Nicomachean Ethics

by: Aristotle

Balance

1

[B]oth excessive and deficient exercise ruin bodily strength, and, similarly, too much or too little eating or drinking ruins health, whereas the proportionate amount produces, increases, and preserves it.

Aristotle here describes how balance should be implemented in the maintenance of one’s health. The idea of balance represents a crucial pillar of Aristotle’s thinking in general. Through his contemplations, he finds that a great cause of unhappiness in people is an unhealthy dalliance in one extreme or another. Usually, as in the case of exercise, no one benefits from too much or too little of anything. Rather, we find happiness and health in the conscious, measured maintenance of ourselves, trusting our judgment as to when to go toward an extreme but always pulling back to the balanced middle.

2

One person pursues excesses of pleasant things because they are excesses and because he decides on it, for themselves and not for some further result. He is intemperate; for he is bound to have no regrets, and so is incurable.

Aristotle delineates the different kinds of people who lose themselves to extremes. Some of these people do so unknowingly—being in some way ignorant or misinformed, they truly believe they are doing the best for themselves that they can but only further their own unhappiness. By contrast, someone who purposefully pursues excess, knowing full well that he or she is excessive, appears to be truly lost because such a choice speaks to a fundamental moral imbalance that will always curtail that person’s virtue.

3

In all the friendships that rest on superiority, the loving must also be proportional; for instance, the better person, and the more beneficial, and each of the others likewise, must be loved more than he loves; for when the loving accords with the comparative worth of the friends, equality is achieved in a way.

Aristotle elaborates on the different ways in which balance can be maintained. While some friendships feel equal, other friendships carry inherent imbalances, such as those between political rulers and their subjects. In such relationships, the process of achieving balance will depend far more on situational judgment and will require both parties to do things that might feel unequal to even out the discrepancy. This acknowledgment represents Aristotle’s way of allowing for the unpredictability of life in his theories—though sometimes the path forward will be unclear, he strives to find the essential truths we can always draw upon.

4

[S]omeone who provides nothing for the community receives no honor, since what is common is given to someone who benefits the community, and honor is something common. For it is impossible both to make money off the community and to receive honor from it at the same time; for no one endures the smaller share of everything.

Aristotle elaborates on the idea of finding balance in unbalanced relationships, showing how the practice of balance can be applied to a municipality. As an example, he uses the relationship between a merchant and a community of citizens. If the seller takes money from community members, then that seller must also take care to express love and respect to the community as a whole. This exchange ensures that the whole society’s balance of mutual respect is maintained.

5

[O]ne person is a friend to another most of all if he wishes goods to the other for the other’s sake, even if no one will know about it. But these are features most of all of one’s relation to oneself; and so too are all the other defining features of a friend, since we have said that all the features of friendship extend from oneself to others.

Here, Aristotle argues for the importance of another relationship: that of a person to her or his own self. He argues that if we do not love ourselves and wish good for ourselves, balance can never exist because we will always be at a deficit. We must foster goodwill within ourselves in order to bring that goodwill out to other people. This balance of self to others appears to be one of the hardest kinds of balance to maintain because doing only external good deeds can be so fulfilling and feels so much like the active happiness that Aristotle describes.