Virtue and the Mean
Live Like an Aristotelian
Virtue, then, is a deliberately choosing state, which is in a medial condition in relation to us, one defined by a reason and the one by which a practically-wise person would define it. Also, it is a medial condition between two vices, one of excess and the other of deficiency. Further, it is also such a condition because some vices are deficient in relation to what the relevant feelings and actions should be and others are excessive, but virtue both finds the mean and chooses it.
– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics II.7
As the quote above shows, Aristotle thinks of the “mean” as a feature of our actions and our feelings. The goal is to avoid acting excessively and deficiently, but it’s also to avoid excessive and deficient feelings. For instance, courage requires an action that’s neither reckless nor cowardly, but it also requires feeling an appropriate amount of fear: the reckless person feels no fear; the cowardly person is overwhelmed by fear.
Your assignment for today is to continue the training regimen you began yesterday in developing a virtuous character. As you go about your day, be on the lookout for how to display your chosen virtue in situations that demand it, and be proactive about putting yourself in situations where you’ll need to exercise the character strength you’ve selected.
In doing this today, aim in particular to employ Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean by searching for the intermediate state between two extreme vices. Be careful not to mistake the virtuous action for the extreme action: one way to test whether you’re achieving the “medial condition” in acting virtuously is to determine first what the two extreme vices would be in a given situation and to avoid those.
Consider how this idea of a medial condition gives you guidance in acting. What are the corresponding two vices you should avoid in order to display your chosen virtue? (It may be that there are no simple names for these vices—that’s fine, as long as you have some sense of what excessive and deficient actions would look like, and the excessive and deficient feelings that accompany these actions.)
Continue to log the activities that enable you to exercise your chosen virtue today. Again, you should complete at least three actions here. Also include a line in your log about the extremes you avoided (in your actions and in your feelings) in order to do this.