03.15.2019: One Chapter of Nonfiction – Aristotle's "Ethics"

Today’s soundtrack is Blackfield: Blackfield, a must-have for any fans of Porcupine Tree!

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

Here, Aristotle considers the terminology that we ascribe to various virtues and their excesses or their absences. Some virtues, such as fearlessness, have no term describing their excess, but a person lacking fearlessness is a coward. Another virtue, temperance, can be considered; Aristotle says that “the excess is the vice of ‘intemperance'” (p. 68) – but we use the same term to describe its absence! What about greed? Those who desire excess are “called ‘ambitious'” (p. 69), and the lazy are “‘unambitious'” (p. 69), but we have no word for the proper balance.

So we see that though all virtues have an excess, a deficiency, and a mean, we do not have words to describe all three states of each one in all cases. Sometimes even the context makes a difference for how we would describe the same behaviours: the only difference between a man being “‘obsequious’ [ or a] ‘flatterer'” (p. 70) is whether his excess of agreeability is based on an ulterior motive.

Is justice a virtue? And can it, too, be described in different ways, in its excess, deficiency, and balance? We will find out in the next chapter.