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GOLDEN MEAN

The virtue of choosing the midpoint between excess and defect in action. This midpoint is determined by reason guided by the intellectual virtue of prudence. Based on Aristotle, the golden mean assumes that too much or too little of anything, whether food, sleep, or exercise, hurts the body and the right balance promotes bodily health, so excess or defect in the habits of the soul harms the moral health of the soul because "virtue stands in the middle." Thus courage is a mean between cowardice and rashness, and generosity between stinginess and prodigality.

To be noted, however, is that the golden mean refers to the virtue objectively, as midway between opposite extremes. Subjectively a person should practice a given virtue not moderately but fully. A judge must go all out for justice, though justice itself is a mean between lenience and severity; the witness must be exactly truthful, but truthfulness itself is a mean between exaggeration and understatement.

All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.

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