The Mean: What It Is And Why It Matters

The Mean is an idea in philosophy of both the East and West. Confucius and Lao Tzu speak of it in their writings and Aristotle speaks of the Mean in his work Ethics. This post will discuss what the Mean is and why these two ideas of the same Mean created such different societies.

What is the Mean?

The idea of the Mean is simply a manner of behaving that is balanced and virtuous in an individual’s life. It is a balance that is found as an individual acts in a virtuous manner given certain situations. Aristotle defines these balances in great detail in Ethics, and Lao Tzu and Confucius define the ideas of balance, especially in Confucius’ Doctrine of the Mean.

This is not an idea that can be fully defined in a blog post or article, so this broad definition will have to suffice. For more information, read The Doctrine of the Mean, Ethics, and the Tao Te Ching.

The Similarities in the Works

The similarities in the ideas of the Mean between the East and West do not differ in what they find proper for an individual. Both describe virtue nearly the same and they both identify the same characteristics as virtuous.

Each one cites religious texts and uses them as a foundation for what is virtuous. Both use similar analogies to describe the virtues and vices. They share a similar cosmogony, identifying both a material world, perceivable and understandable through the senses, and an inmaterial world of the Logos, which is discoverable through reason and logic.

The Differences in the Works

The major difference in these works that produced such different societies is the way one finds the Mean. Both say that it is an individual’s choice to discover the Mean for himself, but the ideas can be taught. However, the focus on propriety in the Eastern Works places much of the burden on society to be virtuous. Confucius and Lao Tzu speak about the great king that brings virtue to his people. The argument is that society creates rules of what is virtuous for people to follow, and each individual should ascribe to that idea.

Aristotle, however, focuses on the aspect of individualism. His, as well as most other Western Works, focus on the individual’s virtue compounding until society is virtuous. Aristotle focuses on the individual doing what is proper for him at a certain time and in a certain situation. This allows for more mistakes to be made, but it also allows for individuals to do what is proper for themselves- in relation to a definition of that virtue- and attain a higher sense of understanding and nuance.

Why it Matters

By looking at the societies of the East and West today, it is obvious. The emphasis on the individual by Aristotle lead to the success of Europe and the United States of America, and the emphasis on propriety by Lao Tzu and Confucius lead to the success of the Chinese Empire and modern-day Japan.

Both of these ideas can be incredibly successful. They are simply different ways at guiding an individual’s understanding and education of virtue.

It is important to understand the differences because they create different weak points. If the idea of liberty collapses in the West, so does its notions of virtue. In the East, when society collapses so does virtue. This can be seen as the United States corrodes as it embraces large government and socialistic tendencies. In the East, the same can be said as China turned away from its religious ideas- primarily Confucius’ teachings- during the Communist Revolution, as they rejected the long-standing institution of propriety and hierarchy that built and maintained China for millennia.

Last Words

Eastern and Western Thought have many overlapping ideas, and understanding both the commonalities and differences shed light on the cultural discrepancies that are obvious today. By understanding this, it becomes easier to observe current events and analyze historical events.

Also, since this is a philosophy blog- READ THESE WORKS! And read works you agree with and disagree with. Read some that seem like they would be crazy, and some that affirm your arguments. These Eastern thinkers were a challenge I set for myself to read, and doing so has been incredibly rewarding, so try something new! Remember, “ Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”- Neil Donald Walsch

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School Gets An F In My Class

Education has been constrained over the last few decades to simply mean school. It’s a series of levels that need to be reached until all the basic requirements have been reached, just like a video game. This educational paradigm isn’t only not useful, but counterproductive as well. Here I will argue why that is true and offer alternatives to our current education system.


The first question is, “What is wrong with what we have?” The answer: a lot. History is not a subject to simply memorize, rather one that should be analyzed. Sure, people should know certain events and dates, but we should know the effect of an event and what lead to it. Knowing that is how we do not repeat history and actually learn from it. Simply knowing the year an empire fell does not help an empire today, but knowing why and how it fell does.


Sitting and being drilled with knowledge for seven or eight hours a day does actually build knowledge in the basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. Sitting around for that time sharing emotions or discussing how a book makes us feel does not teach anything other than disdain for educational institutions. To maintain interest and actually spread knowledge, teachers must give students the tools to learn followed by the opportunity to discover for themselves.


The education system is simply turned upside down. It leaves behind those who need it most by expecting less of them. It stifles creative minds by boxing them into the bounds they call curriculum. It demotivates its brightest by requiring enough to keep them busy, but not challenging their mind to expand. So what is the solution?


Well, I’m no policy expert, so I can’t fix the school system. However, I can say what I find to be useful in continuing my education. There’s a few things I utilize: experience, books, internet, and personal wisdom. These are the keys to understanding what is being taught and framing it in a way that it can be used to improve your life.


Hold fast to your experiences and reflect on them. It is by paying attention to the happenings in our lives that we learn firsthand and in a deeply personal way. It’s like the old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.” Business classes even teach heuristic knowledge to students because the best source of business knowledge is wisdom. The same is true for all industries, whether or not they wish to admit it.


Books are not dead. If you don’t like buying actual books like me, audiobooks and eBooks will do the trick as well. The trick here is to learn how to dive deep into a topic or a story, whatever you decide to read. The point is to read, and read different genres and authors.


Personally, I have a reading system. I have 2 books on my nightstand, the Bible and a nonfiction (usually philosophical, political, or economical). I read about a chapter of the Bible each day and a few pages of my other book. I have another one in the bathroom that is normally a lighter read like fiction or fluff information. Lastly, I keep a book in my backpack for school (usually one that would make me look smart).


By rotating through them, I don’t get tired of reading because I am inching through the information of each one. This fixes my problem of getting burnt out on reading. I had the habit for a long time of committing to reading, then losing interest in a book about halfway through, but now I can put a book down and read another so I stave off the burnout.


The internet is a fantastic source of information. YouTube can teach anyone about anything. People use content as marketing, so they give away knowledge and insights to pull people into their sphere of influence. Not only all that, you can find information on anything from anywhere and anytime with a few mouse clicks.


There is what seems to be an infinite store of knowledge for us to access, and we can do it with a computer that we carry in our pockets. Use Twitter and Facebook to keep you updated on the goings-on of our world. Then, research the topics right then and there if you must so you know what’s happening and can frame current events with historical perspective. I don’t have to tell you about the wonder of the internet if you’re reading this, though. I think that would be an indicator you got this contraption figured out.


Last, listen to people who know what the hell they’re talking about. Your grandparents and parents are great resources for wisdom and knowledge. The leaders of your industry have an incredible understanding of how to navigate it, learn from them. Teachers and professors have more to offer than just the book lecture, ask them beyond what the book says. Your boss made his way to that position, and he can tell you how to as well.


There’s so many ways to learn and grow beyond what school has to offer. I wish someone told me that school wasn’t going to prepare me for life the way I thought it would, and maybe I would be better off now. Luckily, I found this out at a young age still. Hopefully, some people read this and make the change. Like Albert Einstein said, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” So, if you’re here and have a pulse, don’t stop learning anyway you can.


Thanks for coming to the Conversation of Our Generation! I thank you for your support. Bring your comments and questions. Share this with friends and family. Talk about these ideas. Let’s get the dialogue going!

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