Aristotle Ethics

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Ekta Yadav
Phil.322
2/19/07

Aristotle Ethics

Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics provides a sensible account for what true moral virtue is and how one may go about attaining it. Aristotle covers many topics that help reach this conclusion. One of them being the idea of mean between the extremes. Although Aristotle provided a reliable account for many philosophers to follow, Rosalind Hursthouse along with many others finds lose ends and topics which can be easily misinterpreted in Aristotle's writing. Aristotle explains his concept of "mean between the extremes" by the following quote: "In everything that is continuous and divisible it is possible to take more, less, or an equal amount, and that either in terms of the thing itself or relatively to us; and the equal is an intermediate between excess and defect" (Book II.6, p.1747 l.25-28). Here he defines human virtue as an arrangement or disposition to behave in the right manner or as a mean between the extremes (excess and deficiency). However, later he continues to add how this mean or intermediacy is not the same for every person. A mean, according to Aristotle is determined by one's needs and capacity. Not everyone has the same mean hence; everyone does not have the same needs or capacities. The mean, Aristotle goes on to explain, is relative to the person, not the object. It has to be relative to not only you as a person, but also relative to your situation, not just your opinion. "If ten pounds are too much for a particular person to eat and two too little, it does not follow that the trainer will order six pounds; for this also is perhaps too much for the person who is to take it, or too little- too little for Milo, too much for the beginner in athletic exercises." (II.6, 1747 l.36-39)

According to Aristotle, there is a right answer or an objectively correct mean for everyone when you take inot account their situation. Aristotle tries to paint a picture of how one should go about determining this mean in a situation. He provides several examples and instances and even presents the excess, defect and intermediate in each for the reader to analyze. Briefly, Aristotle classifies the mean as being the main characteristic in achieving excellence. He explains how moral excellence can only be attained through figuring out these excesses, deficiencies and intermediates. He also adds in how simply knowing these three is not everything, but feeling them at the right time, the right place, in the right situation, etc is just as important. "For instance, both fear and confidence and appetite and anger and pity and in general pleasure and pain may be felt both too much and too little, and in both cases not well; but to feel them at the right times, with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right aim, and in the right way is what is both intermediate and best, and this is characteristic of excellence" (II.6, 1747, 1106 l.19-23). In book two, chapter seven, Aristotle begins to form an outline of general means that every person should be aware of. He talks about anger, pride, honor, the giving and taking of money, etc. By discussing these subjects he constructs an outline of summary of these states to help one better understand the principles behind attaining moral virtue.

In chapter eight of book two, Aristotle discusses how one extreme may be closer to the mean than the other. He gives two reasons for this: one being drawn from the thing itself and the other from ourselves. In other words, when he states "for because one extreme is nearer and liker to the intermediate, we oppose not this but rather its contrary to the intermediate. E.g., since rashness is thought liker and nearer to courage, and cowardice more unlike, we oppose rather the latter to courage; for things that are further from the intermediate are thought more contrary to it…another is drawn from ourselves; for the things to which we ourselves more naturally tend seem more...
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