01.18.2018: One Chapter of Nonfiction

Today’s soundtrack is Cannibal Corpse: Evisceration Plague, another solid album from the masters of death metal.

This afternoon, I’m reading the sixth chapter of the second book of Aristotle’s Ethics.

To be called excellent, says Aristotle, any object must do two things: it must be in good repair, and it must function well. Virtue in man is excellence. A virtuous man will be good, and he will function well.

When we consider what is good for each person, we must not simply make generalizations. We must recognize the relativity that comes from individuality. For example, we’ve talked in the past about the balance between foolhardiness and cowardice. But not for all people is the best trait found exactly in the middle. We would, for example, expect a police officer to be more brave when faced with a criminal than we would a shopkeeper. If it were not so, the shopkeeper might accost the criminal and be injured; or the police officer might run away from the criminal. So we can see that different people need different measures of unique virtues.

Really, virtue is a place of good in between two places of bad, or two extremes. Those two places of “bad” are at one end “too little” and at the other end “too much.” In the middle – the mean – is where we find virtuousness. Of course, there are some actions where the middle is not the right place to be – for example, driving drunk, or committing adultery, or smoking meth. In those actions, total abstinence is the good, and since abstinence is an extreme, this seems to contradict our earlier statement. So perhaps we should say this: we find virtue in the middle ground of positive actions: it is neither too much, nor too little.