Golden mean can also be referred to as golden middle way. It is strongly associated with ancient Greek philosophy, most especially that of Aristotle.
It can equally refer to the middle between two given ends or extremes, with one being of deficiency, while the other one is of excess.
Bringing the Aristotle perspective into things, courage is seen as a virtue, but it becomes recklessness if it is taken to the excess extreme and cowardice if it is taken to deficiency extreme.
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Western philosophies associated with golden mean
The Crete philosophy represents one of the earliest cultures associated with golden mean. It is manifested in the mythology of Icarus and Daedalus, both of which are Cretan tales.
In the tale of Daedalus, for example, Daedalus gave his son a strict warning to “fly the middle course;” that is, midway between the sun’s heat and the sea’s spray, while he and his son were escaping from King Minos.
However, the son failed to heed the father’s warnings but decided to fly too high. As a result, the wax with which wings were attached to his body was melted by the sun to his body; he fell into the sea and got drowned.
“Meden Agan” is boldly written on temple’s front at Delphi. This writing means “Nothing in Excess” in the English language. It is a popular Doric saying that has a similarity to the golden mean.
Cleobulus also has a common saying translated to mean “Moderation is best.”
According to Socrates, every man should learn how he can choose the middle line or the mean and give a wide berth to the extremes on both sides as far as possible. Socrates counseled against giving extreme or total attention to music or gymnastics.
According to him, extreme devotion to music can culminate in effeminacy and softness, while extreme or total devotion to gymnastics can lead to ferocity and temper of hardness.
He believed it is better for a man to have a mix of both qualities since such will produce harmony; that is, goodness and beauty. And he counseled that the best way to have a mix of both qualities is to keep to the golden mean or fly the middle course.
Plato consistently gave attention to goodness and beauty. He gave even more attention to this in the Philebus and Republic. Plato advised the application of the principle of the golden mean in electing a government for an ideal state.
He believed that an election conducted based on the golden mean would help to strike a balance or mean between democracy and monarchy.
Aristotle’s psychology about the soul and its virtues has a strong foundation in the golden mean between two extremes. He criticised the Spartan Polity by challenging the elements in the constitution that were disproportionate.
He challenged the authority for training for war and not for peace, as well as training the men and not the women. He insisted that such stance by the government only created disharmony and difficulties for the polity.
Other philosophies that have associations with golden mean are:
- Eastern philosophies