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Golden Mean (Aristotelian) scales

By Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

The issue is whether to have unipolar (zero to big) scales; or Aristotelian bipolar scales; with zero in the middle, and the optimum being the middle (golden mean). The "Golden mean" comes from Aristotle, and his view is that all virtues are of this type e.g. cowardice vs. foolhardiness, with the good point being between the two.

Much psychology describes things in terms of unipolar scales when perhaps bipolar would be more appropriate for the underlying concept.

Big 5 personality dimensions (FFM = five factor model) (OCEAN) re-expressed as Aristotelian scales

Personality dimensions are frequently named in a unipolar way, when in fact most of the population are in the middle AND it is unlikely that people would vary in this way unless all points have some benefit, and in the middle has perhaps the most benefit on average across all the situations that an individual is likely to encounter.

Why use Aristotelian for IDiffs?

Because by viewing personality as about IDiffs we are thereby pre-supposing that totally ordinary functional people vary on these dimensions. Therefore both extremes must be as good as each other.

You say that doesn't apply to IQ? but actually you have a hard time showing that IQ isn't just a cultural value: if it were objective then you should be able to show both that IQ has relentless selection pressure for high IQ, and that these with high IQ are functionally more successful.

What is wrong with unipolar scales; what diff. scales are poss.

Rather few things are such that more is better.

Scales may be open-ended at one or both ends: unipolar, bipolar.
E.g. Money: zero is clearly defined, unbounded in the other direction.

Separately, you can ask where the optimum point is:

  • At one end
  • At the other end
  • In the middle / midpoint / golden mean
  • At both ends, with the midpoint being worst.

    An opposite case

    An opposite point is made in Positive Psychology, that a focus on clinical disorders leads to a field that is dedicted to lifting great unhappiness up to a clinical threshold of ordinary unhappiness, but failing to study normal people, and how to go beyond zero to higher well-being. So this is another example about how research focussed on dysfunction leaves us with an unbalanced understanding of human experience (in this case, failing to study happiness and different degrees of excellent functioning); but where a better scale should be unipolar, and the midpoint would be the clinical threshold where dysfunction borders with function.

    Yin and Yang

    At first you might think that Yin/Yang is a classic dichotomous contrast of opposites; or possibly an Aristotelian 2-extreme case, where almost everything (and certainly the best) is in between. But actually it is an opposite of either-or, thesis-antithesis, where the law of the excluded middle holds, and only one opposite or the other is allowed. Similarly it is the opposite of a digital setup. In most digital electronics, a value may be 0 or 1, but nothing else nor anything in between. With an ordinary flight of stairs, you can be at rest on one step or another, but not in between two steps.

    But Yin and Yang is also different from a golden mean where the midpoint is the ideal. Instead it is for those obsessed with wholeness, of the inescapability of having both: life and death; darkness and light; two faces of a single coin. It is a dualist concept, where the opposites depend on each other.

    This was drawn to my attention by a passage in Ursula Le Guin's "The left hand of darkness".

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