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virtue is a purposive disposition, lying in a mean that is relative
to us and determined by a rational principle, by that which a prudent
man would use to determine it.
This quotation from Book II, Chapter 6,
gives us a clear expression of Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean:
virtue is a mean disposition between the vicious extremes of excess
and deficiency. In calling virtue a “purposive” disposition, Aristotle
means that virtue is not just a disposition we sit on and do nothing
about, but is rather the impetus that leads us to virtuous activity.
Aristotle gives no rules as to what counts as a mean.
His reason is that the mean depends greatly on the person and the
situation. Rather than lay down any rules, he recommends phronesis, or
prudence, which helps us reason our way through practical matters
and determine the best course to take.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Nicomachean Ethics!