Book 4: The Several Moral Virtues and Vices—Continued.
In the matter of social intercourse, i.e. the living with others and joining with them in conversation and in common occupations, some men show themselves what is called obsequious — those who to please you praise everything, and never object to anything, but think they ought always to avoid giving pain to those whom they meet. Those who take the opposite line, and object to everything and never think for a moment what pain they may give, are called cross and contentious.
It is sufficiently plain that both these habits merit censure, and that the habit which takes the middle course between them is to be commended—the habit which makes a man acquiesce in what he ought and in the right manner, and likewise refuse to acquiesce. This habit or type of character has no recognized name, but seems most nearly to resemble friendliness (ϕιλία). For the man who exhibits this moderation is the same sort of man that we mean when we speak of an upright friend, except that then affection also is implied. This differs from friendliness in that it does not imply emotion and affection for those with whom we associate; for he who has this quality acquiesces when he ought, not because he loves or hates, but because that is his character. He will behave thus alike to those whom he knows and to those whom he does not know, to those with whom he is intimate and to those with whom he is not intimate, only that in each case he will behave as is fitting; for we are not bound to show the same consideration to strangers as to intimates, nor to take the same care not to pain them.
We have already said in general terms that such a man will behave as he ought in his intercourse with others, but we must add that, while he tries to contribute to the pleasure of others and to avoid giving them pain, he will always be guided by reference to that which is noble and fitting. It seems to be with the pleasures and pains of social intercourse that he is concerned. Now, whenever he finds that it is not noble, or is positively hurtful to himself, to contribute to any of these pleasures, he will refuse to acquiesce and will prefer to give pain. And if the pleasure is such as to involve discredit, and no slight discredit, or some injury to him who is the source of it, while his opposition will give a little pain, he will not acquiesce, but will set his face against it. But he will behave differently according as he is in the company of great people or ordinary people, of intimate friends or mere acquaintances, and so on, rendering to each his due; preferring, apart from other considerations, to promote pleasure, and loth to give pain, but regulating his conduct by consideration of the consequences, if they be considerable—by consideration, I mean, of what is noble and fitting. And thus for the sake of great pleasure in the future he will inflict a slight pain now.
The man who observes the mean, then, is something of this sort, but has no recognized name.
The man who always makes himself pleasant, if he aims simply at pleasing and has no ulterior object in view, is called obsequious; but if he does so in order to get some profit for himself, either in the way of money or of money’s worth, he is a flatterer.
But he who sets his face against everything is, as we have already said, cross and contentious.
But the extremes seem here to be opposed to one another [instead of to the mean], because there is no name for the mean.