Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 2, Chapter 6 (1106a14-1107a28)

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Book 2, Chapter 6 (1106a14-1107a28)

  • Aristotle wants to break virtue down further for us. What type of characteristic is it, especially with regard to human beings?
  • It's the characteristic that makes human beings good and causes his actions to be done well.
  • But wait: we're not done. Now Aristotle wants to discuss the nature of virtue. What's a virtue in itself?
  • He posits that it's the thing that causes us to find equilibrium—to find the "mean" in our responses and actions. In his words, to find the "middle term between excess and deficiency."
  • There is no universal middle term. We always have to find the mean in relation to ourselves.
  • In terms of the moral virtues, which Aristotle really wants to discuss, we must always aim to avoid excess or deficiency.
  • The idea is to feel our passions in the right way—neither too much nor too little. Aristotle warns us that this is super difficult.
  • It's hard to hit the targeted mean precisely, but really easy to fall either on the excessive side or the deficient. Either of these errors is called vice.
  • Aristotle gives us some other ways of thinking about virtue and vice. First, it's a choice, a characteristic of reason.
  • Then, it's a mean between two vices (one of excess, one of deficiency). So if the virtue is courage, the excess would be recklessness while the deficiency is cowardice.
  • On the other hand, virtue can be an extreme (i.e. it's the extreme of doing well).
  • There are also some passions and actions that can never have a mean. You can't, for example, be moderately evil, or commit murder in exactly the middle way. Evil stuff is just evil.

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