When we think of ‘good’, we usually think of an extreme. Eating? Only eat good food. Telling the truth? Never lie. Exercising? Become a Greek God. But a certain Greek philosopher, Aristotle, thought otherwise.
According to him, what is good did not lie in extremes. Rather, it was all about balance. If you can balance out the different aspects of your life, then you can lead a more fulfilled and good existence. It is also practical, once you build the habit.
The Golden Mean
Aristotle’s theory is known as the “golden mean” or middle way. It refers to the middle point between vices (evils). It suggests that you should avoid extremes and stick to the middle path in every case.
This means that you want to avoid two things:
1. Excess of something
2. Lack of that thing
Aristotle wasn’t the first to refer to the concept, but he did elaborate on it.
You can also find this idea in Greek mythology.
You’ve probably heard this tale before. It’s the story of a father and son (Daedalus & Icarus). They were trying to escape the hands of King Minos. So Daedalus created wings out of wax for both himself and his son. But he warned his son to stay away from the extremes – neither to go towards the sea nor towards the sun. But Icarus ignored the warning and went too close to the sun. This melted the wax off his wings and he came crashing down to his death.
The lesson: don’t follow extremes.
The Three Pillars of Moderation
In order to follow moderation, Aristotle provided three pillars that you can use as a test for your moderate behaviour:
Our body is evidence of the importance of balance. It’s neither good to have too high a temperature nor too low. One needs to have a temperature in between.
Similarly, when it comes to living the good life, it’s best not to be extreme. For example, if a situation is difficult, you should neither get too stressed nor be care-free. Give it the attention it deserves but don’t let it overwhelm you.
One size does not fit all. What works for one person may not work for you. This is also visible in nature. The kind & quantity of food appropriate for one animal may not be appropriate for another.
This means that what is excessive or deficient for you is not necessarily the same for others. Similarly, what is excessive or deficient in one situation may not be so in another.
Find out the moderate level of things for you and the situation and you’ll be good to go.
3. Good Falls between Two Bads
We can understand goodness-badness as a spectrum. The ends of this spectrum are bad (vices). The middle area is good (a virtue). We need to strive for the middle and avoid the ends.
Examples of Moderation
Eating is good. It’s when it’s in excess (binging) or when it’s insufficient (starving) that it’s bad. Aim for sustaining your body with good food but don’t overdo it.
Being a coward and being an extreme risk-taker are both vices. Aim for the middle. Have courage to take on initiatives but also think about the consequences.
Knowledge is great but we shouldn’t seek it too excessively. If you lack knowledge, you will fail more and have a harder life. But if you pursue knowledge too much, you won’t have time to use that knowledge for the good of yourself and others. Your thirst for knowledge could also lead you to adopt unethical means.
Moderation Works in Degrees!
You don’t have to do something at the exact centre of two vices to do the right thing. Moderation works in degrees. Different situations require different degrees of moderation.
For example, if someone is not performing their duty, one should not be too lighthearted nor too serious towards them. But there needs to be more seriousness comparatively so that you can get the point across.
Analyse the situation and do what is most appropriate. Remember that situations can change what is moderate and what is not.
And with that we come to the conclusion of this topic. Remember to not stop at reading but implement the advice mentioned here as well. Your experience will determine what is best.
Have any additions or questions? Feel free to share them in the comments.
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