How can Aristotle claim ethics is about finding a mean between extremes, yet also assert some acts like murder and theft have no mean?

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Aristotle's view is not just a matter of assuming that some actions are always wrong; it is based on the fact that vices by their very nature are such that they cannot ever be followed by virtue.

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When considering Aristotle's theory of the mean, it is important to remember that only virtues (e.g., courage, generosity, or civility) are able to be found through calculating the mean between excess and deficiency. This is because an action like murder does not have either an excess or a deficiency. That is to say that there is no excessive way of murdering someone in the same way that obsequiousness might be considered the excess of civility.

Instead, actions such as murder and stealing are better viewed through Aristotle's teleological theory of eudaemonia. Aristotle posits that the ultimate end for a person is a sustainable happiness, or eudaemonia (often directly translated as flourishing). Therefore, actions that take a person closer to eudaemonia are ethical and actions that take them further away from eudaemonia are unethical. For Aristotle, a crucial aspect to achieving eudaemonia is relying on reason to guide one's actions rather than base impulses or appetites.

In this way, Aristotle would likely say that murder and stealing can only considered ethical when supported by reason rather than being driven by a person's emotion.

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Aristotle's theory has the advantage of considering the context of most of our moral decisions. Most famously, he gives us his view that acting ethically is always a mean between extremes. But he claims that some actions, like theft and murder, do not admit of a mean. Is Aristotle simply assuming that these acts are unethical, or does he have reason to make this claim?

Aristotle has a very good reason to make the claim that some actions are always wrong—namely, that by their very nature, they are vices.

That is why, when we speak of theft or murder, we use normative language with regard to the relevant actions. In other words, moral disapproval is built into the very language we use to describe stealing something or killing someone without good reason.

The same applies to adultery. Again, we use a word that is not just descriptive—adultery involves sexual relations between a married person and someone other than their spouse—but also normative; that is to say, it is a morally loaded term that expresses an attitude of disapproval toward an action that is regarded by most people in society as being wrong.

The examples that we've examined so far are not virtues for Aristotle, but vices. As such, they cannot admit of the observance of the mean. There is no way in which we can legitimately say that there is a mean of murder we can follow between an excess at one extreme and a deficiency at the other. One can never do right in regards to this, or any other vices.

When it comes to virtues, whether we act according to the mean largely depends on our ability to apply our skill to a precise situation. If we fail to do so, then we will be guilty of either an excess or a deficiency of the relevant virtue.

But as vices are by their very nature wrong at all times and in all places, circumstances are wholly irrelevant to them. As Aristotle says, there's no sense in which it can be possible to commit adultery with the right woman at the right time. Committing adultery is just wrong, period. And the same goes for all the other vices.

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Aristotle's theory of the mean has the advantage of considering the context of most of our moral decisions. Most famously, he gives us his view that acting ethically is always a mean between extremes. But he claims that some actions, like theft and murder, do not admit of a mean. Is Aristotle simply assuming that these acts are unethical, or does he have a reason to make this claim?

Aristotle's theory of the mean emphasizes that virtue is often found between the extremes of excess and deficiency—that is, that courage can be found as the mean of cowardice (a deficiency of courage) and brashness (an excess of courage). However, it is important to recognize that only virtues are able to be found through the mean, whereas actions must be justified through reason.

In this way, while Aristotle's theory of the mean is applicable to virtues such as courage, moderation, or generosity, it is not applicable to actions such as theft and murder. These actions must be justified through good reasoning. Thus, Aristotle classifies actions like theft and murder as unethical because he does not see how someone could justify them through reason.

Instead, these actions are usually motivated by base appetites and highlight an inability to control one's impulses. This is why Aristotle might consider execution ordered by a jury for the good of the community to be moral but a retributive murder carried out by one individual against another to be immoral.

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