|1. Aristotle proposed a simple rule
for acting wisely: moderation in all things except knowledge. He excepted
knowledge because it was the one quality for which he could find no
excess. But for every other quality, he said, there is a deficit and an
excess, and wisdom lies in finding the mean between
2. So, for example, courage would be the mean
between cowardice and foolhardiness, humility the mean between arrogance
and self-effacement, frugality the mean between stinginess and profligacy,
and so on.
3. Aristotle did not have a mathematical mean
in mind, but one that varied with each person and circumstance, and so the
rule, though simple in statement, is complex in
4. A person who is prone to cowardice, for
example, might have to compensate by aiming higher up the scale in order
to achieve the mean of courage, while one prone to profligacy might have
to aim lower down to achieve frugality. Self-knowledge, therefore, is
necessary if one is to achieve true moderation.
5. Experience is also necessary, since
adjustment towards the mean is a matter of trial and error, acting
inappropriately and learning from one's mistakes.
6. One can also learn from models of
moderation, and from reading and conversation. But only self-knowledge and
experience will bring one to an intuitive sense of moderation, as well as
an appreciation of its wisdom.
7. The rewards of moderation are health,
happiness, and success--all, of course, in moderation.
8. One quality in addition to knowledge that
might be excepted from the rule of the Golden Mean is love of being. For
while the excess of love is obsession, and one can be obsessively
religious, the love of being itself is boundless, informing all other love
and providing the vitality that underlies all strength, all activity, and
Practice of Wisdom: The Golden Rule
The Principles of Wisdom: Death
Wisdom: Table of Contents