Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean Essay

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Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean

When we consider the questions of how we ought to live our lives, we often seek for some schematic that we can employ to help us categorize actions or qualities as good, bad, or indifferent. Such a means of organization would indeed make it easier to determine what the right thing to do is. Aristotle once attempted to formulate a similar plan. His ethics used a scheme by which characteristics could be measured and the right amount attained. Such an account is known as the doctrine of the mean. Aristotle’s doctrine is meant to illuminate the nature of eudaimonia, which can be briefly defined as succeeding or flourishing, the key to which is arête.

To better understand where ethics fit into
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the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it” (Aristotle 106). We see here that virtue not only lies in a mean but is determined by a man with practical wisdom. But what is the mean relative to? Aristotle goes on to say, “Now it is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect” (Aristotle 106). The vice of excess is having too much of a characteristic, the vice of defect is having too little of the same.

Before we venture further it would be most helpful to consider one of Aristotle’s examples to better understand this doctrine. Since ethics is practical, he provides us with individual examples. The first is the virtue of courage. “With regards to fear and confidence courage is the mean” (Aristotle 107). We see that courage, being the mean is the virtue. If one were to have too much he would be foolhardy and rash. One with too little is fearful and cowardly.

This however leads to an interesting question, what does one exceed in or fall short in? Is it that he has too much or too little courage? Some examination will show that this is not possible. It is not possible to have too much of the right amount, or to be too close the mean. This means that there must be something else that one can exceed or fall short of. This is a character trait. For our example, the trait is spirit. Having the right amount of spirit is
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