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Aristotle was a thinker who sought to bring order to thinking. Hence, his emphasis on distinctions and categories. This need to establish order also extended to personal conduct.  Proclaiming moderation to be a core pillar of proper deportment. Beliving it was an indispensable aspect of living a virtuous life. Those of us well versed in history can’t help, but see how far the latter days of the Roman Empire strayed from moderation. At the apogee of Rome’s profligate spending on foreign wars; the wine was flowing and orgies were in full swing. Not to mention grotesquely gluttonous overconsumption being decadently flaunted. Banquet-style bulimia, does this seem appealing to anyone? Clearly, none of these excesses were healthy physically, financially, or psychologically.  Making Aristotle’s emphasis on moderation clear even from the standpoint of a consequentialist.

 

 

Aristotle believed that we should want what is good. What is good is universal to all people as there is only one correct true plan (Adler. 1978. P. 82) [1]. How can this be true if every person has a diverse array of wants and needs? We need to distinguish between “wants” and “needs”.  Our needs are always good for us. Moderate amounts of food, clothing, shelter, and the pursuit of knowledge does little in the way of harm. However, our needs can be “misdirected” (Adler. 1978. P. 87-88) [2]. If I want a cigarette to experience the temporary effects of nicotine, that is clearly a want. Nicotine is not essential to life. To compound matters, wanting to smoke a cigarette is a misdirected want. As the effects of smoking are severely detrimental to healthwise.

 

In order to be physically healthy, we do require some material wealth. After all, clothing, food, water, and housing are not free. External goods such as wealth and food have diminishing returns (Adler, 1978, P.96) [3]. Once we have our needs satisfied, anything else is gratuitous. Aristotle did express that internal needs (psychological) such as the pursuit of knowledge could not be overindulged. Making it imperative that we exercise restrain (Adler, 1978, P.99) [4].  Devolving into excess clearly has well-defined consequences. Drinking too much is injurious to our health. Much like sexual promiscuity. Overspending is damaging from a financial perspective. Observing how the roman republic veered away from virtue in its latter days of it is easy to see how its collapse was inevitable. You can only stretch the limits of the natural order for so long without negative consequences. When we overextend pleasure, pain is bound to follow.

 

The question becomes is how do we avoid the long road to self-destruction? As you can imagine Aristotle did have an answer.  That was to practice the virtues of temperance and courage. Temperance being able to resist overindulgence. Courage being the proclivity to endure necessary pain (Adler, 1978, P.103) [5]. Temperance is quite self-explanatory to avoid being hedonic. Maybe avoiding that MDMA-fueled orgy would be a prudent decision. Courage isn’t quite so obvious. Pain is a part of life. That can be physical or psychological pain. Those of us who are more reserved find social situations to be daunting. If we want that promotion we need to get out of our comfort zone and network with our fellow co-workers.  Making that discomfort requisite pain for a greater good. Even through the process of leaning, we experience pain (Adler, 1978, P.105) [6]. The anxiety of grappling with difficult academic material. The payoff of enduring such discomfort is much greater than the temporary relief of avoiding it.

 

We are not an island. Our decisions and choices impact society as a whole. The virtue of justice is concerned with the wellbeing of others. Our choices do directly impact others in ways that are detrimental to them. Making it imperative that we behave responsibly (Adler, 1978, P. 107-108) [7]. If we choose to drink too much and then drive home, we impact people. Suppose that due to our compromised state we happen to hit and kill a pedestrian crossing the road. This one bad decision will set off a cascade of pain and anguish throughout the community. The pedestrian was a husband and a father. Now an entire family is devasted. The man we killed was the town butcher. Now all of the employees that worked for him no longer have a job. As you can see one bad decision has a long-reaching ripple effect.  It also displays how we need to try to veer towards virtue. If we fall prey to excess, we do not only hurt ourselves. To some extent, we hurt everybody.

4 thoughts on “What is Good, Tends to be Good in Moderation

  1. I generally agree with Aristotle’s golden mean approach to life (cf. the economic approach, which asks us to find the “optimal level” of x or y), but what about those all-or-nothing virtues that cannot be quantified, like truth-telling or belief in God?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well to be fair, I am reading Aristotle For Everybody and I haven’t gotten to the chapter on his perspective on God(s) or theology in general.

      I feel okay addressing it from my own perspective. I reject the “golden-mean” principle in certain situations. But my post was addressing the “Earthly pleasures” which Aristotle did believe that was subject to limitations. There are some things that are cannot be addressed incrementally.

      But I could even argue that belief in a god or honest can be viewed incrementally. Even if it is impossible to quantify it. Agnostic beliefs exist in a purgatorial space of doubt (no pun intended). They fall in between complete faith and atheism. The extent to which we believe in a higher power cannot be measured. However, intermediary expressions of faith do exist.

      Some people believe in the Bible literally. Others believe in God, but see the passages of the Bible more as moral parables than actual occurrences. You even have deists, who are still a believer. But are a far cry from a fundamentalist Christian.

      Considering we can’t quantify a category such as faith, it would have to look at it from an ordinal standpoint.

      Liked by 1 person

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