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The concept of Aristotle's theory of golden mean is represented in his work called Nicomachean Ethics, in which Aristotle explains the origin, nature and development of virtues which are essential for achieving the ultimate goal, happiness (Greek: eudaimonia), which must be desired for itself. It must not be confused with carnal or material pleasures, although there are many people who consider this to be real happiness, since they are the most basic form of pleasures. It is a way of life that enables us to live in accordance with our nature, to improve our character, to better deal with the inevitable hardships of life and to strive for the good of the whole, not just of the individual.

Aristotle's ethics is strongly teleological, practical, which means that it should be the action that leads to the realization of the good of the human being as well as the whole. This end is realized through continuous acting in accordance with virtues which, like happiness, must be desired for themselves, not for the short term pleasures that can be derived from them. This is not to say that happiness is void of pleasures, but that pleasures are a natural effect, not the purpose. In order to act virtuously, we must first acquire virtues, by parental upbringing, experience and reason. It is very important to develop certain principles in the early stages of life, for this will profoundly affect the later life. Aristotle's ethics is centered at a person's character, because by improving it, we also improve our virtues. A person must have knowledge, he must choose virtues for their own sake and his activities must originate from a firm and unshakeable character, which represents the conditions for having virtues. If we behave like this, our happiness will have a positive influence on other people as well, and will improve their characters.

The golden mean represents a balance between extremes, i.e. vices. For example, courage is the middle between one extreme of deficiency (cowardness) and the other extreme of excess (recklessness). A coward would be a warrior who flees from the battlefield and a reckless warrior would charge at fifty enemy soldiers. This doesn't mean that the golden mean is the exact arithmetical middle between extremes, but that the middle depends on the situation. There is no universal middle that would apply to every situation. Aristotle said, "It's easy to be angry, but to be angry at the right time, for the right reason, at the right person and in the right intensity must truly be brilliant." Because of the difficulty the balance in certain situations can represent, constant moral improvement of the character is crucial for recognizing it. This, however, doesn't imply that Aristotle upheld moral relativism because he listed certain emotions and actions (hate, envy, jealousy, theft, murder) as always wrong, regardless of the situation at hand. The golden mean applies only for virtues, not vices. In some ethical systems, however, murder can be justified in certain situations, like self-defense.

One of the two greatest philosophers in history upheld a balanced and virtuous way of life for achieving happiness.The importance of the golden mean is that it re-affirms the balance needed in life. It remains puzzling how this ancient wisdom, known before Aristotle re-introduced it, (it is present in the myth of Icarus, in a Doryc saying carved in the front of the temple at Delphi: "Nothing in Excess," in the teachings of Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato) can be so forgotten and neglected in the modern society. Today's modern man usually succumbs in the extreme of excess, which can be seen in the uncontrollable accumulation of material wealth, food, alcohol, drugs, but he can descend into deficiency as well, like inadequate attention to education, healthy sport activities, intellectual pursuits, etc. Since Aristotle was interested in the studying of nature, he, like any great person, quickly realized the importance of balance in nature and the tremendous effect it has on keeping up so many forms of life in nature going. Since human beings are from nature, which gives them life, isn't it reasonable to conclude that humans should also uphold the balance, just like nature? The problem is that the vast majority of people are unwilling to admit that they are not at the top of nature, just a part of it. The reason for this are the limits of human perception, which cannot grasp the complex ways that nature, that vastly intricate and greater system, operates, so they fear it because they don't fully understand it. That's why people invent god who is primarily concerned with them, because it is their arrogance and pride that propells their desperate need of wanting to be the center of everything, wanting to know everything, or at least pretend so. They explain away death, pain, suffering, thus robbing their lives of its natural aspects, turning it into a bus station to heaven, where they just keep waiting and waiting for a ride, while doing nothing.

The people in modern society need to overcome their pride and arrogance and look in nature for guidance, because we all depend on it. Staring into the sky and imagining ourselves in heaven will not accomplish anything; it is better instead to accept our role in the world and appreciate the beauty of life, and death, which gives meaning to it. We don't need "new" and "progressive" ways of life when the ancient wisdom of the world's greatest thinkers is in front of us, forgotten in the dusty shelves in some crumbling library. The balance, the golden mean of which Aristotle talked about must be recognized as beneficial and important, as it is in nature itself.

July 25, 2007

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