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for in this case the act is pitied and forgiven, because he who acts in ignorance of any of these circumstances is an involuntary agent.1. [16]

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. [17]

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 Merope does4; 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 loose wrestling5 hit him a blow when meaning only to grip his hand. 1. [18] 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 will produce.1. [19]

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. [20]

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. [21] For it is probably a mistake to say6 that acts caused by anger or by desire are involuntary. 1. [22] 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. [23] 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. [24] 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. [25] Also (3) we think that involuntary actions are painful and actions that gratify desire pleasant. 1. [26] 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. [27] Both are to be avoided;

1 ‘Things’ seems to include persons, see example (3) below.

2 ἐν τίνι seems to bear a more limited sense than ἐν οἷς ll. 1, 16, 19, 24, which covers the circumstances of all sorts.

3 Aeschylus was accused before the Areopagus of having divulged the Mysteries of Demeter in certain of his tragedies, but was acquitted. A phrase of his, ‘It came to my mouth,’ became proverbial (Plat. Rep. 563c, etc.), and he may have used it on this occasion.

4 In the lost Cresphontes of Euripides.

5 A style of wrestling in which the adversaries only gripped each other's hands without closing.

6 Plat. Laws 683b ff., coupled anger and appetite with ignorance as sources of wrong action.

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