In medio stat virtus : Virtue stands in the middle

In medio stat virtus : Virtue stands in the middle.

Virtue is in the moderate, not the extreme position. – Horace

Voltaire said : The better is the enemy of the good.

Variant translations:
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
The best is the enemy of the good.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defined a virtue as a balance point between a deficiency and an excess of a trait. The point of greatest virtue lies not in the exact middle, but at a golden mean sometimes closer to one extreme than the other.

For example:
* Generosity lies in between miserliness and extravagance.
* Courage lies in between cowardice and foolhardiness.
* Confidence lies in between self-deprecation and vanity.

Virtue, by definition, is a characteristic that promotes individual and collective well being. A vice, on the other hand, does not promote well being. What is surprising to me is that a virtue stands between two vices.

Now, this is something to think about. The present day paradigm is being the best. We all are told that we have to be the best at what we do. And we even strive for it.

We give up things just to be the best in what we do. We encourage children to be first in class. In fact our lives are so competitive that we call it a rat race. We drive ourselves hard and get burnt out.

No wonder this puts things out of perspective. We feel miserable when we cant be the best. We don’t forgive our own mistakes.

Pushing to extreme cant be a balanced way of life, even if the extreme is perfection. Being the best may be good for business, but it may not be good for the spirit.


Arriving at a middle position is sometimes equated to striking a balance or working a compromise. These can be powerful approaches to mitigate situations that are otherwise held in extremes.


In the Pāli Canon of Theravada Buddhism, the term “Middle Way” was used in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta [Sanskrit: Dharma-chakra-pravartana Sūtra; English: Sutra to set in motion of the wheel of the dharma], which the Buddhist tradition regards to be the first teaching that the Buddha delivered after his awakening. In this sutta, the Buddha describes the Noble Eightfold Path as the middle way of moderation, between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification:

Monks, these two extremes ought not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the household life. There is an addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is an addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable.
Avoiding both these extremes, the Perfect One has realized the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment and to Nibbana.

And what is that Middle Path realized by the Tathagata? It is the Noble Eightfold Path, namely: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.