Aristotle and the Doctrine of the Mean
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 developing” (p9). This paper, however, is chiefly concerned with this interesting notion that Virtue is a mean state of feeling and doing. In particular the challenge of the issue of Self-Control is one that is worthy of significant focus, is it a virtue? Or is it merely one of our human faculties that we employ in order to avoid vice?
Regarding the idea that ‘virtue is the mean’ we must first distinguish the intellectual virtues from the moral virtues, as it is only the latter type of virtue to which the idea applies. Employing our rational functions appropriately will, according to Aristotle, result in the engendering of the various types of intellectual virtues: theoretical wisdom, science, intuitive understanding, practical wisdom, and craft expertise (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2001, Section 6). But as the doctrine of the mean is not concerned with these kinds of virtues, we shall turn to the moral kind. Moral virtues, being concerned with the appetitive part of the soul (using Aristotle’s categorisation), involve primarily one’s feelings and desires, and subsequently actions. These feelings, desires and actions are virtuous when they are the right feelings, desires or actions and
References: Kraut, R, 2001 (rev. 2007), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/ Thomson, JAK, (trans) 1953, Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics, The Penguin Group: London Urmson, JO, 1980, ‘Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean’ in by S Van Hooft, Morals & Modernity Volume 1: Aristotle’s Ethics, Study Guide and Readings, Deakin University, Geelong: Victoria Van Hooft, S, 2008, Morals & Modernity Volume 1: Aristotle’s Ethics, Study Guide and Readings, ‘Topic 2: Virtue’ & ‘Topic 3: Free Will and Responsibility’, Deakin University, Geelong: Victoria.