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Aristotle:  384 - 322 BCE

LX:80 | For in Many Ways Human Nature is in Bondage

That it is not a science of production [first philosophy] is clear even from the history of the earliest philosophers. For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders); therefore since they philosophized in order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end. And this is confirmed by the facts; for it was when almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for comfort and recreation had been secured, that such knowledge began to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his own sake and not for another’s, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for its own sake.

Hence also the possession of it might be justly regarded as beyond human power; for in many ways human nature is in bondage, so that according to Simonides ‘God alone can have this privilege’, and it is unfitting that man should not be content to seek the knowledge that is suited to him. If, then, there is something in what the poets say, and jealousy is natural to the divine power, it would probably occur in this case above all, and all who excelled in this knowledge would be unfortunate. But the divine power cannot be jealous (nay, according to the proverb, ‘bards tell many a lie’), nor should any other science be thought more honourable than one of this sort. For the most divine science is also the most honourable; and this science alone must be, in two ways, most divine. For the science which it would be most meet for God to have is a divine science, and so is any science that deals with divine objects; and this science alone has both these qualities; for (1) God is thought to be among the causes of all things and to be a first principle, and (2) such a science either God alone can have, or God above all others. All the sciences, indeed, are more necessary than this, but none is better. (982b-983a)


Source

 Aristotle. "Metaphysics." Introduction to Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon.  Random House, 1947.  247 - 48.


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Training of the Self By Oneself;Pursuit of the Examined Life

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


 

LX:70 | Virtue Defined: The Differentia

Of every continuous entity that is divisible into parts it is possible to take the larger, the smaller, or an equal part, and these parts may be larger, smaller, or equal1 either in relation to the entity itself, or in relation to us. The “equal” part is something median between the excess and deficiency. By the median of an entity I understand a point equidistant from both extremes, and this point is one and the same for everybody. By the median relative to us I understand an amount neither too large nor too small, and this is neither one nor the same for everybody. To take an example: if ten is many and two is few, six is taken as the median in relation to the entity, for it exceeds and is exceeded by the same amount, and is thus the median in terms of arithmetical proportion. But the median relative to us cannot be determined in this manner: if ten pounds of food is much for a man to eat and two pounds little, it does not follow that the trainer will prescribe six pounds, for this may in turn be much or little for him to eat; it may be little for Milo2 and much for someone who has just begun to take up athletics. The same applies to running and wrestling. Thus we see that an expert in any field avoids excess and deficiency, but seeks the median and chooses it - not the median of the object but the median relative to us.

If this, then, is the way in which every science perfects its work, by looking to the median and by bringing its work up to that point - and this is the reason why it is usually said of a successful piece of work that it is impossible to detract from it or to add to it, the implication being that excess and deficiency destroy success while the mean safeguards it (good craftsmen, we say, look toward this standard in the performance of their work) - and if virtue, like nature, is more precise and better than any art, we must conclude that virtue aims at the median. I am referring to moral virtue: for it is moral virtue that is concerned with emotions and actions, and it is in emotions and actions that excess, deficiency, and the median are found. Thus we can experience fear, confidence, desire, anger, pity, and generally any kind of pleasure and pain either too much or too little, and in either case not properly. But to experience all this at the right time, toward the right objects, toward the right people, for the right reason, and in the right manner - that is the median and the best course, the course that is a mark of virtue.

Similarly, excess, deficiency, and the median can also be found in actions. Now virtue is concerned with emotions and actions; and in emotions and actions excess and efficiency miss the mark, whereas the median is praised and constitutes success. But both praise and success are signs of virtue or excellence. Consequently, virtue is a mean in the sense that it aims at the median. This is corroborated by the fact that there are many ways of going wrong, but only one way which is right - for evil belongs to the indeterminate, as the Pythagoreans imagined, but good to the determinate. This, by the way, is also the reason why the one is easy and the other hard: it is easy to miss the target but hard to hit it. Here, then, is an additional proof that excess and deficiency characterize vice, while the mean characterizes virtue: for “bad men have many ways, good men but one.”3

We may thus conclude that virtue or excellence is a characteristic involving choice, and that it consists in observing the mean relative to us, a mean which is defined by a rational principle, such as a man of practical wisdom would use to determine it. It is the mean by reference to two vices: the one of excess and the other of deficiency. It is, moreover, a mean because some vices exceed and others fall short of what is required in emotion and in action, whereas virtue finds and chooses the median. Hence, in respect of its essence and the definition of its essential nature virtue is a mean, but in regard to goodness and excellence it is an extreme. (II, 1106b)


[1] It is impossible to capture in English the overtone these three words carry. They can also mean “too large,” “too small,” and “fair.”
[2] Milo of Croton, said to have lived in the second half of the sixth century B.C., was a wrestler famous for his remarkable strength.
[3] The author of this verse is unknown. 


Source

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics.  Trans. Martin Ostwald.  Prentice Hall, 1999. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Transition from the Ordinary Rational Knowledge of Morality to the Philosophical 

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:69 | Activities of a Certain Kind

Moreover, the same causes and the same means that produce any excellence or virtue can also destroy it, and this is also true of every art.1 It is by playing the harp that men become both good and bad harpists, and correspondingly with builders and all the other craftsmen: a man who builds well will be a good builder, one who builds badly a bad one. For if this were not so, there would be no need for an instructor, but everybody would be born as a good or a bad craftsman. The same holds true of the virtues: in our transactions with other men it is by action that some become just and others unjust, and it is by acting in the face of danger and by developing the habit of feeling fear or confidence that some become brave men and others cowards. The same applies to the appetites and feelings of anger: by reacting in one way or in another to given circumstances some people become self-controlled and gentle, and others self-indulgent and short-tempered. In a word, characteristics2 develop from corresponding activities. For that reason, we must see to it that our activities are of a certain kind, since any variations in them will be reflected in our characteristics. Hence it is no small matter whether one habit or another is inculcated in us from early childhood; on the contrary, it makes a considerable difference, or, rather, all the difference. (II, 1103b)


[1] technē (τέχνη): the skill, art, or craft and general know-how, the possession of which enables a person to produce a certain product. The term is used not only to describe, for example, the kind of knowledge which a shoemaker needs to produce shoes, but also to describe the art of a physician which produces health, or the skill of a harpist which produces music. Thus technē as an applied science concerned with production is often contrasted with epistēmē, which is pure scientific knowledge for its own sake.

[2] hexis (ἕξις): characteristic, also trained ability, characteristic condition, characteristic attitude. A noun related to the verb echein, ‘to have,’ ‘hold,’ ‘hold as a possession,’ ‘be in a certain condition,’ designating a firmly fixed possession of the mind, established by repeated and habitual action. Once attained, it is ever present, at least in a potential form. The Latin interpreters of Greek philosophy rendered the term by habitus, a word which well retains the original relation with habēre = echein. Hence ‘habit’ has often been used as an English equivalent.


Source

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics.  Trans. Martin Ostwald.  Prentice Hall, 1999. 


Notes

See Wildcat Hill in Works and Days as well as the Lexicon entry If Photography Tends to the Literary for additional discussion.


LX:56 | Sōphrōn

A sōphrōn is a person aware of his limitations in a positive as well as a negative sense: he knows what his abilities and nature do and do not permit him to do. He is a self-controlled man in the sense that he will never want to do what he knows he cannot or should not. Aristotle differentiates him from the enkratēs, a man who also knows what his abilities and nature permit and do not permit, but who, though feeling drawn to what he cannot or should not do, has the moral fiber to resist temptations and follow the voice of reason instead. (His opposite, the akratēs, or ‘morally weak man,’ succumbs to temptation.) These terms refer not only to different virtues, but also to essentially different types of personality. A sōphrōn is well-balanced through and through; he gives the impression of self-control without effort or strain. The enkratēs, on the other hand, has an intense and passionate nature which he is, indeed, strong enough to control, but not without a struggle. He is ‘morally strong’ in his victory; the sōphrōn, on the other hand, is not even tempted. (313-4)


Source

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics.  Trans. Martin Ostwald.  Prentice Hall, 1999. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

The Scope of EthicsTraining of the Self By Oneself

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:24 | Excess and Deficiency

First of all, it must be observed that the nature of moral qualities is such that they are destroyed by defect and by excess. We see the same thing happen in the case of strength and of health, to illustrate, as we must, the invisible by means of visible examples: excess as well as deficiency of physical exercise destroys our strength, and similarly, too much and too little food and drink destroys our health; the proportionate amount, however, produces, increases, and preserves it. The same applies to self-control, courage, and the other virtues: the man who shuns and fears everything and never stands his ground becomes a coward, whereas a man who knows no fear at all and goes to meet every danger becomes reckless. Similarly, a man who revels in every pleasure and abstains from none becomes self-indulgent, while he who avoids every pleasure like a boor becomes what might be called insensitive. Thus we see that self-control and courage are destroyed by excess and by deficiency and are preserved by the mean. (II,1104a)


Source

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics.  Trans. Martin Ostwald.  Prentice Hall, 1999. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

The Most Basic Sphere of Concern is Schooling

Works and Days

Saturday August 22 2009

Documents

 


Notes