Ethics By Aristotle Summary and Analysis Book II: Chapter VIII - Relation of Mean and Extremes

Summary

As shown above there are three kinds of dispositions. Two are vicious (one characterized by excess, the other by deficiency), and one is virtuous (the mean). All three are opposed to each other, but not always in the same way. The two extreme states (excess and deficiency) are opposed to each other and also to the middle state or mean. The mean, while opposed to both extremes, may be considered excessive in regard to deficiency and deficient in regard to excess (e.g., a brave man may seem reckless in relation to a coward, but cowardly in relation to a reckless man). For this reason people at one extreme often consider people in the middle to be guilty of the opposite extreme.

The extremes are more opposed to each other than either is to the mean, because they are further apart from each other than either is from the center (e.g., on line A B C, A and C are extremes, B is the mean). There often seems to be a similarity between some extremes and some means (e.g., recklessness sometimes seems to resemble courage, extravagance to resemble generosity). There is little similarity between the extremes because things that are furthest removed from each other are defined as opposites.

In some cases one extreme is more opposed to the mean than the other extreme is, (e.g., cowardice is more opposed to courage than is recklessness, self-indulgence is more closely related to self-control than is insensitivity). There are two reasons for this: (a) when one extreme is closer and more similar to a mean we often assume that only the other extreme is opposed to the mean, (b) the more naturally a man is attracted to something, the more opposed to the mean that thing seems to be (e.g., since men are naturally attracted to pleasure, they incline more easily to intemperance than to self-control, and they describe intemperance as more opposed to self-control than its opposite, insensitivity to pleasure).

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