Examine the case for moderation being a virtue. Should people always strive to reach the mean between two extremes? 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The metric for which a case where moderation can be a virtue is going to vary from individual to individual. A case can be made for either side depending on the metric that one uses.  In this particular case, I think that the Classical construction of moderation is something worth articulating.

For the Classical thinker, moderation is what defined the human being. Moderation enabled the individual to refrain from guttural expression. It existed in the ability to harness passion and refrain from debasement.  As seen in the Aristotelian mean or Platonic notion of the good, Classical thinkers recognized that human power is best displayed when moderation is evident in human behavior and action. Moderation is where humans refine the ability to engage in excess.  Moderation was seen as a virtue because it is something that has to be repeatedly done and something that can never be assumed.  Classical thinkers argued that moderation becomes a necessary element for both individual consciousness and political notions of the good.  Aristotle suggested that "The virtue of justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom."  In this light, moderation would have to be seen as a virtue because it helps to form the basis of social and political development.  Social orders and institutions dedicated to the pursuit of justice were envisioned as representing moderation, navigating the delicate extremes that exist between different factions of a political and social setting.  The Classical thinkers did not see moderation as a realm where beliefs were sacrificed in the name of compromise.  Rather, they understood moderation as a virtue because it enabled individuals to represent what could be and not eagerly embrace the lower condition of consciousness. Classical thinkers would have argued that individuals "should be quite afraid of any leaders, movements, or polities wholly lacking” the penchant for moderation.  It is for this reason why moderation was seen as a virtue and representative of the highest form of human consciousness.

In the modern setting, moderation's virtue has become secondary to individual expression.  The freedom of the individual to be seen as authentic helps to define one's sense of identity in the modern condition. Contrast Aristotle's notion of justice being rooted in moderation to Eminem's idea that "Yo, I can't do anything in moderation- I realized I don't know how."  The modern condition's emphasis on freedom and personal expression does not necessarily validate the condition of moderation.  In this setting, the individuals who are affirmed are ones who profess a lack of regard for moderation.  Instead, they exemplify a perceived validation of self.  Moderation takes into account a humble idea that the individual can pull from different constructions in finding the balance between extremes.  This "humility" is not something readily embraced in the modern setting.  It is in this where moderation might not automatically be perceived as a virtue in the current narrative because it lies almost antithetical to social affirmation.  It is in this where an interesting collision between modern and Classical notions of the good.  Moderation becomes part of the essence in such a collision.