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for no natural property can be altered by habit. For instance, it is the nature of a stone to move downwards, and it cannot be trained to move upwards, even though you should try to train it to do so by throwing it up into the air ten thousand times; nor can fire be trained to move downwards, nor can anything else that naturally behaves in one way be trained into a habit of behaving in another way. 1. [3] The virtues1 therefore are engendered in us neither by nature nor yet in violation of nature; nature gives us the capacity to receive them, and this capacity is brought to maturity by habit.1. [4]

Moreover, the faculties given us by nature are bestowed on us first in a potential form; we exhibit their actual exercise afterwards. This is clearly so with our senses: we did not acquire the faculty of sight or hearing by repeatedly seeing or repeatedly listening, but the other way about—because we had the senses we began to use them, we did not get them by using them. The virtues on the other hand we acquire by first having actually practised them, just as we do the arts. We learn an art or craft by doing the things that we shall have to do when we have learnt it2: for instance, men become builders by building houses, harpers by playing on the harp.

1 ἀρετή is here as often in this and the following Books employed in the limited sense of ‘moral excellence’ or ‘goodness of character,’ i.e. virtue in the ordinary sense of the term.

2 Or possibly ‘For things that we have to learn to do [in contrast with things that we do by nature], we learn by doing them.’

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