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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. [7] 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. [8] 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 Propriety].1 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 9.

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 actions. [2] 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 noble. [3]

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. [4] Hence, inasmuch as to hit the mean extremely well is difficult,3 the second best way to sail,4 as the saying goes, is to take the least of the evils; and the best way to do this will be the way we enjoin.

1 These words are probably an interpolation, since the sense requires ‘more than to Insensibility’.

2 Hom. Od. 12.219: really the words are said by Odysseus, conveying to his steersman Circe's advice, to avoid the whirlpool of Charybdis which will engulf them all, and steer nearer to the monster Scylla who will devour only some of them.

3 Or ‘to hit the mean is extremely difficult.’

4 A proverb, meaning to take to the oars when the wind fails.

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