Aristotle's doctrine of the mean
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Virtue, the core component of Aristotelian happiness ( eudaimonia ), is a mean. For Aristotle, happiness, literally meaning "living well and doing well," is the ultimate end. Aristotle defines happiness as "something complete and self-sufficient, since it is the end of the things achievable in action...it is a certain sort of activity of the soul in accordance with virtue," and he then defines virtue as "a state concerned with choice, consisting in a mean state relative to us, a mean state determined by reason ( logos ), by which the person of practical wisdom would determine it." ( NE 1106a36-1107a2) Therefore, the mean is a significant concept in Aristotle's ethics. If we understand this concept better, we shall be able to understand his ethics better. The doctrine of the mean, central as it is, has given rise to numerous debates. It is often overlooked or underappreciated, by Aristotle scholars and virtue ethicists alike. However, it must be unsatisfying for any philosopher who is interested in virtue ethics to appeal to an Aristotelian account of virtue on the one hand, but reject an essential piece of this theory on the other. The current situation with regard to the mean is chaotic, to say the least. In my diagnosis, there are so many debates because the study of the mean has been piecemeal; so far there has been no rigorous, in depth study of the doctrine of the mean in Aristotle. This following work is intended to fill the gap by providing an overall examination of the theory and a consideration of the debates within a larger context. This dissertation shall provide a systematic analysis of the concept of the mean--an analysis which is necessary for answering the main question of Aristotle's ethics: "how should we live?" The goal of Aristotle's ethical project "is not to know what virtue is, but to become good, since otherwise the inquiry would be of no benefit to us" ( NE II.2). The good life is a life of virtuous activity, and he strongly believes this life could not be possible without mean states we acquire. To become a virtuous person, one must attain the mean state--a state determined by practical wisdom rather than by following absolute moral rules--with regard to all of the various feelings and actions one encounters in daily life. Attaining this state is the goal of studying ethics. According to the doctrine of the mean, virtue is the mean state toward good activities, and a virtuous person behaves appropriately out of his mean state. This dissertation takes on four tasks: (1) Taking a historical approach, I consider the concept of the mean before Aristotle. The concept of the mean is not Aristotle's own invention, but has a long tradition. It is Aristotle's innovation, however, to draw the distinction between an arithmetical notion and an ethical mean. (2) I offer a systematic examination, focusing especially on NE II, 2, 5, and 6. I examine the doctrine of the mean from the following four aspects--(i) mean state, (ii) mean in feelings and actions, (iii) mean relative to us, and (iv) practical wisdom. (3) I give an explanation of how the doctrine of the mean works with regard to particular virtues. Aristotle wants to apply the doctrine of the mean to each virtue; is he successful? By examining the mean for individual virtues like courage, temperance, and justice, I hope to achieve a better understanding of what the mean is. (4) I explore the impact of Aristotle's doctrine of the mean by comparing it with Confucius' doctrine of the mean. This points us in the direction of future debates. Key Words: Aristotle's doctrine of the mean * Virtue * Mean state * Practical wisdom * Confucian mean.