In Aristotle’s writing, he contends that in most things, those short of murder, adultery or theft, that there is deficiency and there is excess. Both of these are vices. In between them, at the mean, there is virtue. That is his doctrine of the mean. Just as with physical health, too little or too much can be detrimental, and so too with moral health. Aristotle uses the virtue of courage as one example of this doctrine. Courage is generally accepted as a good thing. With too little of it, people are reduced to cowardice. However, at the other end, too much of it leads to foolhardiness. The only way, Aristotle describes to the public, to be virtuous and courageous is to strive for the middle, the mean. Aristotle uses archery as a metaphor for why the doctrine of the mean is the key to excellence. To hit the bullseye takes precision. Too much variation in any direction, too much deficiency or too much excess, spoils that ...
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...ponder the nature of virtue.
While, yes, the doctrine of the mean does shed some light on the nature of virtues of character, it ultimately fails as a method of looking at moral virtue. Through Aristotle’s discussion of the doctrine we are shown several examples of moral virtue. He also makes us understand the dangers of excess. Some sense of relativity is implied in the doctrine, because inherent to it is the idea that even a good thing when pushed too far becomes bad. However, it fails to truly tell us anything about virtue. For instance, when does courage become cowardice or foolhardiness? The doctrine of the mean is purely a hypothetical pursuit that cannot be applied to our real lives, our real decisions, and our ability to live virtuous lives whatever that “virtue” may be. In the end, the doctrine of the mean is too circular, too indeterminate to be worth much.
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