and that （a） an act is compulsory
when its origin is from without, being of such a nature that the agent, who is really
passive, contributes nothing to it: for example, when a ship's captain is carried
somewhere by stress of weather, or by people who have him in their power. 1.
But there is some doubt about actions
done through fear of a worse alternative, or for some noble object— as for
instance if a tyrant having a man's parents and children in his power commands him to do
something base, when if he complies their lives will be spared but if he refuses they will
be put to death. It is open to question whether such actions are voluntary or involuntary.
A somewhat similar
case is when cargo is jettisoned in a storm; apart from circumstances, no one voluntarily
throws away his property, but to save his own life and that of his shipmates any sane man
would do so. 1.
this kind, then, are ‘mixed’ or composite1
; but they approximate
rather to the voluntary class. For at the actual time when they are done they are chosen
or willed; and the end or motive of an act varies with the occasion, so that the terms
‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’ should be used with
reference to the time of action; now the actual deed in the cases in question is done
voluntarily, for the origin of the movement of the parts of the body instrumental to the
act lies in the agent; and when the origin of an action is in oneself, it is in one's own
power to do it or not. Such acts therefore are voluntary, though perhaps involuntary apart
from circumstances—for no one would choose to do any such action in and for
Sometimes indeed men are actually praised2
for deeds of this ‘mixed’
class, namely when they submit to some disgrace or pain as the price of some great and
noble object; though if they do so without any such motive they are blamed, since it is
contemptible to submit to a great disgrace with no advantage or only a trifling one in
view. In some cases again, such submission though not praised is condoned, when a man does
something wrong through fear of penalties that impose too great a strain on human nature,
and that no one could endure. 1.
Yet there seem to be some acts which a man cannot be compelled to
rather than do them he ought to submit to the most terrible death: for instance, we think
it ridiculous that Alcmaeon in Euripides' play4
is compelled by certain threats to murder his mother!
But it is sometimes
difficult to decide how far we ought to go in choosing to do a given act rather than
suffer a given penalty, or in enduring a given penalty rather than commit a given action;
and it is still more difficult to abide by our decision when made, since in most of such
dilemmas the penalty threatened is painful and the deed forced upon us dishonorable, which
is why praise and blame are bestowed according as we do or do not yield to such