previous next

Such being an account of just and unjust actions, it is their voluntary performance that constitutes just and unjust conduct. If a man does them involuntarily, he cannot be said to act justly, or unjustly, except incidentally, in the sense that he does an act which happens to be just or unjust. [2] Whether therefore an action is or is not an act of injustice, or of justice, depends on its voluntary or involuntary character. When it is involuntary, the agent is blamed, and only in that case is the action an act of injustice; so that it is possible for an act to be unjust without being an act of injustice, if the qualification of voluntariness be absent. [3] By a voluntary action, as has been said before,1 I mean any action within the agent's own control which he performs knowingly, that is, without being in ignorance of the person affected, the instrument employed, and the result (for example, he must know whom he strikes, and with what weapon, and the effect of the blow); and in each of these respects both accident2 and compulsion must be excluded. For instance, if A took hold of B's hand and with it struck C, B would not be a voluntary agent, since the act would not be in his own control. Or again, a man may strike his father without knowing that it is his father, though aware that he is striking some person, and perhaps that it is one or other of the persons present3; and ignorance may be similarly defined with reference to the result, and to the circumstances of the action generally. An involuntary act is therefore an act done in ignorance, or else one that though not done in ignorance is not in the agent's control, or is done under compulsion; since there are many natural processes too that we perform or undergo knowingly, though none of them is either voluntary or involuntary4; for example, growing old, and dying. [4]

Also an act may be either just or unjust incidentally. A man may restore a deposit unwillingly and from fear of consequences, and we must not then say that he does a just act, nor that he acts justly, except incidentally; and similarly a man who under compulsion and against his will fails to restore a deposit can only be said to act unjustly or do what is unjust incidentally. [5]

Again voluntary acts are divided into acts done by choice and those done not by choice, the former being those done after deliberation and the latter those done without previous deliberation. [6]

There are then three ways5 in which a man may injure his fellow. An injury done in ignorance is an error, the person affected or the act or the instrument or the result being other than the agent supposed; for example, he did not think to hit, or not with this missile, or not this person, or not with this result, but it happened that either the result was other than he expected (for instance he did not mean to inflict a wound but only a prick), or the person, or the missile. [7] When then the injury happens contrary to reasonable expectation, it is (1) a misadventure. When, though not contrary to reasonable expectation, it is done without evil intent, it is (2) a culpable error; for an error is culpable when the cause of one's ignorance lies in oneself, but only a misadventure when the cause lies outside oneself. [8] When an injury is done knowingly but not deliberately, it is (3) an act of injustice or wrong; such, for instance, are injuries done through anger, or any other unavoidable or natural passion to which men are liable; since in committing these injuries and errors a man acts unjustly, and his action is an act of injustice, but he is not ipso facto unjust or wicked, for the injury was not done out of wickedness. When however an injury is done from choice, the doer is unjust and wicked. [9] Hence acts due to sudden anger are rightly held not to be done of malice aforethought, for it is the man who gave the provocation that began it, not he who does the deed in a fit of passion. [10] And moreover the issue is not one of fact, but of justification (since it is apparent injustice that arouses anger); the fact of the injury is not disputed (as it is in cases of contract, where one or the other of the parties must be a knave, unless they dispute the facts out of forgetfulness). They agree as to the facts but dispute on which side justice lies so that one thinks he has been unjustly treated and the other does not. On the other hand, one who has planned an injury is not acting in ignorance;6 [11] but if a man does an injury of set purpose, he is guilty of injustice, and injustice of the sort that renders the doer an unjust man, if it be an act that violates proportion or equality. Similarly one who acts justly on purpose is a just man; but he acts justly only if he acts voluntarily. [12]

Of involuntary actions some are pardonable and some are not. Errors not merely committed in ignorance but caused by ignorance are pardonable; those committed in ignorance, but caused not by that ignorance but by unnatural or inhuman passion, are unpardonable.

1 3.1.19.

2 i.e., mistake, ignorance: as in the illustration, it is an accident that the person struck is the striker's father.

3 Sc., of whom he knows his father to be one.

4 ‘Involuntary’ is certainly corrupt: perhaps Aristotle wrote ‘in our control.’

5 The three sorts of injury are ἀτύχημα, ἁμάρτημα, and ἀδίκημα. The second term is introduced first, in its wider sense of a mistake which leads to an offense against someone else (the word connotes both things). It is then subdivided into two; ἀτύχημα, accident or misadventure, and offense due to mistake and not reasonably to be expected, and ἁμάρτημα in the narrow sense, a similar offense that ought to have been foreseen. The third term, ἀδίκημα, a wrong, is subdivided into wrongs done in a passion, which do not prove wickedness, and wrongs done deliberately, which do.

6 In the mss. this clause stands before the preceding one.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: