Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 2

The Middle or Mean

by Aristotle Icon
5 minutes  • 982 words
Table of contents

This work is asking both about virtue and how to become virtuous.

Since the quality of the habits are formed from actions, then what actions should be done to achieve this?

A general maxim is that we are to act according to Right Reason.

All which can be said on moral action is an outline and not something exact.

This is because matters of moral action and expediency have no fixedness any more than matters of health.

General maxims are even less applicable to particular cases where is exactness is not attainable[5].

This is because moral actions fall not under any system of rules. Instead, they must be left in each instance to each individual to look to the exigencies of the particular case, like in the art of healing, or the navigation of a ship.

The Middle Path

It is the nature of moral actions to be spoiled by defect and excess, just like in the case of health and strength.

Excessive training impairs the strength just as deficient training does.

Too much or too little meat and drink impair the health. In due proportion they increase, and preserve it.

This is the case with the habits of perfected Self-Mastery, Courage, and the rest of the Virtues.

  • The man who flees from and fears all things, and never stands up against anything becomes a coward.
  • He who fears nothing, but goes at everything, becomes rash.
  • He who tastes every pleasure and abstains from none comes to lose all self-control.
  • He who avoids all, as do the dull and clownish, comes as it were to lose his faculties of perception

The habits of perfected Self-Mastery and Courage are spoiled by the excess and defect, but by the mean state are preserved.

Furthermore, not only do the origination, growth, and marring of the habits come from and by the same circumstances, but also the acts of working after the habits are formed will be exercised on the same:

for so it is also with those other things which are more directly matters of sight, strength for instance:

for this comes by taking plenty of food and doing plenty of work, and the man who has attained strength is best able to do these:

and so it is with the Virtues, for not only do we by come to be

We perfect Self-Mastery when we:

  • abstain from pleasures
  • have developed the habit of abstaining

We develop Courage by getting used to:

  • despising objects of fear
  • standing up against them that we come to be brave

And for a test of the formation of the habits we must take the pleasure or pain which succeeds the acts.

Self-Mastery is perfected when a person abstains from the bodily pleasures but is also glad to do so.

Whereas, he who abstains but is sorry to do it has no Self-Mastery.

A brave man stands up against danger, either with positive pleasure or at least without any pain.[6]

Moral Virtue has for its object-matter pleasures and pains. Through pleasure, we do what is bad, and thorugh pain, we decline doing what is right.

Plato observes that men should have been trained from their childhood to receive pleasure and pain from proper objects, as the right kind of education.

Virtues have to do with actions and feelings.

On every feeling and every action, pleasure and pain follow. This is another proof that Virtue has pleasure and pain for its object-matter*.

*Superphysics Note: We replace this with ease and unease

This is also why punishments are effected through the instrumentality of pain and pleasure – punishments are remedies which are contraries of the ills they cure.

Every habit of the Soul by its very nature has relation to, and exerts itself upon, things of the same kind as those by which it is naturally deteriorated or improved:

Such habits come to be vicious through pleasures and pains – by men pursuing or avoiding respectively, either such as they ought not, or at wrong times, or in wrong manner, and so forth

This is why some people define the Virtues as certain states of impassibility and utter quietude,[7]. But they are wrong because they speak without modification. Instead they add:

  • “as they ought”
  • “as they ought not”
  • “when” and so on.

Virtue then is assumed to be that habit which is such, in relation to pleasures and pains, as to effect the best results, and Vice the contrary.

There are principally 3 things moving us to choice:

  1. The honourable
  2. The expedient
  3. The pleasant

Three things move us to avoidance:

  1. The dishonourable
  2. The hurtful
  3. The painful

The good man is apt to go right with all these, most specially with pleasure.

  • The bad man is apt to go wrong,

This is because:

  • pleasure is common to him with all animals
  • the honourable and the expedient give an impression of pleasure.

Again, we adopt pleasure and pain (some of us more, and some less) as the measure even of actions.

For this cause then our whole business must be with them, since to receive right or wrong impressions of pleasure and pain is a thing of no little importance in respect of the actions. Once more; it is harder, as Heraclitus says, to fight against pleasure than against anger:

now it is about that which is more than commonly difficult that art comes into being, and virtue too, because in that which is difficult the good is of a higher order: and so for this reason too both virtue and moral philosophy generally must wholly busy themselves respecting pleasures and pains, because he that uses these well will be good, he that does so ill will be bad.

Virtue has for its object-matter pleasures and pains.

It is either increased or marred by the same circumstances that originally generates it.

It exerts itself on the same circumstances out of which it was generated.

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