The Golden Mean
In the morning the stitches on the
back of his hand throbbed, the skin bright red along the perimeter of the cut.
He still didn't know what he was going to say when someone asked him how he cut
Still stubborn that he could figure
out how to write the essay on his own without the help of Bakhurst, he forced
himself to start it at Douglas Library but on the way he bumped into Daphne. He
hadn't seen her since Drake's heart attack. Her hair was all done up and she
was looking pretty attractive so I stopped to chat.
"I love your jacket," she said. Reid was wearing a Christmas present
that is father had given him last year. He never wore the Polo jacket because
of that God damn little horse on it, but he couldn't find his other jacket this
morning. Besides, today he wanted to get back into the fold a bit.
"I've been busy with rowing season
and all that and now that it's ended I wanted to ask you if you'd like to go
somewhere for a bite to eat." He hadn't planned on asking her out. It just sort
of came out. He didn't know why but he wanted to be with her at that moment -
just the two of them away from campus and away from all the social politics.
"Dinner? That sounds lovely." He might have been a bit insane
to ask her out but he felt the need to be close to her plump bosom housed under
her duffle coat. There was an urge to know if they were compatible.
"How ‘bout tonight?" Rash. But he
didn't want to spend it at his house with Taylor and Alex.
"Okay. That sounds grand." For a moment after hearing that
word he had second thoughts. "And where are you going to take me?" Reid didn't
have the foggiest where they should go.
"I heard there's a good restaurant
downtown called Chez Piggy. Why don't
we go there?" He hadn't heard of it.
"Come by my place at 6:30?" He said
"I need to get to class. I'm late."
She glanced at her watch and looked at him like he was in trouble.
"Yes, you are late you silly boy."
His head was suddenly full of ideas as he walked swiftly to the library
thinking of all the possibilities that dinner might bring.
in the library he blankly read through words that he vaguely understood in
Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, staring but not reading. Finally
in a fit of desperation, he took out a fresh piece of paper and began to write:
In a small carrel
Far from peril,
I sit and tarry
Soft and weary.
Reid sat quietly at his walled-in
desk feeling the need to do something but had no idea what to do. Too many
questions whirled through his mind every time he picked up his pen to write so
he walked to the philosophy department and found Bakhurst's office. His door
was ajar so he knocked lightly.
"Professor Bakhurst?" I
said through the opening.
"Yes," a voice answered.
"Come in." He removed his jacket and opened the door gently.
"Do you have a moment?"
"Yes Reid, of course. Have a
seat." Reid was surprised that he knew his name because he had never
raised his hand in class or for that matter ever spoken to him before. Unsure
what the protocol was, he closed the door behind him and sat in the chair in
front of the desk. It was the first time he had ever visited a professor in
"How's the paper coming
along?" He raised his eyebrows.
"Actually, that's why I'm
here," he said, looking into his intelligent brown eyes. Steady and trusting,
he still felt awkward. "Well, rowing has taken up much more time than I
"You're on the rowing team are
"Yeah. The season just ended.
We came fourth, but just by a hair." Bakhurst nodded.
"Did you enjoy it?"
"Yes, it was a good experience." He
shivered in his cold office. "I'm close to writing it but I can't seem to
find the right words." Rows of books dominated the left wall and a framed
painting of St. Paul's Cathedral hung above his desk.
"I see." He lifted his
hand up to his face and grabbed his chin. "Do you know what you want to
say in the essay?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Try to describe it to
me." Bakhurst's request terrorized him.
"I want to say that Aristotle's
Golden Mean is like a work of art and, well, that each person's Golden Mean is
different. You know how Aristotle describes the Mean as the middle point of a
"Yes." Bakhurst smiled and
leaned back on his swivel chair and clasped his hands behind his head, giving
Reid space to speak.
"Or better still, he says it's
like that of the number six between the two extremes of two and ten?"
"Yes." Bakhurst's tweed
jacket hung off his outstretched arms.
"I want to say that as a moral
theory it sounds good on paper but in reality it's not really the case. For
example, being brave for one person may be an eight instead of a six. And for
another person, to be brave may only be a four." Reid's face was red and
his palms were sweaty. "One's Golden Mean is different for each
"Right. I think I understand.
Good show." He lowered his hands to the desk.
"You know that passage in Book
Two, paragraph six?" Reid reached for his book and flipped it to a marked page.
"Thus a master of any art avoids
excess and defect, but seeks the intermediate and chooses this - the
intermediate not in the object but relatively to us."
"Yes. It's a classic passage:
virtue as art," he said. Bakhurst had opened his book to the same page.
"And he says," Reid
continued excitedly, trying not to rush his words. "`Virtue, then, is a state
of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e. the mean relative to
us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by
which the man of practical wisdom would determine it."
"One's virtue then, is
determined by one's character, and not everyone's character is the same. Do you
recall the passage in paragraph one when Aristotle writes: ‘Thus, in a word,
states of character arise out of like activities. This is why the activities we exhibit must be of a certain kind;
it is because the states of character correspond to the differences between
these. It makes no small difference,
then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very
youth;'" he lifted his hand, "'it makes a very great difference, or
rather all the difference.'"
Bakhurst sat back looking at him
with raised eyebrows. "I think Aristotle would have no disagreement with you;
this is what you should try to focus on in your paper."
"Then why is there only one norm, one moral code for society? Why do people adhere to one way of behaviour dictated by
authorities through the media? Why isn't the morality of today to encourage
multiplicity of individuality rather than mass conformity?" For a second Reid
forgot he was speaking to a professor with a PhD from Oxford rather than
Taylor. He was scared that Bakhurst's response might have a tremendous impact
"It's a good question Reid. And I
don't think I can give you a good answer. You may want to bring that question
up in your paper. Just remember to be objective and address both sides of the
argument. Don't forget in your thesis and conclusion to say exactly what you
believe. Keep your argument rational and you'll find your way. I'm confident
that you will. I think you're on track. Write a first draft quickly and then
re-read it a few times to ensure it expresses what you want it to say."
"O.K., I can do that."
"But you don't have much more time.
It's due in less than two weeks you know." He looked at his watch when there
was a knock at the door. "Come in." An upper-year student opened the
door. "I'll be with you shortly Arthur." Reid reached for his knapsack at
his feet and felt an immense sense of relief when he stood up.
"What seat did you row?"
"Bow seat," he replied.
"My main function was to have good technique and balance the boat."
"Balance and technique,
"Did you row?"
"Once or twice. I played cricket
mainly. Great sport, cricket. You know what Thomas Edison once said: Great ideas originate in the muscles, or
was it Darwin?" Arthur was waiting but he still wanted to talk to Bakhurst
because he still had so many unanswered questions.
"Have you been there?" He
pointed to the watercolour of St. Paul's.
"Yes. It's quite something. The
architecture is brilliant. I believe it was Friedrich von Schelling who said architecture is frozen music. That it
is; that it is." Reid felt daring for a moment.
"I've-" He stuttered. "I
would've thought that architecture is frozen time." Bakhurst looked at the Masonic masterpiece
and nodded, a slight grin of mischief forming.
"So time would be music!"
Bakhurst's eyes brightened, showing his tea-stained teeth. "Brilliant."
"Would that mean...that the
facia would be the lyrics?" said Reid, hoping he wasn't pushing it.
"And the turrets would be the
melody!" When he let out his laugh from under the watercolour, Reid was
startled at the volume.
Just as he turned to leave he
noticed a portrait of Nietzsche hanging on the wall beside Bakhurst, with his
patented moustache hanging off his upper lip like a waterfall.
"How come we aren't studying
Bakhurst's eyes livened. "Nietzsche is still somewhat misunderstood within
academic circles, though recently there has been a new wave of scholarship and
research of his work."
"Yes. Professor Nietzsche was
misinterpreted during the zeitgeist of the early part of this century, but now
scholars are seeing that his philosophy was cohesive and even prophetic. This movement is producing some wonderful
books." Reid thought of Nietzsche's words in Wallace Hall.
"The aphorism that I keep on
hearing over and over is `Whatever doesn't kill you
makes you stronger.'"
"Yes. I like that one, but also
`Life without music would be a mistake.' Have you heard that one?"
"There are plenty of good
aphorisms," he said. "Just be careful because Nietzsche can be a bit strong for
a freshman. I don't discourage it, but just be careful you don't become caught
in a storm of nihilism."
"Well because Nietzsche writes in a
polemic style and can be taken out of context." He rose. "But I'm happy to see
you're doing the recommended readings. Teachers are always glad to see that."
"Anytime." He shook his
hand. "Good. Bye Reid." As he turned towards the door, he stopped and
straightened his posture.
"Um, what do you do when your
dreams start to change?" Reid was instantly relieved that he didn't
stutter. He looked at his intelligent eyes.
"Perhaps it means you are
caught in an estuary." He raised his Oxford chin slightly. "Goethe
once wrote: only those who change remain akin to me.' Just watch out for the
riptide." Reid was unable to say
anything. He could only the laugh.