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Nicomachean Ethics   


That moral virtue is a mean, then, and in what sense it is so, and
that it is a mean between two vices, the one involving excess, the
other deficiency, and that it is such because its character is to aim
at what is intermediate in passions and in actions, has been
sufficiently stated. Hence also it is no easy task to be good. For in
everything it is no easy task to find the middle, e.g. to find the
middle of a circle is not for every one but for him who knows; so,
too, any one can get angry- that is easy- or give or spend money; but
to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right
time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for
every one, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and
laudable and noble.
Hence he who aims at the intermediate must first depart from what is
the more contrary to it, as Calypso advises-
Hold the ship out beyond that surf and spray.
For of the extremes one is more erroneous, one less so; therefore,
since to hit the mean is hard in the extreme, we must as a second
best, as people say, take the least of the evils; and this will be
done best in the way we describe. But we must consider the things
towards which we ourselves also are easily carried away; for some of
us tend to one thing, some to another; and this will be recognizable
from the pleasure and the pain we feel. We must drag ourselves away to
the contrary extreme; for we shall get into the intermediate state by
drawing well away from error, as people do in straightening sticks
that are bent.
Now in everything the pleasant or pleasure is most to be guarded
against; for we do not judge it impartially. We ought, then, to feel
towards pleasure as the elders of the people felt towards Helen, and
in all circumstances repeat their saying; for if we dismiss pleasure
thus we are less likely to go astray. It is by doing this, then, (to
sum the matter up) that we shall best be able to hit the mean.
But this is no doubt difficult, and especially in individual cases;
for or is not easy to determine both how and with whom and on what
provocation and how long one should be angry; for we too sometimes
praise those who fall short and call them good-tempered, but sometimes
we praise those who get angry and call them manly. The man, however,
who deviates little from goodness is not blamed, whether he do so in
the direction of the more or of the less, but only the man who
deviates more widely; for he does not fail to be noticed. But up to
what point and to what extent a man must deviate before he becomes
blameworthy it is not easy to determine by reasoning, any more than
anything else that is perceived by the senses; such things depend on
particular facts, and the decision rests with perception. So much,
then, is plain, that the intermediate state is in all things to be
praised, but that we must incline sometimes towards the excess,
sometimes towards the deficiency; for so shall we most easily hit the
mean and what is right.
Nicomachean Ethics
By Aristotle
Written 350 B.C.E 1
Since virtue is concerned with passions and actions, and on voluntary
passions and actions praise and blame are bestowed, on those that are
involuntary pardon, and sometimes also pity, to distinguish the
voluntary and the involuntary is presumably necessary for those who
are studying the nature of virtue, and useful also for legislators
with a view to the assigning both of honours and of punishments. Those
things, then, are thought-involuntary, which take place under
compulsion or owing to ignorance; and that is compulsory of which the
moving principle is outside, being a principle in which nothing is
contributed by the person who is acting or is feeling the passion,
e.g. if he were to be carried somewhere by a wind, or by men who had
him in their power.
But with regard to the things that are done from fear of greater evils
or for some noble object (e.g. if a tyrant were to order one to do

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