but we are praised or blamed for our virtues and vices.
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.
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.
If then the virtues are neither emotions nor capacities, it remains that they are
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.
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.
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
We have already indicated1
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 continuous2
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
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
For example, let 10 be many and 2 few; then
one takes the mean with respect to the thing if one takes 6;
since 6 —2 = 10 — 6, and this is the mean according
to arithmetical proportion.4
But we cannot arrive by this method at the mean
relative to us.