Essay on Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean - Boyd 1 Cory...

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Boyd 1Cory BoydDr. NelsonEthics22 November 2013Doctrine of the MeanThe doctrine of the mean, according to Aristotle, is best outlined in Book II of Nicomachean Ethics.The philosopher writes, “Virtue… is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e. 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” (1106b36-1107a2). This definition, though, is incredibly compact and requires a tremendous amount of unpacking. Immediately, Aristotle’s conception of virtue must be addressed. The philosopher proposes two kinds of virtue: moral virtue and intellectual virtue. Intellectual virtue is learned, for “intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching” (1103a15). It requires time and experience to cultivate and thus occurs only among practiced individuals. Moral virtue, though, “comes about as a result of habit” (1103a16-17). Determining the nature, or genus, of virtue causes the philosopher to consider its place within the soul. He writes, “Since things that are found in the soul are of three kinds -- passions, faculties, states of character -- virtue must be one of these” (1105b19-21). He rules out passions, for man is blamed for his virtues and vices but not for his feelings. If passions are feelings, and a man cannot be blamed for his feelings but can for his vices, then virtues and vices are not passions. Similarly, he postulates that because humans cannot be held accountable for their
Boyd 2capacity for feelings, virtue is not within the faculties of the soul, either. The final option throughprocess of elimination, then, is a state of character (1106a11). Elaborating further, Aristotle writes that this is not just any state of character, but more specifically an excellent state of character (1106a14-16).Excellence within Aristotle’s philosophy is highly concerned with the telos of an object or being. He provides an eye as an example. An excellent eye can see well in itself, and through its own excellence, it allows its work, seeing, to be excellent as well. He also demonstrates this with a horse: “Similarly the excellence of the horse makes a horse both good in itself and good atrunning and at carrying its rider and at awaiting the attack of the enemy” (1106a18-22). This conception extends to craft and trade as well. A blacksmith, in becoming a better blacksmith, willin turn produce more excellent tools, capable of greater feats than their predecessors. More broadly, though, “the virtue of man also will be the state of character which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well” (1106a22-23). Because moral virtue stems from such a state of excellence, achieving the state of character to which the philosopher refers is of utmost importance in the ethical life.

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