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If then whereas we wish for our end, the means to our end are matters of deliberation and choice, it follows that actions dealing with these means are done by choice, and voluntary. But the activities in which the virtues are exercised deal with means. [2] Therefore virtue also depends on ourselves. And so also does vice. For where we are free to act we are also free to refrain from acting, and where we are able to say No we are also able to say Yes; if therefore we are responsible for doing a thing when to do it is right, we are also responsible for not doing it when not to do it is wrong, and if we are responsible for rightly not doing a thing, we are also responsible for wrongly doing it. [3] But if it is in our power to do and to refrain from doing right and wrong, and if, as we saw,1 being good or bad is doing right or wrong, it consequently depends on us whether we are virtuous or vicious. [4] To say that “ None would be vile, and none would not be blest

2 seems to be half false, though half true: it is true that no one is unwilling to be blessed, but not true that wickedness is involuntary; [5] or else we must contradict what we just now3 asserted, and say that man is not the originator and begetter of his actions as he is of his children. [6] But if it is manifest that a man is the author of his own actions, and if we are unable to trace our conduct back to many other origins than those within ourselves, then actions of which the origins are within us, themselves depend upon us, and are voluntary. [7]

This conclusion seems to be attested both by men's behavior in private life and by the practice of lawgivers; for they punish and exact redress from those who do evil (except when it is done under compulsion, or through ignorance for which the agent himself is not responsible), and honor those who do noble deeds, in order to encourage the one sort and to repress the other; but nobody tries to encourage us to do things that do not depend upon ourselves and are not voluntary, since it is no good our being persuaded not to feel heat or pain or hunger or the like, because we shall feel them all the same. [8]

Indeed the fact that an offence was committed in ignorance is itself made a ground for punishment, in cases where the offender is held to be responsible for his ignorance; for instance, the penalty is doubled if the offender was drunk,4 because the origin of the offence was in the man himself, as he might have avoided getting drunk, which was the cause of his not knowing what he was doing. Also men are punished for offences committed through ignorance of some provision of the law which they ought to have known, and might have known without difficulty; [9] and so in other cases where ignorance is held to be due to negligence, on the ground that the offender need not have been ignorant, as he could have taken the trouble to ascertain the facts. [10]

It may be objected that perhaps he is not the sort of man to take the trouble. Well, but men are themselves responsible for having become careless through living carelessly, as they are for being unjust or profligate if they do wrong or pass their time in drinking and dissipation. They acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way. [11] This is shown by the way in which men train themselves for some contest or pursuit: they practice continually. [12] Therefore only an utterly senseless person can fail to know that our characters are the result of our conduct;5 but if a man knowingly acts in a way that will result in his becoming unjust, he must be said to be voluntarily unjust. [13]

Again, though it is unreasonable to say that a man who acts unjustly or dissolutely does not wish to be unjust or dissolute, [14] nevertheless this by no means implies that he can stop being unjust and become just merely by wishing to do so; any more than a sick man can get well by wishing, although it may be the case that his illness is voluntary, in the sense of being due to intemperate living and neglect of the doctors' advice. At the outset then, it is true, he might have avoided the illness, but once he has let himself go he can do so no longer. When you have thrown a stone, you cannot afterwards bring it back again, but nevertheless you are responsible for having taken up the stone and flung it, for the origin of the act was within you. Similarly the unjust and profligate might at the outset have avoided becoming so, and therefore they are so voluntarily, although having become unjust and profligate it is no longer open to them not to be so. [15]

And not only are vices of the soul voluntary, but in some cases bodily defects are so as well, and we blame them accordingly. Though no one blames a man for being born ugly, we censure uncomeliness that is due to neglecting exercise and the care of the person. And so with infirmities and mutilations: though nobody would reproach, but rather pity, a person blind from birth, or owing to disease or accident, yet all would blame one who had lost his sight from tippling or debauchery. [16] We see then that bodily defects for which we are ourselves responsible are blamed, while those for which we are not responsible are not. This being so, it follows that we are responsible for blameworthy moral defects also. [17]

But suppose somebody says: “All men seek what seems to them good, but they are not responsible for its seeming good: each man's conception of his end is determined by his character, whatever that may be. Although therefore, on the hypothesis6 that each man is in a sense responsible for his moral disposition, he will in a sense be responsible for his conception of the good, if on the contrary this hypothesis be untrue, no man is responsible for his own wrongdoing. He does wrong through ignorance of the right end, thinking that wrongdoing will procure him his greatest Good; and his aim at his end7 is not of his own choosing. A man needs to be born with moral vision, so to speak, whereby to discern correctly and choose what is truly good. A man of good natural disposition is a man well endowed by nature in this respect; for if a thing is the greatest and noblest of gifts, and is something which cannot be acquired or learnt from another, but which a man will possess in such form as it has been bestowed on him at birth, a good and noble natural endowment in this respect will constitute a good disposition in the full and true meaning of the term.” [18]

Now if this theory be true, how will virtue be voluntary any more than vice? Both for the good man and the bad man alike, their view of their end is determined in the same manner, by nature or however it may be; and all their actions of whatever sort are guided by reference to their end as thus determined. [19] Whether then a man's view of his end, whatever it may be, is not given by nature but is partly due to himself, or whether, although his end is determined by nature, yet virtue is voluntary because the good man's actions to gain his end are voluntary, in either case vice will be just as much voluntary as virtue; for the bad man equally with the good possesses spontaneity in his actions, even if not in his choice of an end. [20] If then, as is said, our virtues are voluntary (and in fact we are in a sense ourselves partly the cause of our moral dispositions, and it is our having a certain character that makes us set up an end of a certain kind), it follows that our vices are voluntary also; they are voluntary in the same manner as our virtues. [21]

We have then now discussed in outline the virtues in general, having indicated their genus [namely, that it is a mean, and a disposition8] and having shown that they render us apt to do the same actions as those by which they are produced,9 and to do them in the way in which right reason may enjoin10; and that they depend on ourselves and are voluntary.1112 [22] But our dispositions are not voluntary in the same way as are our actions. Our actions we can control from beginning to end, and we are conscious, of them at each stage.13 With our dispositions on the other hand, though we can control their beginnings, each separate addition to them is imperceptible, as is the case with the growth of a disease; though they are voluntary in that we were free to employ our capacities in the one way or the other. [23]

But to resume, let us now discuss the virtues severally, defining the nature of each, the class of objects to which it is related, and the way in which it is related to them. In so doing we shall also make it clear how many virtues there are.

1 2.11.

2 Anon. Possibly a verse of Solon. Doubtless πονηρός, translated ‘vile’ to suit the context here, in the original meant ‘wretched.’

3 3.15.

4 An enactment of Pittacus, tyrant of Mitylene, Aristot. Pol. 1274b 19.

5 The words, ‘but if a man . . . unjust’ in the mss. come after 5.13, ‘unjust or dissolute.’

6 This is Aristotle's view, which the imaginary objector challenges. It is not quite certain that his objection is meant to go as far as the point indicated by the inverted commas.

7 i.e., the end he aims at.

8 This clause looks like an interpolation: ἕξις is the genus of virtue, Bk. 2.5 fin., 6 init., μεσότης its differentia, 2.6.5,17.

9 See 2.2.8.

10 See 2.2.2. This clause in the mss. follows the next one.

11 See 5.2 and 20.

12 This section some editors place before 5.21, but it is rather a footnote to 5.14; and the opening words of 5.23 imply that a digression has been made.

13 τὰ καθ᾽ ἕκαστα seems to bear a somewhat different sense here from 1.15, καθ᾽ ἕκασταἄγνοια).

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