concerned, more specifically with his idea that to have virtue is to display attitudes and actions to a moderate and intermediate degree. Stan Van Hooft (2008) notes that, although Aristotle’s thoughts on this matter are logically sound for the most part, that his assertion that Virtue is the Mean was not his final, conclusive stance on the issue, and that this theory “is only a part of a bigger picture of virtue that he is
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On the other hand, one may decide that the risk may not be worth the outcome, and exercise caution and vigilance. It is in this way that the Mean, in relating to the moral virtues, shifts and changes according to the variables of any given human being and the situation one finds oneself in.

Does this idea hold true? Aristotle himself saw exception to his own theory. Primarily he saw that there were some actions which were not on the continuum between deficiency and excess at all. Aristotle, in Book II of his Nicomachean Ethics, says that not all actions and feelings have a mean at which to aim, “because some have names that directly connote depravity, such as malice, shamelessness and envy, and among actions adultery, theft and murder”, and as far as he is concerned these are evil in and of themselves, and not categorically defined by any excess or deficiency (Book II, iv, 1107a 9-15). In displaying these actions or feelings, says Aristotle, one is always wrong, and this is unequivocally non-circumstantial. It would be interesting at this point to open up some discussion around Aristotle’s theories on free will and responsibility. Namely, if one is forced, circumstantially or otherwise, into performing an action that is deemed non-virtuous (choosing between the lives of two people, for example), how would Aristotle
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