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Book 2

1. Virtue being, as we have seen, of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual virtue is for the most part both produced and increased by instruction, and therefore requires experience and time; whereas moral or ethical virtue is the product of habit (ethos), and has indeed derived its name, with a slight variation of form, from that word.1 1. [2] And therefore it is clear that none of the moral virtues formed is engendered in us by nature, for no natural property can be altered by habit. For instance, it is the nature of a stone to move downwards, and it cannot be trained to move upwards, even though you should try to train it to do so by throwing it up into the air ten thousand times; nor can fire be trained to move downwards, nor can anything else that naturally behaves in one way be trained into a habit of behaving in another way. 1. [3] The virtues2 therefore are engendered in us neither by nature nor yet in violation of nature; nature gives us the capacity to receive them, and this capacity is brought to maturity by habit.1. [4]

Moreover, the faculties given us by nature are bestowed on us first in a potential form; we exhibit their actual exercise afterwards. This is clearly so with our senses: we did not acquire the faculty of sight or hearing by repeatedly seeing or repeatedly listening, but the other way about—because we had the senses we began to use them, we did not get them by using them. The virtues on the other hand we acquire by first having actually practised them, just as we do the arts. We learn an art or craft by doing the things that we shall have to do when we have learnt it3: for instance, men become builders by building houses, harpers by playing on the harp. Similarly we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts. 1. [5] This truth is attested by the experience of states: lawgivers make the citizens good by training them in habits of right action—this is the aim of all legislation, and if it fails to do this it is a failure; this is what distinguishes a good form of constitution from a bad one. 1. [6] Again, the actions from or through which any virtue is produced are the same as those through which it also is destroyed—just as is the case with skill in the arts, for both the good harpers and the bad ones are produced by harping, and similarly with builders and all the other craftsmen: as you will become a good builder from building well, so you will become a bad one from building badly. 1. [7] Were this not so, there would be no need for teachers of the arts, but everybody would be born a good or bad craftsman as the case might be. The same then is true of the virtues. It is by taking part in transactions with our fellow-men that some of us become just and others unjust; by acting in dangerous situations and forming a habit of fear or of confidence we become courageous or cowardly. And the same holds good of our dispositions with regard to the appetites, and anger; some men become temperate and gentle, others profligate and irascible, by actually comporting themselves in one way or the other in relation to those passions. In a word, our moral dispositions are formed as a result of the corresponding activities. 1. [8] Hence it is incumbent on us to control the character of our activities, since on the quality of these depends the quality of our dispositions. It is therefore not of small moment whether we are trained from childhood in one set of habits or another; on the contrary it is of very great, or rather of supreme, importance.2.

As then our present study, unlike the other branches of philosophy, has a practical aim (for we are not investigating the nature of virtue for the sake of knowing what it is, but in order that we may become good, without which result our investigation would be of no use), we have consequently to carry our enquiry into the region of conduct, and to ask how we are to act rightly; since our actions, as we have said, determine the quality of our dispositions.2. [2]

Now the formula ‘to act in conformity with right principle’ is common ground, and may be assumed as the basis of our discussion. (We shall speak about this formula later,4 and consider both the definition of right principle and its relation to the other virtues.) 2. [3]

But let it be granted to begin with that the whole theory of conduct is bound to be an outline only and not an exact system, in accordance with the rule we laid down at the beginning,5 that philosophical theories must only be required to correspond to their subject matter; and matters of conduct and expediency have nothing fixed or invariable about them, any more than have matters of health. 2. [4] And if this is true of the general theory of ethics, still less is exact precision possible in dealing with particular cases of conduct; for these come under no science or professional tradition, but the agents themselves have to consider what is suited to the circumstances on each occasion, just as is the case with the art of medicine or of navigation. 2. [5] But although the discussion now proceeding is thus necessarily inexact, we must do our best to help it out.2. [6]

First of all then we have to observe, that moral qualities are so constituted as to be destroyed by excess and by deficiency—as we see is the case with bodily strength and health (for one is forced to explain what is invisible by means of visible illustrations). Strength is destroyed both by excessive and by deficient exercises, and similarly health is destroyed both by too much and by too little food and drink; while they are produced, increased and preserved by suitable quantities. 2. [7] The same therefore is true of Temperance, Courage, and the other virtues. The man who runs away from everything in fear and never endures anything becomes a coward; the man who fears nothing whatsoever but encounters everything becomes rash. Similarly he that indulges in every pleasure and refrains from none turns out a profligate, and he that shuns all pleasure, as boorish persons do, becomes what may be called insensible. Thus Temperance and Courage are destroyed by excess and deficiency, and preserved by the observance of the mean.2. [8]

But6 not only are the virtues both generated and fostered on the one hand, and destroyed on the other, from and by the same actions, but they will also find their full exercise in the same actions. This is clearly the case with the other more visible qualities, such as bodily strength: for strength is produced by taking much food and undergoing much exertion, while also it is the strong man who will be able to eat most food and endure most exertion. 2. [9] The same holds good with the virtues. We become temperate by abstaining from pleasures, and at the same time we are best able to abstain from pleasures when we have become temperate. And so with Courage: we become brave by training ourselves to despise and endure terrors, and we shall be best able to endure terrors when we have become brave.3.

An index of our dispositions is afforded by the pleasure or pain that accompanies our actions. A man is temperate if he abstains from bodily pleasures and finds this abstinence itself enjoyable, profligate if he feels it irksome; he is brave if he faces danger with pleasure or at all events without pain, cowardly if he does so with pain.

In fact pleasures and pains are the things with which moral virtue is concerned.

For (1) pleasure causes us to do base actions and pain cause us to abstain from doing noble actions. 3. [2] Hence the importance, as Plato points out, of having been definitely trained from childhood to like and dislike the proper things; this is what good education means.3. [3]

(2)Again, if the virtues have to do with actions and feelings, and every action is attended with pleasure or pain, this too shows that virtue has to do with pleasure and pain.3. [4]

(3) Another indication is the fact that pain is the medium of punishment; for punishment is a sort of medicine, and the nature of medicine to work by means of opposites.7 3. [5]

(4)Again, as we said before, every formed disposition of the soul realizes its full nature8 in relation to and in dealing with that class of objects by which it is its nature to be corrupted or improved. But men are corrupted through pleasures and pains, that is, either by pursuing and avoiding the wrong pleasures and pains, or by pursuing and avoiding them at the wrong time, or in the wrong manner, or in one of the other wrong ways under which errors of conduct can be logically classified. This is why some thinkers9 define the virtues as states of impassivity or tranquillity, though they make a mistake in using these terms absolutely, without adding ‘in the right (or wrong) manner’ and ‘at the right (or wrong) time’ and the other qualifications.3. [6]

We assume therefore that moral virtue is the quality of acting in the best way in relation to pleasures and pains, and that vice is the opposite.3. [7]

But the following considerations also will give us further light on the same point.

(5) There are three things that are the motives of choice and three that are the motives of avoidance; namely, the noble, the expedient, and the pleasant, and their opposites, the base, the harmful, and the painful. Now in respect of all these the good man is likely to go right and the bad to go wrong, but especially in respect of pleasure; for pleasure is common to man with the lower animals, and also it is a concomitant of all the objects of choice, since both the noble and the expedient appear to us pleasant.3. [8]

(6) Again, the susceptibility to pleasure has grown up with all of us from the cradle. Hence this feeling is hard to eradicate, being engrained in the fabric of our lives.

(7) Again, pleasure and pain are also10 the standards by which we all, in a greater or less degree, regulate our actions. 3. [9] On this account therefore pleasure and pain are necessarily our main concern, since to feel pleasure and pain rightly or wrongly has a great effect on conduct.3. [10]

(8) And again, it is harder to fight against pleasure than against anger (hard as that is, as Heracleitus11 says); but virtue, like art, is constantly dealing with what is harder, since the harder the task the better is success. For this reason also therefore pleasure and pain are necessarily the main concern both of virtue and of political science, since he who comports himself towards them rightly will be good, and he who does so wrongly, bad.3. [11]

We may then take it as established that virtue has to do with pleasures and pains, that the actions which produce it are those which increase it, and also, if differently performed, destroy it, and that the actions from which it was produced are also those in which it is exercised.4.

A difficulty may however be raised as to what we mean by saying that in order to become just men must do just actions, and in order to become temperate they must do temperate actions. For if they do just and temperate actions, they are just and temperate already, just as, if they spell correctly or play in tune, they are scholars or musicians. [2]

But perhaps this is not the case even with the arts. It is possible to spell a word correctly by chance, or because some one else prompts you; hence you will be a scholar only if you spell correctly in the scholar's way, that is, in virtue of the scholarly knowledge which you yourself possess. [3]

Moreover the case of the arts is not really analogous to that of the virtues. Works of art have their merit in themselves, so that it is enough if they are produced having a certain quality of their own; but acts done in conformity with the virtues are not done justly or temperately if they themselves are of a certain sort, but only if the agent also is in a certain state of mind when he does them: first he must act with knowledge12; secondly he must deliberately choose the act, and choose it for its own sake; and thirdly the act must spring from a fixed and permanent disposition of character. For the possession of an art, none of these conditions is included, except the mere qualification of knowledge; but for the possession of the virtues, knowledge is of little or no avail, whereas the other conditions, so far from being of little moment, are all-important, inasmuch as virtue results from the repeated performance of just and temperate actions. [4] Thus although actions are entitled just and temperate when they are such acts as just and temperate men would do, the agent is just and temperate not when he does these acts merely, but when he does them in the way in which just and temperate men do them. [5] It is correct therefore to say that a man becomes just by doing just actions and temperate by doing temperate actions; and no one can have the remotest chance of becoming good without doing them. [6] But the mass of mankind, instead of doing virtuous acts, have recourse to discussing virtue, and fancy that they are pursuing philosophy and that this will make them good men. In so doing they act like invalids who listen carefully to what the doctor says, but entirely neglect to carry out his prescriptions. That sort of philosophy will no more lead to a healthy state of soul than will the mode of treatment produce health of body.5.

We have next to consider the formal definition of virtue.

A state of the soul is either (l) an emotion, (2) a capacity, or (3) a disposition; virtue therefore must be one of these three things. [2] By the emotions, I mean desire, anger, fear, confidence, envy, joy, friendship, hatred, longing, jealousy, pity; and generally those states of consciousness which are accompanied by pleasure or pain. The capacities are the faculties in virtue of which we can be said to be liable to the emotions, for example, capable of feeling anger or pain13 or pity. The dispositions are the formed states of character in virtue of which we are well or ill disposed in respect of the emotions; for instance, we have a bad disposition in regard to anger if we are disposed to get angry too violently or not violently enough, a good disposition if we habitually feel a moderate amount of anger; and similarly in respect of the other emotions. [3]

Now the virtues and vices are not emotions because we are not pronounced good or bad according to our emotions, but we are according to our virtues and vices; nor are we either praised or blamed for our emotions—a man is not praised for being frightened or angry, nor is he blamed for being angry merely, but for being angry in a certain way— but we are praised or blamed for our virtues and vices. [4] Again, we are not angry or afraid from choice, but the virtues are certain modes of choice, or at all events involve choice. Moreover, we are said to be ‘moved’ by the emotions, whereas in respect of the virtues and vices we are not said to be ‘moved’ but to be ‘disposed’ in a certain way. [5]

And the same considerations also prove that the virtues and vices are not capacities; since we are not pronounced good or bad, praised or blamed, merely by reason of our capacity for emotion. Again, we possess certain capacities by nature, but we are not born good or bad by nature: of this however we spoke before. [6]

If then the virtues are neither emotions nor capacities, it remains that they are dispositions.

Thus we have stated what virtue is generically.6.

But it is not enough merely to define virtue generically as a disposition; we must also say what species of disposition it is. [2] It must then be premised that all excellence has a twofold effect on the thing to which it belongs: it not only renders the thing itself good, but it also causes it to perform its function well. For example, the effect of excellence in the eye is that the eye is good and functions well; since having good eyes means having good sight. Similarly excellence in a horse makes it a good horse, and also good at galloping, at carrying its rider, and at facing the enemy. [3] If therefore this is true of all things, excellence or virtue in a man will be the disposition which renders him a good man and also which will cause him to perform his function well. [4] We have already indicated14 what this means; but it will throw more light on the subject if we consider what constitutes the specific nature of virtue.

Now of everything that is continuous15 and divisible, it is possible to take the larger part, or the smaller part, or an equal part, and these parts may be larger, smaller, and equal either with respect to the thing itself or relatively to us; the equal part being a mean between excess and deficiency.16 [5] By the mean of the thing I denote a point equally distant from either extreme, which is one and the same for everybody; by the mean relative to us, that amount which is neither too much nor too little, and this is not one and the same for everybody. [6] For example, let 10 be many and 2 few; then one takes the mean with respect to the thing if one takes 6; [7] since 6 —2 = 10 — 6, and this is the mean according to arithmetical proportion.17 But we cannot arrive by this method at the mean relative to us. Suppose that 10 lb. of food is a large ration for anybody and 2 lb. a small one: it does not follow that a trainer will prescribe 6 lb., for perhaps even this will be a large ration, or a small one, for the particular athlete who is to receive it; it is a small ration for a Milo,18 but a large one for a man just beginning to go in for athletics. And similarly with the amount of running or wrestling exercise to be taken. [8] In the same way then an expert in any art avoids excess and deficiency, and seeks and adopts the mean—the mean that is not of the thing but relative to us. [9] If therefore the way in which every art or science performs its work well is by looking to the mean and applying that as a standard to its productions (hence the common remark about a perfect work of art, that you could not take from it nor add to it—meaning that excess and deficiency destroy perfection, while adherence to the mean preserves it)—if then, as we say, good craftsmen look to the mean as they work, and if virtue, like nature, is more accurate and better than any form of art, it will follow that virtue has the quality of hitting the mean. [10] I refer to moral virtue,19 for this is concerned with emotions and actions, in which one can have excess or deficiency or a due mean. For example, one can be frightened or bold, feel desire or anger or pity, and experience pleasure and pain in general, either too much or too little, and in both cases wrongly; [11] whereas to feel these feelings at the right time, on the right occasion, towards the right people, for the right purpose and in the right manner, is to feel the best amount of them, which is the mean amount—and the best amount is of course the mark of virtue. [12] And similarly there can be excess, deficiency, and the due mean in actions. Now feelings and actions are the objects with which virtue is concerned; and in feelings and actions excess and deficiency are errors, while the mean amount is praised, and constitutes success; and to be praised and to be successful are both marks of virtue. [13] Virtue, therefore is a mean state in the sense that it is able to hit the mean. [14] Again, error is multiform (for evil is a form of the unlimited, as in the old Pythagorean imagery,20 and good of the limited), whereas success is possible in one way only (which is why it is easy to fail and difficult to succeed—easy to miss the target and difficult to hit it); so this is another reason why excess and deficiency are a mark of vice, and observance of the mean a mark of virtue:

Goodness is simple, badness manifold.21 [15]

Virtue then is a settled disposition of the mind determining the choice22 of actions and emotions, consisting essentially in the observance of the mean relative to us, this being determined by principle, that is,23 as the prudent man would determine it. [16]

And it is a mean state between two vices, one of excess and one of defect. Furthermore, it is a mean state in that whereas the vices either fall short of or exceed what is right in feelings and in actions, virtue ascertains and adopts the mean. [17] Hence while in respect of its substance and the definition that states what it really is in essence virtue is the observance of the mean, in point of excellence and rightness it is an extreme.24 [18]

Not every action or emotion however admits of the observance of a due mean. Indeed the very names of some directly imply evil, for instance malice,25 shamelessness, envy, and, of actions, adultery, theft, murder. All these and similar actions and feelings are blamed as being bad in themselves; it is not the excess or deficiency of them that we blame. It is impossible therefore ever to go right in regard to them—one must always be wrong; nor does right or wrong in their case depend on the circumstances, for instance, whether one commits adultery with the right woman, at the right time, and in the right manner; the mere commission of any of them is wrong. [19] One might as well suppose there could be a due mean and excess and deficiency in acts of injustice or cowardice or profligacy, which would imply that one could have a medium amount of excess and of deficiency, an excessive amount of excess and a deficient amount of deficiency. [20] But just as there can be no excess or deficiency in temperance and justice because the mean is in a sense an extreme,26 so there can be no observance of the mean nor excess nor deficiency in the corresponding vicious acts mentioned above, but however they are committed, they are wrong; since, to put it in general terms, there is no such thing as observing a mean in excess or deficiency, nor as exceeding or falling short in the observance of a mean.7.

We must not however rest content with stating this general definition, but must show that it applies to the particular virtues. In practical philosophy, although universal principles have a wider application,27 those covering a particular part of the field possess a higher degree of truth; because conduct deals with particular facts, and our theories are bound to accord with these.

Let us then take the particular virtues from the diagram.28 [2]

The observance of the mean in fear and confidence is Courage. The man that exceeds in fearlessness not designated by any special name (and this the case with many of the virtues and vices); he that exceeds in confidence is Rash; he that exceeds in fear and is deficient in confidence is Cowardly. [3] In respect of pleasures and pains—not all of them, and to a less degree in respect of pains29—the observance of the mean is Temperance, the excess Profligacy. Men deficient in the enjoyment of pleasures scarcely occur, and hence this character also has not been assigned a name, but we may call it Insensible. [4] In regard to giving and getting money, the observance of the mean is Liberality; the excess and deficiency are Prodigality and Meanness,30 but the prodigal man and the mean man exceed and fall short in opposite ways to one another: the prodigal exceeds in giving and is deficient in getting, whereas the mean man exceeds in getting and is deficient in giving. [5] For the present then we describe these qualities in outline and summarily, which is enough for the purpose in hand; but they will be more accurately defined later. [6]

There are also other dispositions in relation to money, namely, the mode of observing the mean called Magnificence (the magnificent man being different from the liberal, as the former deals with large amounts and the latter with small ones), the excess called Tastelessness or Vulgarity, and the defect called Paltriness. These are not the same as Liberality and the vices corresponding to it; but the way in which they differ will be discussed later. [7]

In respect of honor and dishonor, the observance of the mean is Greatness of Soul, the excess a sort of Vanity, as it may be called, and the deficiency, Smallness of Soul. [8] And just as we said that Liberality is related to Magnificence, differing from it in being concerned with small amounts of money, so there is a certain quality related to Greatness of Soul, which is concerned with great honors, while this quality itself is concerned with small honors; for it is possible to aspire to minor honors in the right way, or more than is right, or less. He who exceeds in these aspirations is called ambitious, he who is deficient, unambitious; but the middle character has no name, and the dispositions of these persons are also unnamed, except that that of the ambitious man is called Ambitiousness. Consequently the extreme characters put in a claim to the middle position, and in fact we ourselves sometimes call the middle person ambitious and sometimes unambitious: we sometimes praise a man for being ambitious, sometimes for being unambitious. [9] Why we do so shall be discussed later; for the present let us classify the remaining virtues and vices on the lines which we have laid down. [10]

In respect of anger also we have excess, deficiency, and the observance of the mean. These states are virtually without names, but as we call a person of the middle character gentle, let us name the observance of the mean Gentleness, while of the extremes, he that exceeds may be styled irascible and his vice Irascibility, and he that is deficient, spiritless, and the deficiency Spiritlessness. [11]

There are also three other modes of observing a mean which bear some resemblance to each other, and yet are different; all have to do with intercourse in conversation and action, but they differ in that one is concerned with truthfulness of speech and behavior, and the other with pleasantness, in its two divisions of pleasantness in social amusement and pleasantness in the general affairs of life. We must then discuss these qualities also, in order the better to discern that in all things the observance of the mean is to be praised, while the extremes are neither right nor praiseworthy, but reprehensible. Most of these qualities also are unnamed, but in these as in the other cases we must attempt to coin names for them ourselves, for the sake of clearness and so that our meaning may be easily followed. [12]

In respect of truth then, the middle character may be called truthful, and the observance of the mean Truthfulness31; pretence in the form of exaggeration is Boastfulness, and its possessor a boaster; in the form of understatement, Self-depreciation, and its possessor the self-depreciator. [13]

In respect of pleasantness and social amusement, the middle character is witty and the middle disposition Wittiness; the excess is Buffoonery and its possessor a buffoon; the deficient man may be called boorish, and his disposition Boorishness. In respect of general pleasantness in life, the man who is pleasant in the proper manner is friendly, and the observance of the mean is Friendliness; he that exceeds, if from no interested motive, is obsequious, if for his own advantage, a flatterer; he that is deficient, and unpleasant in all the affairs of life, may be called quarrelsome and surly. [14]

There are also modes of observing a mean in the sphere of and in relation to the emotions. For32 in these also one man is spoken of as moderate and another as excessive—for example the bashful man whose modesty takes alarm at everything; while he that is deficient in shame, or abashed at nothing whatsoever, is shameless, and the man of middle character modest. For though Modesty is not a virtue, it is praised, and so is the modest man. [15]

Again, Righteous Indignation is the observance of a mean between Envy and Malice,33 and these qualities are concerned with pain and pleasure felt at the fortunes of one's neighbors. The righteously indignant man is pained by undeserved good fortune; the jealous man exceeds him and is pained by all the good fortune of others;34 while the malicious man so far falls short of being pained that he actually feels pleasure. [16]

These qualities however it will be time to discuss in another place. After them we will treat Justice,35 distinguishing its two kinds—for it has more than one sense—and showing in what way each is a mode of observing the mean. [And we will deal similarly with the logical virtues.36]8.

There are then three dispositions—two vices, one of excess and one of defect, and one virtue which is the observance of the mean; and each of them is in a certain way opposed to both the others. For the extreme states are the opposite both of the middle state and of each other, and the middle state is the opposite of both extremes; [2] since just as the equal is greater in comparison with the less and less in comparison with the greater, so the middle states of character are in excess as compared with the defective states and defective as compared with the excessive states, whether in the case of feelings or of actions. For instance, a brave man appears rash in contrast with a coward and cowardly in contrast with a rash man; similarly a temperate man appears profligate in contrast with a man insensible to pleasure and pain, but insensible in contrast with a profligate; and a liberal man seems prodigal in contrast with a mean man, mean in contrast with one who is prodigal. [3] Hence either extreme character tries to push the middle character towards the other extreme; a coward calls a brave man rash and a rash man calls him a coward, and correspondingly in other cases. [4]

But while all three dispositions are thus opposed to one another, the greatest degree of contrariety exists between the two extremes. For the extremes are farther apart from each other than from the mean, just as great is farther from small and small from great than either from equal. [5] Again37 some extremes show a certain likeness to the mean—for instance, Rashness resembles Courage, Prodigality Liberality, whereas the extremes display the greatest unlikeness to one another. But it is things farthest apart from each other that logicians define as contraries, so that the farther apart things are the more contrary they are. [6]

And in some cases 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].38 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 advises39— “ 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,40 the second best way to sail,41 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.

The second rule is to notice what are the errors to which we are ourselves most prone (as different men are inclined by nature to different faults)—and we shall discover what these are by observing the pleasure or pain that we experience—; [5] then we must drag ourselves away in the opposite direction, for by steering wide of our besetting error we shall make a middle course. This is the method adopted by carpenters to straighten warped timber [6]

Thirdly, we must in everything be most of all on our guard against what is pleasant and against pleasure; for when pleasure is on her trial we are not impartial judges. The right course is therefore to feel towards pleasure as the elders of the people felt towards Helen,42 and to apply43 their words to her on every occasion; for if we roundly bid her be gone, we shall be less likely to err. [7]

These then, to sum up the matter, are the precautions that will best enable us to hit the mean. But no doubt it is a difficult thing to do, and especially in particular cases: for instance, it is not easy to define in what manner and with what people and on what sort of grounds and how long one ought to be angry; and in fact we sometimes praise men who err on the side of defect in this matter and call them gentle, sometimes those who are quick to a anger and style them manly. [8] However, we do not blame one who diverges a little from the right course, whether on the side of the too much or of the too little, but one who diverges more widely, for his error is noticed. Yet to what degree and how seriously a man must err to be blamed is not easy to define on principle. For in fact no object of perception is easy to define; and such questions of degree depend on particular circumstances, and the decision lies with perception. [9]

Thus much then is clear, that it is the middle disposition in each department of conduct that is to be praised, but that one should lean sometimes to the side of excess and sometimes to that of deficiency, since this is the easiest way of hitting the mean and the right course.

1 It is probable that ἔθος, ‘habit’ and ἦθος, ‘character’ (whence ‘ethical,’ moral) are kindred words.

2 ἀρετή is here as often in this and the following Books employed in the limited sense of ‘moral excellence’ or ‘goodness of character,’ i.e. virtue in the ordinary sense of the term.

3 Or possibly ‘For things that we have to learn to do [in contrast with things that we do by nature], we learn by doing them.’

4 i.e., in Bk. 6. For the sense in which ‘the right principle’ can be said to be the virtue of Prudence see 6.13.5 note.

5 See 1.3.1.

6 We here resume from the end of chap. 1. The preceding paragraphs, repeating from Bk. 1. the caution as to method, and introducing the doctrine of the Mean, which is to be developed below, are parenthetical.

7 The contrary maxim to similia similibus curantur or homoeopathy. Fever, caused by heat, is cured by cold, hence if the remedy for wickedness is pain, it must have been caused by pleasure.

8 i.e., is actively exercised when fully developed, cf. 2.8.

9 The reference is probably to Speusippus, although in the extant remains of Greek philosophy apathy, or freedom from passions or emotions, first appears as an ethical ideal of the Stoics.

10 Sc., as well as being the sources of our feelings.

11 Heraclitus, Fr. 105 (Bywater) θυμῷ μάχεσθαι χαλεπόν: τι γὰρ ἂν χρηίζῃ γίνεσθαι, ψυχῆς ὠνέεται, ‘it is hard to fight with anger [or ‘desire,’ θυμῷ in the Homeric sense, Burnet]. Whatever it wishes to get, it purchases at the cost of life.’

12 See Bk. 3.1, where this is interpreted as meaning both knowledge of what he is doing (the act must not be unconscious or accidental), and knowledge of moral principle (he must know that the act is a right one).

13 Probably for ‘pain’ we should read ‘fear.’

14 2.8 f.

15 i.e., without distinct parts, and so (if divisible at all), divisible at any point, as opposed to what is διῃρημένον, ‘discrete,’ or made up of distinct parts and only divisible between them.

16 Greek comparatives, ‘larger’, ‘smaller’, etc., may also mean ‘too large’, ‘too small’, etc.; and there is the same ambiguity in the words translated ‘excess’ and ‘deficiency’. Again μέσον, ‘middle’ or ‘mean’, is used as a synonym for μέτριον ‘moderate’ or of the right amount, and ἴσον ‘equal’ can mean ‘equitable’. Hence ‘to take an equal part with respect to the thing itself’ means to take a part equal to the part left, viz. a half; ‘to take an equal part relatively to us,’ means to take what is a fair or suitable amount. The former is a mean as being exactly in the middle between all and none—if the thing in question is represented by a line, this is bisected at a point equidistant from its two ends; the latter is a mean in the sense of being the right amount for the recipient, and also of lying somewhere between any two other amounts that happen to be too much and too little for him.

17 We should rather call this an arithmetical progression.

18 A famous wrestler.

19 The formula of the mean does not apply to the intellectual virtues.

20 Cf. 1.6.7.

21 The verse from an unknown source would come in better just before or just after the last parenthesis.

22 Προαίρεσις, ‘choice’ or ‘purpose’, is discussed in Bk. 3.2, where see note.

23 A variant reading gives ‘determined by principle, or whatever we like to call that by which the prudent man would determine it’ (vide Taylor, Aristotle, p. 77).

24 Cf. 3.4.8.

25 See 7.15. The word means ‘delight at another's misfortune’, Schadenfreude.

26 See 6.17 above.

27 Or ‘have a wider acceptance.’

28 Here apparently the lecturer displayed a table of virtues (like the one in Aristot. Eud. Eth. 1220b 37), exhibiting each as a mean between two vices of excess and defect in respect of a certain class of action or feeling. This is developed in detail in Bk. 3. 6-end and Bk. 4.

29 This parenthesis looks like an interpolation from 3.10.1.

30 The Greek word is the negative of that translated Liberality, but ‘illiberality’ and ‘illiberal’ we do not usually employ with reference to money.

31 From Bk. 4.7 it appears that the quality intended is sincerity of speech and conduct in the matter of asserting one's own merits. The observance of the mean in this respect is there said to have no name; and here the form of expression apologizes for using ‘Truthfulness’ in so limited a sense. The defect in this respect Aristotle expresses by εἰρωνεία, a word specially associated with the affectation of ignorance practised by Socrates. Neither this nor its other shades of meaning correspond very closely to that of its English derivative irony.

32 This sentence in the mss. follows the next one.

33 See 6.18 (and note): there envy and ‘rejoicing-in-evil’ come in a list of emotions in which a due mean is impossible; and in Aristot. Rh. 1386b 34 they are said to be two sides of the same character. The present attempt to force them into the scheme as opposite extremes is not very successful, and it is noteworthy that this group of qualities is omitted in Bk. 4.

34 It is difficult not to think that some words have been lost here, such as ‘and the righteously indignant man is pained by the undeserved misfortune of others.’

35 Bk. 6

36 Grant rightly rejects this sentence, since the intellectual virtues are nowhere else thus designated by Aristotle, nor does he regard them as modes of observing a mean.

37 This sentence should perhaps follow the next one, as it gives a second test of opposition, viz. unlikeness. However, unlikeness and remoteness are blended together in 8.7.

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

39 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.

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

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

42 Hom. Il. 3.156-160.

43 Or ‘repeat’.

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