Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 2, Chapter 7 (1107a29-1108b10)

By Aristotle

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Book 2, Chapter 7 (1107a29-1108b10)

  • Aristotle wants to get down to the nitty-gritty and discuss his theory of excess, mean, and deficiency in detail.
  • He's going to run specific characteristics through the spectrum.
  • Between the extremes of fear and confidence, we have courage. An excessively confident person is reckless. Not good.
  • When we speak of pleasure and pain, Aristotle says that the mean is moderation. Licentiousness is the excess.
  • He can barely conceive of a person who is deficient here, especially with pleasures, so he makes up a name: the "insensibles."
  • When dealing with money, the mean is liberality. The excess is prodigality (spending way too much) and deficiency is stinginess.
  • Then he gets more abstract and speaks of honor/dishonor. The golden mean is "greatness of soul."
  • Can you guess the deficiency? Yeah. It's "smallness of soul."
  • But these terms aren't for workaday individuals—they're for heroes.
  • For the rest of us there's ambition (i.e. excessive desire for honor) and being "unambitious" (the deficiency).
  • There's no name for "just right ambition," though it might be either "ambitious" or "unambitious" depending on whom you ask.
  • And though anger doesn't really have a name for its degrees, Aristotle will concoct some: "gentleness" (the mean), "irascible" (excess), and—wait for it—"unirascible" (deficiency).
  • The last characteristics deal with conversation. Truthfulness is the mean for a truthful person. For a playful speaker, the mean is witty/wittiness. The mean for pleasant behavior is friendliness.
  • Aristotle spends a very little time on the passions, which he claims also have a "middle term" to them.
  • So a bashful person is just right, while shameful or shameless person is in the extreme.
  • In terms of how we react to people around us? Indignation is a mean between envy and spitefulness.

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