Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean

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Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean

When we consider the questions of how we ought to live our lives, we often seek for some schematic that we can employ to help us categorize actions or qualities as good, bad, or indifferent. Such a means of organization would indeed make it easier to determine what the right thing to do is. Aristotle once attempted to formulate a similar plan. His ethics used a scheme by which characteristics could be measured and the right amount attained. Such an account is known as the doctrine of the mean. Aristotle’s doctrine is meant to illuminate the nature of eudaimonia, which can be briefly defined as succeeding or flourishing, the key to which is arête.

To better understand where ethics fit into Aristotle’s system we need to briefly take a step back and look at the larger picture. Aristotle divided knowledge into three different categories. The first is theoretical, which is concerned with describing reality. The second is practical, which has to do with action, doing, or engaging. The third is productive, which is expressed in poetry, art, literature, etc. Aristotle places ethics in the second category of practical knowledge. He believed that ethical questions largely dealt with how we lived and naturally affected our actions.

Aristotle further divided his thought on ethics into two categories, intellectual virtue and moral/social/political virtue. With respect to his views on moral virtue, Aristotle developed a doctrine that showed that virtue is staying in the mean, the doctrine of the mean. “The moral virtue is a mean…” (Aristotle 109). This doctrine claimed that having the right amount of a characteristic would be virtuous and most often is in between having too much or too little of ...

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...n, remember that there are two types of virtues, moral and intellectual. The moral virtue as it relates to virtue in general must be an excellent making characteristic. That is, someone who is morally virtuous will be able to perform moral duties well. This illustrates how Aristotle is able to bring the notion of arête to apply to moral virtue.

For Aristotle the doctrine of the mean is a way to categorize (one of his favorite activities) moral virtue; however, there are some exceptions, as Aristotle noted, leaving a gap that must be filled. The doctrine is very helpful and does work, but one must beware the exceptions and carefully contemplate for himself whether these things are so.

Works Cited

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Rpt. in Ethical Theories: A Book of Readings second edition. Ed. A. I. Melden. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1967. 106-109.
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