Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting it right is very difficult

In Chapter 9, Aristotle points out that getting it "just right" is very difficult. Anyone can be angry, or anyone can spend money. But to do this just right, at the right person, at the right time, with the right motive, and so on --- that is not easy at all. So wherever someone does these things skillfully, that should be praised.

Thus, to learn how to get it "just right", we must first train ourselves to avoid the extremes. To do that, we can start avoiding the worst of the two extremes, and this will slowly help to train us and develop the right sorts of habits.

We must also consider our own proclivities, and try to over-correct for them. If I have a penchant for sex, then I should over-correct and avoid sex more than indulge in it. That will help to correct my penchant, and develop a habit for getting it "just right". It's like trying to straighten a curved stick. We bend it the other way even further, in the hopes that this will correct the curve that goes in the opposite direction.

We should especially watch out for pleasure. That is very tempting, and we do not go into with a cool head. So we can best develop moderation by aiming at the opposite extreme.

Nevertheless, we praise the man who deviates from "just the right amount" only a little bit, and we condemn the man who deviates from "just the right amount" a great deal. And indeed, we can err in degrees. If I slap my grandmother, that's much less worse than delivering a spinning air kick. Neither are good, but one is much worse than the other.

Still, it is not easy to determine the precise point where a man becomes culpable. Can I deviate from "just the right amount" only a little bit? A little bit more? A little bit more than that? How far before I am culpable for wrong-doing? This is tricky, and it takes wisdom to know how much is too much, and it takes skill to do just the right amount. 

And with that, we finally reach the end of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, book 2.

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