Summary and Analysis Book II: Chapter II



Ethics is a subject of great practical importance as well as theoretical interest because we are interested not merely in determining the nature of goodness, but also in how we may become good men. For this reason it is necessary to investigate the problems of right and wrong actions and proper conduct, for our actions govern the characteristics we develop.

It is generally conceded that men must act according to what they consider the right principle or reason, and this will be taken as the basis of our discussion. First, it must be pointed out once again that any discussion of conduct and actions can only be a rough outline. It will lack scientific accuracy, for there is little or no exact data available in matters of this kind and one can demand only what the subject allows. This is true of moral philosophy in general. It is even more true of the discussion of particular ethical problems, for very frequently it is necessary to judge a particular case solely on its own merits and circumstances. Our arguments, though inexact, will depend on the situation itself.

Let us begin with the following observation – that the nature of moral qualities is such that they can be destroyed with by deficiency or excess. Just as too much or too little food or exercise is bad for the body, so the man who fears everything becomes a coward and the man who fears nothing becomes reckless or foolhardy, and neither is able to develop the virtue of courage. This same rule holds in regard to all the virtues. Excess or deficiency destroys them. Action in accordance with a mean produces and maintains them. The same actions that produce virtue may be either the cause or destruction of that virtue, or may be manifested in its active exercise, for virtues are expressed in actions of the same kind as initially established them.