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The notion of moral virtues, or excellences, as a mean is an idea promulgated by Aristotle in the second half of Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics. From his account, one gathers that Aristotle believes the virtue is a perfect mean between a vice of excess and a vice of privation.
In addition, when one realizes that Aristotle is attempting to inculcate good habits in people, along with a good state of character, a better context is drawn around his claims. That is, if one acts generally toward a mean of two vices, this will lead to a better outcome than acting toward vices. In modern terms, in which morality is cast as a matter of doing the right thing in various sorts of specific cases, this seems like an outdated model of conducting moral arguments. To the contrary, this idea of virtue as a mean—instead of virtue as right action—faces fewer destructive arguments than the latter perspective and is ultimately easier to defend philosophically. From an intuitive standpoint, Aristotle’s approach is appealing. Firstly, in our daily living, a moral action is one that depends on balance between two extremes. For example, the ideal middle ground between running into a burning building to saving people (stupidity) and doing nothing out of fear (cowardice) is the act of doing what you can reasonably do in order to save lives (bravery). Secondly, the mean is intuitive in itself in all cases. Our language is broad enough to encompass all possible middle grounds between vices that we might consider excesses. ...
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