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Moderate Moderation: The Mean of Excess

Jamie C. O. Shaw


Bernard Williams notes how Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean, or the view that one should always pursue the mean between excess and deficiency, is an implicit endorsement of a depressingly conservative approach to life. As such, the ‘good life’ in Aristotle’s thought is bereft of existential vibrancy and colour leaving it as an unattractive theory of how we ought to live. This paper aims to show how this characterization is a misrepresentation and demonstrate how such existential concerns can be addressed within an Aristotelian framework.  I will accomplish this by demonstrating how Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of the ‘Dionysian spirit’, understood as a state of spiritual intoxication, can be reconciled with Aristotle’s framework. While the Dionysian spirit is prima facie incompatible with this framework, since it explicitly values irrational self-experimentation through the expression of instincts as opposed to rational reflection, I will argue that it can be accommodated in Aristotle’s account by analyzing the common role of ‘health’ in both accounts. This reconciliation not only enriches Aristotle’s ethics, but also clarifies interpretive difficulties with what the doctrine of the mean entails. 


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ISSN 1927-5277 Gnosis (Online)