Monday, 30 March 2009

Codex on Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean

When I first studied the Nicomachean Ethics, I did so with the help of Urmson's wonderful book Aristotle's Ethics (1988), which surprised me with its strictures against interpreting the doctrine of the mean as a simple thesis of moderation.  Surely, I thought, no one could have read that into II.6.  Now, six and a half years later, I've had a glimpse of what Urmson meant – in the pages of an Inspector Morse novel:

“Morse skipped his way along [the report].  ‘… would suggest a period of between 72–120 hours before the body was discovered.  Any greater precision about these time limits is precluded in this case…’  As in all cases you ever have, muttered Morse.  He had never ceased to wonder why, with the staggering advances in medical science, all pronouncements concerning times of death remained so disconcertingly vague.  For that was the real question: when had Quinn died?  If Aristotle could be believed (why not?) the truth would probably lie somewhere in the middle: 94 [sic] hours, say.”

By coincidence, I was only reading this because of a sloppy piece of academia.  In Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction (2005), Lee Horsley, comparing the relationship between the authors and readers of detective fiction to that between the setters and solvers of cryptic crosswords, promised me that “Colin Dexter also gestures towards parallels between the mystery story and the cryptic crossword in The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977), which involves Inspector Morse with a suspect who is a crossword-setter called Daedalus.”  Alas, this turns out to be an embellishment from Julian Mitchell's TV adaptation (1987), which made Ogleby a more interesting character.