Is There an Aristotelian Mean?

Katherine Hill

In today’s society, greed has become a pastime for countries around the world. Aristotle claims we need a community to achieve our final end, however, we must understand what he truly means by this. If your mind is centered around greed you become too focused on becoming better than someone else, which really is a disadvantage because it strays you away from using your full potentials. According to Aristotle, we use the community needed to achieve our final end by helping others and living a human life. However, we can’t live too uninterested in the sense where we don’t strive for our goals. The big question is, is there an Aristotelian mean? Is there a mean between the two as to where we don’t go too far where we’re only focused on getting ahead of everyone while at the same time we are not so apathetic that we don’t strive for anything?
The 2000 ABC News special with John Stossel and Marc Dorian, “Greed: Is it necessarily bad,” discusses how greed is often associated with negative remarks. However, many ideas of why greed is good are inferred by the viewer. The special showed how the power of greed is driving the American economy because whoever is on top will receive the most, meaning people willing to work harder and give more effort to get there. Although Aristotle does agree with the desire to excel and the desire for competition, he wouldn’t agree with being dependent on someone else for your own happiness. This is why there are ways greed is in accordance with reason and ways in which it is not.
Aristotle would believe this reasoning is wrong because if all you care about is being better than someone else, you will never be happy because there is always going to be someone better than you. If you want to ultimately find happiness you can’t let it depend on another person. Taking it to this extreme will in fact result in unhappiness. While on the other hand if you find a mean between the two, want to actualize your potential, and use it to your advantage then according to Aristotle, you will be able to reach the final end.
Where greed can go wrong is not in a motivational sense, but in a sense where you only compare yourself to other people. For example, if all Aristotle cared about was being smarter than Plato, he wouldn’t have been using his full potential as a philosopher, and therefore not have fulfilled his function. This is not reasonable because your happiness is something that should depend on you, not if someone else recognizes you as better than another. Reaching your final end is not going help you if you’re dependent other people. You shouldn’t necessarily be better than others; you should just be the best you can be.
This goes back to Aristotle’s idea of how happiness is being the best you can be. Not being better than someone else, but simply just being the best you can be. You should not worry about how others are, just be your best and excel to your capacity. This means using your potentials to the fullest and living a human life by helping others in the community. It is important that we live a virtuous life to help balance these two extremes of being over focused and under focused on living your life.
Reaching your final end also isn’t possible without living a virtuous life. There was a man in the ABC special that could be considered non-virtuous with the way he used his wealth. This is because he had multiple million dollar homes and used his money for luxury goods. Is living his life extravagantly actually leading him to his final end? He would still be able to live a life of luxury while giving back to the community. Aristotle considered living a human life equal to assisting others in the community. This means playing your part in other’s lives positively and not as a reason for them to become better than you. Everyone should work together to aid in fulfilling functions.
However, going along with view in the ABC special, greed can be a driving force in the economy. As far as society goes, greed can be a positive thing. It can lead to innovation such as coming up with new a business which in turn creates new jobs. It shows greed as a reason to work harder. This is why if you don’t put effort into living a successful life, you won’t be able to fulfill your function. Since no one is self-sufficient, if you live uninterested in the community then you won’t maximize your potentials. This is known as being apathetic and not involved enough in the community. If this takes place, then you won’t be able to fulfill your function or reach your final end.
Many people seem to believe that as humans, we have our own unique function. However, although we all might have our own unique ways of fulfilling our function, in a sense, our functions as human beings are the same. We define things by their function so there is a common function between humans and since we are all humans, we are all aiming for a common goal. Just like all clocks’ functions are to tell time, humans have common functions. And just like a good clock is one that tells time accurately, a good human being is one who lives a life to fulfill their function. And by this they are able to contemplate and use given reason to discover important truths about life.
The function for humans is what sets us apart from animals or objects. We are able to contemplate life. We are able to live a life where we use our minds in order to understand the significant truths. For example, what’s a good society? What’s a good life to live? How should we organize our government? What is the universe? Where does it come from? Is there a God? What is love? The ability to have these deep thoughts and ideas are what defines us. This means that we are all capable of using our potentials to our advantage in order to fulfill our function. Since the function between humans is common we all have the chance to succeed if we don’t waste the potentials given to us by being too focused on what society is mainly centered around today. Part of the problem in today’s society is how some are too career-oriented and too money focused and how others don’t seem to care at all.
Aristotle is in a way critiquing this view because he doesn’t believe you can be dependent on other people. It doesn’t really matter if you If you can be “better” than someone else. What matters is the way in which you choose to live your life. Having a competitive spirit can be applied to living in a positive way if it motivates you to live a virtuous life and reach your final end.
Greed is a human condition existent in all economies. It is our job to find the balance where greed is acceptable to help us in life and where it hinders fulfilling our function if we become too focused on it. If we find the Aristotelian idea of the mean between two extremes, it will help in finding this needed balance.
Since virtue is the mean between two extremes, we need to understand where our community as a whole is too focused on greed, and where our community is adequately focused on it. Aristotle is basically saying virtue is something that leads you to your final end. A virtuous level will never be being so apathetic that you don’t care at all about the future and you have no dreams or desires and that will not lead to your final end. But on the other hand, it is also not being too concerned with your achievement that you will lose sight of your actual potentials and not be able to live a human life. With all the distractions in today’s society, finding this Aristotelian mean may be more difficult but it is your job to be the best you can be and find the balance needed in order to fulfill your function and reach your final end.

Aristotle. “Book I.” Politics. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.


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