Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who lived during the Classical period of Greece, about 300 years before Jesus.
In his work Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle listed 12 Virtues. They were the ideals, living the mean between excess and deficiency. Life as a balancing act between polar extremes.
“Virtue is the golden mean between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency.”
For example, being temperate or moderate. This is the mean between overindulgence and abstinence.
Virtue comes from Latin, meaning strength or excellence, what we might call moral power.
“Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
He believed in a fundamental Goodness. Virtues would help us culture that.
He didn’t see virtue as a feeling but the proper response to a feeling. For example, fear. A deficiency would lead us to cowardice. An excess would lead to rashness. However, with a virtuous disposition, the response would be courage.
We can also apply the virtues to things like social interactions, as with friendliness and wittiness.
The virtues he suggested were cultured by habit. However, I would add that by culturing our deeper nature, we establish the good within. Then we trend toward the virtues automatically. Some of them are qualities described in the Yoga Sutra, for example.
That said, most of us have some areas of life that require more intervention.
Such things require the time to pursue them. As one article observed, the list was designed for upper-class Greek men who were educated and had some luck.
The 12 Virtues:
1. Courage or fortitude
2. Temperance or moderation
3. Generous or charity
5. Magnanimity or self worth
7. Patience or even-tempered
8. Truthful or honest
9. Wittiness or humour
12. Justice and equality
Aristotle described 4 cardinal or primary virtues: courage, moderation, justice, and prudence. The last isn’t on this list but probably should be. I looked at multiple translations and they were quite variable, even in the sequence. Some were missing one, even on university sites.
Here is a table of the virtues with their deficient and excess states:
|undue humility||Ambition||excess ambition|
The purpose of articles like this is to help us make our habitual response patterns more conscious. Then the opportunity grows to make different choices. This isn’t about seeking new ways to control or to diminish ourselves.