Aristotle’s Golden Mean

One of Aristotle’s greatest insights was that good and bad are not two extremes on a continuum. Rather, the good is the middle point between two bads: excess and deficiency. This means that when we must make a choice or act, we should choose the option that lies between “two much” and “not enough.”

To illustrate this idea, here’s an example from Aristotle himself. What is courage? It is the mean or middle point between cowardice and rashness.

cowardice —————- courage ——————-rashness
(not enough)                         (just right)                              (t00 much)

Cowardice is the “not enough” or deficiency extreme. Rashness is the “too much” or excess extreme. Courage is the “just right” point, the middle point of virtue.

Here are two more little diagrams that illustrate this idea (Aristotle’s Golden Mean) in more detail:

Deficiency—————— the Golden Mean ——————Excess
(Bad)                                              (Good)                                                  (Bad)

Vice ————————— Virtue ——————————— Vice

In short, the virtue is the middle point between two extremes: a vice of excess and a vice of deficiency.

As an interesting side note, the Buddha discovered this same insight independently of Aristotle. He formulated it in what he called “The Middle Way,” the path between extremes in intellectual positions and in daily action.

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