Published Humanitas, Volume XXVII, Nos. 1 and 2, 2014
It is common to regard moderation as key to a community’s stability and prosperity. Claiming that it represents the restorative cure for the troubles that besiege human existence, Aristotle, for one, places the notion of moderation at the center of his ethical and political philosophy. Human beings form communities not only to live, but to live well. Yet, a community, Aristotle explains, does not automatically grant a person the good life. If it is to offer its members the chance to escape instances of profound turmoil and live well, the community must strive towards the excellence conveyed by the Golden Mean of moderation. Reformulating the Delphic decree that man pursue “nothing in excess” (Μηδεν αγαν), Aristotle argues that a healthy communal environment depends on the acknowledgement of a moderate middle level of existence that avoids the extreme polarities of, on the one side, dogmatic fanaticism and, on the other, radical skepticism. To roam outside this middle level and tend towards the extremes of either excess or deficiency produces situations of emergency which inevitably dismantle order and thwart the human potential for eudemonia.
Composed of friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens, this middle realm provides a natural arena for measuring one’s private account of truth against another’s, as well as the incentive to reassess one’s account. The need to reconcile what appears true to me with what appears true to my friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens provides the means for self-criticism and self-understanding: means that help gauge appropriate conduct, hence possibly hampering the zealous elements that threaten to erupt within the community. In short, the realm of the Golden Mean, where an authentic experience of fulfillment resides, is one of checks and balances.