the defect, in others the excess, is more opposed to the mean; for
example Cowardice, which is a vice of deficiency, is more opposed to Courage than is
Rashness which is a vice of excess; but Profligacy, or excess of feeling, is more opposed
to Temperance than is Insensibility, or lack of feeling.
This results from either of two causes. One of these arises from the thing itself; owing
to one extreme being nearer to the mean and resembling it more, we count not this but
rather the contrary extreme as the opposite of the mean; for example, because Rashness
seems to resemble Courage more than Cowardice does, and to be nearer to it, we reckon
Cowardice rather than Rashness as the contrary of Courage; for those extremes which are
more remote from the mean are thought to be more contrary to it.
This then is one cause, arising out of the thing itself. The other cause
has its origin in us: those things appear more contrary to the mean to which we are
ourselves more inclined by nature. For example, we are of ourselves more inclined to
pleasure, which is why we are prone to Profligacy [more than to
We therefore rather call those things the contrary of
the mean, into which we are more inclined to lapse; and hence Profligacy, the excess, is
more particularly the contrary of Temperance
Enough has now been said to show that moral virtue is a mean, and in what sense this is
so, namely that it is a mean between two vices, one of excess and the other of defect; and
that it is such a mean because it aims at hitting the middle point in feelings and in
This is why it is a hard task to be good, for it
is hard to find the middle point in anything: for instance, not everybody can find the
center of a circle, but only someone who knows geometry. So also anybody can become
angry—that is easy, and so it is to give and spend money; but to be angry with
or give money to the right person, and to the right amount, and at the right time, and for
the right purpose, and in the right way—this is not within everybody's power and
is not easy; so that to do these things properly is rare, praiseworthy, and
Hence the first rule in aiming at the mean is to avoid that extreme which is the more
opposed to the mean, as Calypso advises2
Steer the ship clear of yonder spray and surge.
” For of the two extremes one is a more serious error than the other.
Hence, inasmuch as to hit the mean extremely well is
the second best way to sail,4
saying goes, is to take the least of the evils; and the best way to do this will be the
way we enjoin.