Guide Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics

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Such matters lie within the region of particulars, and can only be determined by perception. Peters III. It seems, therefore, that a clear distinction between the voluntary and the involuntary is necessary for Peters III. For they are desired or chosen at the time when they are done, and the end or motive of an act is that which is in view at the time.

Now, he wills the act at the time; for the cause which sets the limbs going lies in the agent in such cases, and where the cause lies in the agent, it rests with him to do or not to do. Such acts, then, are voluntary, though in themselves [or apart from these qualifying circumstances] we may allow them to be involuntary; for no one would choose anything of this kind on its own account.

Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics

But in some cases we do not praise, but pardon, i. It is scarcely possible, however, to lay down rules for determining which of two alternatives is to be preferred; for there are many differences in the particular cases. For instance, when a man is drunk or in a rage he is not thought Edition: current; Page: [ 63 ] to act through ignorance, but through intoxication or rage, and yet not knowingly, but in ignorance. These are the grounds of pity and pardon; for he who is ignorant of any of these particulars acts involuntarily.

They are—first, the doer; secondly, the deed; and, thirdly, the object or person affected by it; sometimes also that wherewith e.

1. Introduction

But a man may be ignorant of what he is doing; e. Again, one might kill a man with a drug intended to save him, or hit him hard when one wished merely to touch him as boxers do when they spar with open hands. Interpreted in the latter sense, it is surely ridiculous, as the cause of both is the same. Both alike Peters III.

For it seems to be most intimately connected with virtue, and to be a surer test of character than action itself. For children and other animals have will, but not choice or purpose; and acts done upon the spur of the moment are said to be voluntary, but not to be done with deliberate purpose. In the first place, choice is not shared by irrational creatures, but appetite and anger are. Again, the object of appetite [or aversion] is the pleasant or the painful, but the object of purpose [as such] is neither painful nor pleasant.

But, further, it is not identical with a particular kind of opinion. For our choice of good or evil Edition: current; Page: [ 68 ] makes us morally good or bad, holding certain opinions does not. Again, we choose a thing when we know well that it is good; we may have an opinion about a thing of which we know nothing.

It seems, as we said, that what is chosen or purposed is willed, but that what is willed is not always chosen or purposed. The name itself, too, seems to indicate this, implying that something is chosen before or in preference to other things. The reason why we do not deliberate about these things is that none of them are things that we can ourselves effect.

And these are the only things that remain; for besides nature and necessity and chance, the only remaining cause of change is reason and human agency in general. Though we must add that men severally deliberate about what they can themselves do. We deliberate, then, about things that are brought about by our own agency, but not always in the same way; e. In important matters we call in advisers, distrusting our own powers of judgment.

A physician does not deliberate whether he shall heal, nor an orator whether he shall persuade, nor a statesman whether he shall make a good system of laws, nor a man in any other profession about his end; but, having the proposed end in view, we consider how and by what means this end can be attained; and if it appear that it can be attained by various means, we further consider which is the easiest and best; but if it can only be attained by one means, we consider how it is to be attained by this means, and how this means itself is to be secured, and so on, until we come to the first link in the chain of causes, which is last in the order of discovery.

2. The Human Good and the Function Argument

For in deliberation we seem to inquire and to analyze in the way described, just as we analyze a geometrical figure in order to learn how to construct Peters III. By possible I mean something that can be done by us; and what can be done by our friends can in a manner be done by us; for it is we who set our friends to work. And if he goes on deliberating for ever he will never come to a conclusion. For we always stop in our inquiry how to do a thing when we have traced back the chain of causes to ourselves, and to the commanding part of ourselves; for this is the part that chooses. The good man, then, wishes for the real object of wish; but what the bad man wishes for may be anything whatever; just as, with regard to the body, those who are in good condition find those things healthy that are really healthy, while those who are diseased find other things healthy and it is just the same with things bitter, sweet, hot, heavy, etc.


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What misleads people seems to be in most cases pleasure; it seems to be a good thing, even when it is Peters III. So they choose what is pleasant as good, and shun pain as evil. Actions that are concerned with means, then, will be guided by choice, and so will be voluntary.

But the acts in which the virtues are manifested are concerned with means. For where it lies with us to do, it lies with us not to do.

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Where we can say no, we can say yes. If then the doing a deed, which is noble, lies with us, the not doing it, which is disgraceful, lies with us; and if the not doing, which is noble, lies with us, the doing, which is disgraceful, Peters III. But if the doing and likewise the not doing of noble or base deeds lies with us, and if this is, as we found, identical with being good or bad, then it follows that it lies with us to be worthy or worthless men.

But no one encourages us to do that which does not depend on ourselves, and which is not voluntary: it would be useless to be persuaded not to feel heat or pain or hunger and so on, as we should feel them all the same. Again, ignorance of any of the ordinances of the law, which a man ought to know and easily Peters III. And so in Edition: current; Page: [ 76 ] other cases, where ignorance seems to be the result of negligence, the offender is punished, since it lay with him to remove this ignorance; for he might have taken the requisite trouble. We reply that men are themselves responsible for acquiring such a character by a dissolute life, and for being unjust or profligate in consequence of repeated acts of wrong, or of spending their time in drinking and so on.

For it is repeated acts of a particular kind that give a man a particular character. But if a man knowingly does acts which must make Peters III. And it may be that he is voluntarily sick, through living incontinently and disobeying the doctor. At one time, then, he had the option not to be sick, but he no longer has it now that he has thrown away his health. When you have discharged a stone it is no longer in your power to call it back; but nevertheless the throwing and Edition: current; Page: [ 77 ] casting away of that stone rests with you; for the beginning of its flight depended upon you.

Just so the unjust or the profligate man at the beginning was free not to acquire this character, and therefore he is voluntarily unjust or profligate; but now that he has acquired it, he is no longer free to put it off. We do not censure natural ugliness, but we do censure that which is due to negligence and want of exercise. And so with weakness and infirmity: we should never reproach a man who was born blind, or had lost his sight in an illness or by a blow—we should rather pity him; but we should all censure a man who had blinded himself by excessive drinking or any other kind of profligacy.

On the Relationship between Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Politics - PhilEvents

And if this be so, then in other fields also those vices that are blamed must depend upon ourselves. If, I answer, each man be in some way responsible for his habits or character, then in some way he must be responsible for this appearance also. But if this be not the case, then a man is not responsible for, or is not the cause of, his own evil doing, but it is through ignorance of the end that he does evil, fancying that thereby he will secure the greatest good: and the striving towards the true end does not depend on our own choice, but a man must be born with a gift of sight, so to speak, if he is to discriminate rightly and to choose what is really good: and he is truly well-born who is by nature richly endowed with this gift; for, as it is the greatest and the fairest gift, which we cannot acquire or learn from another, but must keep all our lives just as nature gave it to us, to be well and nobly born in this respect is to be well-born in the truest and completest sense.

Now, granting this to be true, how will virtue be any more voluntary than vice? But our particular acts are not voluntary in the same sense as our habits: for we are masters of our acts from beginning to end when we know the particular circumstances; but we are masters of the beginnings only of our habits or characters, while their growth by gradual steps is imperceptible, like the growth of disease.

Inasmuch, however, as it lay with us to employ or not to employ our faculties in this way, the resulting characters are on that account voluntary. And, first of all, let us take courage. There are things which we actually ought to fear, which it is noble to fear and base not to fear, e. He who fears disgrace is an honourable man, with a due sense of shame, while he who fears it not is shameless though some people stretch the word courageous so far as to apply it to him; for he has a certain resemblance to the courageous man, courage Peters III.