The Middle and Aristotle's Ethics

I've been thinking a bit about Henry's post from April 22, about the Plumbline and the broken middle. I have two responses.


I know the middle gets a bad rap (as Henry notes, it's often thought to be the site of the middling, the mediocre), but I think there's some thinking we can turn to for some direction regarding how we might disentangle the agonistic but hopeful middle from the notion of mediocrity: Aristotle's Ethics.

For Aristotle, the right action was to be found in the middle, between two extremes. For example, between the problematic positions of cowardice and foolhardiness is the virtue of courage.

What intrigues me about this view of ethics is that the extremes are a site for unthinking. One simply is cowardly; or, one simply is foolhardy. The middle requires that one both be informed and be prepared to act in the face of danger. That is, one knows risk, but is prepared to act, anyway. Far from being the cite of middling mediocrity, the mean in Aristotle's Ethics is the site of risk and transformation.

Perhaps the poetic-aesthetic middle the Plumbline School considers and pursues has much less to do with stereotypical ideas of the middling and much more to do with Aristotle's thoughtful, energetic, engaged, critical middle...


When mystico-ethical thoughts such as the above fail me, I turn to a simple formulation: the middle already is being theorized by Elliptical and Hybrid theorists, so it is clear that the middle simply is a site of much theoretical interest, and, thus, we at the Plumbline need not worry too much about thinking about the middle. But we do need to think about the middle in new and revelatory ways, or at least in fuller and more sophisticated ways than those already proposed by Elliptical and Hybrid theorists. A lot of this more-sophisticated thinking already is happening on this blog, I think, and much more is to come, I'm sure. (For example, I very much look forward to Tom Hunley's idea for a new Norton anthology...) We need to continue to work to show what the middle can do...

Very good to be skeptical and self-critical, certainly, to be thoughtful (especially when one is full of thoughts as smart and careful as Henry's), but also good to realize that what's happening here already is and needs to continue to be lively, insightful, and productive.


Henry Gould said...

Thanks, Michael, for these excellent & encouraging points. Go, Plumbline!

(Note to interested readers : on Aristotle, the ethical middle, & etc., see also : http://theplumblineschool.blogspot.com/2009/02/as-way-of-leading-into-what-are.html - and other early posts.)

Tom C. Hunley said...


I received your book. Thanks! It looks really exciting. I'll read it after finals, which are next week. Maybe it will help me get my own poetry writing back in motion.


Michael Theune said...

Thanks, Henry!

And my pleasure, Tom! I've been reading, and really enjoying, Octopus--thank you for it!