Aristotle: How to Live a Good Life

What "The Golden Mean" Means

In 325 B.C.E. Aristotle asked ‘What is the good man?’ His answer to this question was ‘An activity of the soul in conformity with virtue’. For Aristotle, a virtue is an action that uses good character traits, and is preformed habitually by people we like to be around.

Aristotle names some virtues specifically, for example generosity, honestly, compassion, loyalty, etc., however not all virtues are needed by all people: only Aristotle’s favorite virtues, known as the cardinal virtues, are essential. According to Aristotle, Cardinal virtues are considered virtues in all cultures.

Aristotle also warns that too much or too little of a virtue, also known as a vice, can be a bad thing. “Virtues go wrong in two ways: through deficiency or excess.” This means that having too much or too little of a virtue is blameworthy. For example, if you’re honest all the time you would be in a vice, and if you’re never honest you would also be in a vice.

The trick is to have just the right amount of a virtue; something Aristotle calls the golden mean. The golden mean differs from person to person. Some actions, that have no moderate form, can never be virtuous. These would be things like murder or stealing, or any other action that can’t be done only a little bit. I think that Aristotle’s ideas were right on. Especially concerning his definition of a good man, and his cardinal virtues.

As a person who usually likes the middle ground or gray area of an argument, I really like Aristotle’s idea of the golden mean for avoiding an excess or deficiency in our virtues, which I think proves the importance of never being extreme on any issue.

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