Nicomachean Ethics



Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Nicomachean Ethics can help.

Mean Term Analysis

The mean is an intermediate state between an excess and a deficiency. For example, bravery is the mean between rashness and cowardice. Determining the mean is key to the practice of virtue. The mean is not the same thing as simply being moderate. For instance, under a given set of circumstances, it might be appropriate for someone to be very angry; but if their anger is directed at the right person(s) and does not become a drawn-out grudge, then their anger is not inconsistent with the virtuous mean of mildness. Clearly, then, determining the mean depends upon particular circumstances, requires deliberation, and cannot be reduced to a mechanical calculation.

Mean Quotes in Nicomachean Ethics

The Nicomachean Ethics quotes below are all either spoken by Mean or refer to Mean. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Nature and Pursuit of Happiness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Hackett edition of Nicomachean Ethics published in 1999.
Book 2 Quotes

First, then, we should observe that these sorts of states naturally tend to be ruined by excess and deficiency […] The same is true, then, of temperance, bravery, and the other virtues. For if, for instance, someone avoids and is afraid of everything, standing firm against nothing, he becomes cowardly; if he is afraid of nothing at all and goes to face everything, he becomes rash. Similarly, if he gratifies himself with every pleasure and abstains from none, he becomes intemperate; if he avoids them all, as boors do, he becomes some sort of insensible person. Temperance and bravery, then, are ruined by excess and deficiency, but preserved by the mean.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

That is why it is also hard work to be excellent. For in each case it is hard work to find the intermediate; for instance, not everyone, but only one who knows, finds the midpoint in a circle. So also getting angry, or giving and spending money, is easy and everyone can do it; but doing it to the right person, in the right amount, at the right time, for the right end, and in the right way is no longer easy, nor can everyone do it. Hence doing these things well is rare, praiseworthy, and fine.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 4 Quotes

Mildness is the mean concerned with anger. [...] The person who is angry at the right things and toward the right people, and also in the right way, at the right time, and for the right length of time, is praised. This, then, will be the mild person, if mildness is praised. For [if mildness is something to be praised,] being a mild person means being undisturbed, not led by feeling, but irritated wherever reason prescribes, and for the length of time it prescribes. And he seems to err more in the direction of deficiency, since the mild person is ready to pardon, not eager to exact a penalty.

Related Characters: Aristotle (speaker)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Nicomachean Ethics LitChart as a printable PDF.
Nicomachean Ethics PDF

Mean Term Timeline in Nicomachean Ethics

The timeline below shows where the term Mean appears in Nicomachean Ethics. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 2
Virtues and the Mean Theme Icon
...nothing, he becomes rash. Virtues “are ruined by excess and deficiency, but preserved by the mean.” (full context)
Virtues and the Mean Theme Icon
...intermediate” in this way. When it comes to virtues of character, seeking the intermediate state—or “mean”—involves “having these feelings at the right times, about the right things, toward the right people,... (full context)
Virtues and the Mean Theme Icon
Book 2, Chapters 7-8. Aristotle illustrates the mean through an example of the overly confident person versus the overly fearful person. On one... (full context)
Virtues and the Mean Theme Icon
...of what’s been discussed, it’s “hard work to be excellent.” It’s hard to determine the mean in a given case. Since one extreme is generally worse than the other, it’s best... (full context)
Book 3
Virtues and the Mean Theme Icon
...Chapters 6-7. Next Aristotle discusses individual virtues in turn, starting with bravery. Bravery is a mean between cowardice and rashness. A brave person may be afraid under the appropriate circumstances, but... (full context)
Book 5
Virtues and the Mean Theme Icon
Virtue and Community Life Theme Icon
...sort of actions justice and injustice are concerned with, and what extremes justice is the mean between. Justice is concerned with what is lawful and fair, and injustice with what’s lawless... (full context)