for in this case the act is
pitied and forgiven, because he who acts in ignorance of any of these circumstances is an
Perhaps then it will be as well to specify the nature and number of these circumstances.
They are （1） the agent, （2） the act,
（3） the thing1
that is affected by or is the sphere of2
the act; and sometimes also
（4） the instrument, for instance, a tool with which the act is done,
（5） the effect, for instance, saving a man's life, and
（6） the manner, for instance, gently or violently.1.
Now no one, unless mad, could be ignorant of all these circumstances together; nor yet,
obviously, of （l） the agent—for a man must know who he is
himself. But a man may be ignorant of （2） what he is doing, as for
instance when people say ‘it slipped out while they were speaking,’ or
‘they were not aware that the matter was a secret,’ as Aeschylus said
of the Mysteries3
; or that ‘they let it off
when they only meant to show how it worked’ as the prisoner pleaded in the
catapult case. Again （3） a person might mistake his son for an enemy, as
; or （4） mistake a sharp spear for one with a button
on it, or a heavy stone for a pumice-stone; or （5） one might kill a man
by giving him medicine with the intention of saving his life; or （6） in
hit him a blow when
meaning only to grip his hand. 1.
Ignorance therefore being possible in respect of all these circumstances
of the act, one who has acted in ignorance of any of them is held to have acted
involuntarily, and especially so if ignorant of the most important of them; and the most
important of the circumstances seem to be the nature of the act itself and the effect it
Such then is the nature of the ignorance that justifies our speaking of an act as
involuntary, given the further condition that the
agent feels sorrow and regret for having committed it.1.
An involuntary action being one done under compulsion or through ignorance, a voluntary
act would seem to be an act of which the origin lies in the agent, who knows the
particular circumstances in which he is acting. 1.
For it is probably a mistake to say6
caused by anger or by desire are involuntary. 1.
In the first place, （1） if we do so, we can no
longer say that any of the lower animals act voluntarily, or children either. 1.
Then （2） are
none of our actions that are caused by desire or anger voluntary, or are the noble ones
voluntary and the base involuntary? Surely this is an absurd distinction when one person
is the author of both. 1.
Yet perhaps it is strange to speak of acts aiming at things which it is right to aim at
as involuntary; and it is right to feel anger at some things, and also to feel desire for
some things, for instance health, knowledge. 1.
Also （3） we think that involuntary actions are
painful and actions that gratify desire pleasant. 1.
And again （4） what difference is
there in respect of their involuntary character between wrong acts committed deliberately
and wrong acts done in anger? 1.
Both are to be avoided;