Aristotle & Virtue

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is Aristotle’s way of explaining what the good life is (eudaimonia). His Lessons are broken up into “books” that each feature a key aspect of his reasoning. Book II, chapters 5, 6 & 8 focuses on virtue.

Aristotle states that “there are three things to be found in the soul – feelings, capacities, and states – so virtue should be one of these”. Feelings are described as feelings, anger, fear, joy, love, etc; “things accompanied by pleasure or pain”. Capacities are how much we can experience the previously mentioned feelings.

Lastly, state deals with our disposition to feelings; meaning, if we are sad, how much we feel it, be it too much or too little means we are badly disposed of. However, “if we are between the two, then well disposed of”. As we continue to take in Aristotle’s beliefs, we find that virtue is not a feeling or capacity, it is a disposition.

Virtue is the disposition to act rightly in response to pleasures.

To be virtuous means to be just. “Virtue is a mean between two vices, one of excess, the other of deficiency”. For example, when there is a means of courage, the deficiency would be fear, while the excess would be confidence. To give a more mundane example, when considering the consumption of alcohol, people today as well as back in time, think that drinking alcohol is bad and it is best to avoid it. Bringing Aristotle into the conversation changes things a bit. Aristotle would say that avoiding consuming alcohol would be a deficiency.

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Being an alcoholic would be an excess. By not allowing ourselves to drink at all, we would be denying ourselves pleasure in life. Drinking alcohol, in moderation, can be fun and social that allows one to sit back and relax with friends. When considering Aristotle and his views, it is important to remember that we should not deny ourselves of a fun activity because it seems bad or wrong. We must allow ourselves to indulge in pleasurable activities as well. Having self-control to find the right ‘mean’ is key.

‘Mean’ from Aristotle’s perspective does not mean the middle per se. ‘Mean’ is referring to the balance between deficiency and excess. Mean varies from person to person and depends on the circumstance at hand. A good example of this is food. A deficiency of food would be starvation and excess would be gluttony. On a scale of 1 to 10, the general meaning would be a 5. However, for someone larger in size or physically active, a mean for them may be 7 because they need to take in more food to remain healthy and happy. A smaller person that is less physically active would have a mean of 3 because they need less food to remain healthy and happy.

Look at all this brings us to Aristotle’s idea of situational relativity. Situational relativity is one reason why the mean is at times closer to one vice. Aristotle claims that virtuous people are not “intermediate in the object” but “intermediate relative to us”. In other words, although the mean may be different, the deficiencies and excesses remain the same. Another reason why the mean may be closer to one vice than the other at times is because of the nature of virtuous action. Looking back at courage, the deficiency is fear, the excess is confidence. Generally speaking, the mean typically lies closer to confidence rather than fear because of the nature of courage. People (usually) try to be less fearful in any situation.

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Aristotle & Virtue. (2022, May 25). Retrieved from

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