Friday, July 9, 2010

ARISTOTLE'S NICOMACHEAN ETHICS - Mean Virtue

Back in February 2010 I wrote about how a producer I was working with had suggested that the vices of a particular story we were working on were at the two extremes of a moral continuum, with the virtue being in the middle. I had always said that any virtue taken to extreme produces a vice; but I had never diagrammed it or put it in a table until that day in the story meeting. It struck an immediate chord. You can read about that illumination at this post: EXPANDED CONFLICT OF VALUES AND THE MORAL PREMISE.

What that producer articulated was the result of some insightful thinking thousands of years earlier by Aristotle in an essay known as ARISTOTLE'S NICOMACHEAN ETHICS. (Wikipedia Article.)

I felt embarrassed to have missed such a basic piece of early literature that is reflected in the Moral Premise book. (As I have said, this is nothing I invented; but just trying to articulate it and make it useful for today's story writers).

A summary of Nicomachean Ethics and that "middle" or "mean virtue" discussed in the Feb. blog can be expressed in a table, which Aristotle constructed. Below is a simplification and expansion of his table thanks to ideas and prompting from several readers: Thank you Janet and Kit.

I have blogged several times since this was first posted about the Nicomachean Ethics Scale, and you can find those articles collected HERE (which is the TOPICS link in the right column).



The words in the table, like all words, contain contextual and cultural connotations that may be different from your understanding or your character's experiences. Therefore, the table should be used only as a guide or suggestion and not as a rule.

Feel free to add your comments and suggestions to the com box thread.

Click on the chart below to enlarge.


3 comments:

Myra Johnson said...

The idea of a moral continuum makes a lot of sense in that any virtue taken to extreme could become a vice. Very interesting!

Janet said...

I'm very interested in writing romance novels and love your idea of giving one main character an absence of the virtue, the another an excess of the virtue and both coming towards the mean (ie the virtue) for a happy ending

You said "And feel free to send me examples which I can include in a new table that I will be building.

So far I have:

From left to right: Deficiency - Mean virtue- Excess

1)Lying –truthful – tactless.
2)Blindly led by emotions -healthy balance of heart and head – emotionally detached.
3)Impatient - tolerant – doormat.
4)Timid - confident –domineering.
5)Fickle – loyal- gullible.
6)Impetuous -vigilant - self doubting.
7)Cowardly -protective – bullying.
8)Impulsive –patient- unresponsive /slow to act.
9)Rigid /inflexible -open minded- rudderless.
10)Cynical –idealistic –naïve.
11)Wimpy-assertive – arrogant.
12 )Selfish – nurturing- martyrdom/self sacrificing
13)Low self esteem -self respect –arrogance.
14)Stubborn - flexible - easily swayed.

That's all I could come up with I’d love to see more examples. Any chance of a blog post revisiting this?

Kit Bradbury said...

Dr Williams, Might I suggest a trait(s) for the (no name) be Content/Satisfied?
Your chart reads:
Unambitious / (no name) / Ambitious
I suggest:
Unambitious / Content, Satisfied / Ambitious
Keep in Touch,
Kit