Thursday, January 14, 2016

Golden Mean

Aristotle referred to the desirable medium between two extremes as the golden mean. He explained that the golden mean of two opposite vices was a virtue. This mirrors the view that extremes are never good and that it's always best to do everything in moderation.

For example, we can say that both wastefulness and stinginess are two extreme vices. Wastefulness can be defined as the misuse or overuse of money and goods, and stinginess can be defined as a lack of spending and charity. The happy medium of the two is thus generosity. This is a virtue which is found between the two vices of wastefulness and stinginess.

Another example is the vices of pride and fear. Pride can be defined as an inflated ego or a lack of humility. However, fear can be defined as a lack of self-esteem or belief in one's own abilites. The desirable medium of these two vices is confidence. This is a virtue which can be placed between the two extremes.

The problem with this view of the golden mean is that it is not always easy to determine exactly where the desirable medium lies. What one considers confidence another may consider pride, and what may be considered a vice, i.e., fear, may actually be appropriate in situations where caution is advisable. Though not all philosophers agree that the desirable medium between two opposite vices is always a virtue, the philosophical view of the golden mean is a concept that has its origins in the teachings of Aristotle.