Aristotle 3 Essay, Research Paper
Moral Virtue and the Mean
In this reading Aristotle describes virtue concerning actions and passions, and the choice of how we become our actions and passions is either of excess, defect, or intermediate. Excess and deficiency both forms of failure and the intermediate (mean) a form of success. Man is to determine a mean which lies between two vices which both falls short of goodness.
Aristotle believes the middle ground will lead you to virtue while too much and too little destroy goodness. To choose the mean in our actions and passions we are to feel them at the right times, with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way.(123) One of many examples Aristotle gives is regarding anger. He calls the intermediate person good-tempered which is a form of success and virtue, while the person who exceeds is irascible and the person who is deficient inirascible, both forms of failure and vice. Aristotle also points out that it is difficult to find the mean and easy to fail in many ways, To miss the mark easy, to hit it difficult. (123) I think this is why finding the middle ground is so virtuous. I believe it is human nature to lean towards the excess or defect of our actions and passions, but to step back and determine the middle ground by avoiding such characteristics of vice is truly a show of practical wisdom.
Aristotle describes that actions and passions such as theft, murder, spite, envy, shamelessness and adultery have no mean and one who acts in this manner is always wrong. This statement is undoubtedly true, yet I question if Aristotle considered the notion an eye for an eye. Is it possible that murder could be the mean, while not to murder the deficiency and to murder the innocent the excess. For instance, a mans sister is brutally murdered by another man who walks free. Could the intermediate be to murder that man, the excess to murder the mans entire family and the defect to do nothing. Or is it as simple as the moral issue that murder, in any circumstance, is wrong and no good could ever come from it. I think if Aristotle was faced with this question he would say that forgiveness is the mean and true virtue, while murder in return is the excess and depression and dwelling is the defect.
Aristotle explains that it is no easy task to find the middle ground, making goodness rare. In some cases we must choose the lesser of evils. People tend to lean towards what gives them pleasure and pleasure is not judged impartially. By dismissing pleasure we are more likely to hit the mean. It takes a truly unselfish person to dismiss pleasure to find the mean. We all search for pleasure never considering if it leans toward the excess or deficiency of our actions and passions.
An interesting thought that Aristotle brings to light is that, The man who deviates little from goodness is not blamed, but only the man who deviates more widely; for he does not fail to be noticed. (127) The question is to what extent can a man deviate before he is blameworthy. Aristotle states that the decision rests with perception. I think that there are two different ways to look at this perception. Many people can forgive the person who is always good that does something wrong more easily than they forgive the person who is always doing wrong. They forgive this man because they weigh his great virtue to his one mistake, while not forgiving the always wrongful man for not changing his ways. On the other hand; there are people who easily forgive the man who tends to always be wrongful, while they are blameworthy of the virtuous man who deviates from goodness. The wrongful man is forgiven because no one has expected goodness from him, but there is disappointment when the virtuous man goes astray.
Aristotle s ideas of virtue and the mean are relevant today by which people do attempt to find the middle ground of their actions and passions, usually in the strive to become better people and others to be more liked and accepted in society. More oftenly we are seeing decisions being made by having to choose between the lesser of evils, such as choosing our politicians. And I doubt there are many people today who disagree with Aristotle s view that actions such as theft, murder, adultery and other wrongful acts are entirely unforgiving and no good or mean can come of them.