The Doctrine of the Mean Short Summary

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The doctrine of the mean states that for someone to be a good person they must occupy the “golden mean,” meaning a person may become virtuous by acting between the extremes of excess and deficiency. For example during war, the two extremes would be for a soldier to be rash or cowardly, but being courageous is the accepted golden mean. According to Aristotle, virtue lies in between the two extremes, which are the vices, and thus a virtuous person is one who can find the mean that is relative to his or her situation: that is the mean changes depending on the circumstances surrounding each decision.

Using the previous example, a priest would never be expected to take up arms in battle, an act that would be considered cowardly in other situations. The priest, however, would not be viewed as a coward because of his beliefs and personal situation: for him the virtuous mean is to not take sides in conflict but instead to remain faithful in helping all people regardless in their position. The mean is a formula by which a person may act virtuously.

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There is not one right choice for every person in every situation, but rather there is one virtuous action for every situation, which is relative to each person and the surrounding circumstances. The mean between the two vices is not an absolute average: rather it is flexible and can vary with each individual. I believe that the doctrine of the mean is true, because every situation can present choices that can be deemed virtuous or not. Difficultly comes in determining the virtuous action and acting upon it.

Finding the virtue takes practice and comes from learning through personal actions and habits and those of other people. Once we behave in a manner considered right, due to a good upbringing and a good constitution, being virtuous will follow. The doctrine of the mean is true, but how you apply it and act on it can pose difficulty. This difficultly is not necessarily a flaw of the doctrine, nor does it negate the doctrine instead I feel that it would make the doctrine more applicable because it accounts for individual and situational differences.

Every individual is unique in terms of his or her beliefs, education, background and upbringing making it unrealistic to have only one set of standards dictating what is right and wrong for every individual in every situation. The flexibility within the doctrine for deciding the appropriate mean makes the doctrine more helpful by making it more relevant to everyday life and changing circumstances. Aristotle presents a formula for how to become virtuous. Achieving goodness according to Aristotle is realizing what the virtuous action is in every situation and continually striving to obtain it.

I agree with this reflection because it implies a higher level of thought. To simply have one set of standards that one would use in every situation regardless of underlying circumstances is very easy. To be able to evaluate each situation as unique and consider the details before deciding on an appropriate course of action implies a higher commitment to truly wanting to act virtuous with respect to every situation. This in turn makes the person more virtuous because he or she is required to deeply analyze the problem at hand.

Initially we learn through habit. We then modify these habits to make them relevant to different situations, keeping the doctrine of the mean in mind. The doctrine of the mean is not always helpful when a decision needs to be made. Knowing what to do is completely different from actually doing it. In fact it could possible be argued that the doctrine of the mean causes the decision making to be more difficult, because sometimes doing the right thing is not always the easiest choice.

During times of war, soldiers know it is their duty to represent their country in battle but often times this involves leaving family and friends behind. The doctrine of the mean helps to determine the right course of action, but it says nothing about the easiest course of action. There are cases in which someone may act virtuously, even though their actions do not lie at the mean. If someone were drowning in the ocean, and you decided to jump in and save them, you are risking your life and acting irrationally to save someone else.

The person jumping into the water could have called 911, or told the lifeguard what was happening. However, in a particular situation, for example there is no time for any other course of action, jumping into the ocean is the right thing to do. While it may be considered an extreme choice it is not excessive because it has been modified to fit with the surrounding circumstances. Therefore, one can act virtuously even though their actions lie outside of the mean. This shows that in every situation the vices and virtues can change, and it is up to the person in the situation to make the just right choice.

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