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1. [3] 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. [4] 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. 1. [5] 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. [6] Acts of 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 itself. 1. [7]

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. [8] Yet there seem to be some acts which a man cannot be compelled to do,3 and 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! 1. [9] 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 compulsion.

1 i.e., partly voluntary, partly involuntary.

2 Which shows that the acts are regarded as voluntary ( Peters).

3 i.e., some acts are so repulsive that a man's abhorrence of them must be stronger than any pressure that can be put on him to commit them; so that if he commits them he must be held to have chosen to do so.

4 In a play now lost, Eriphyle was bribed with a necklace to induce her husband Amphiaraus, king of Argos, to join the expedition of the Seven against Thebes. Foreseeing he would lose his life, he charged his sons to avenge his death upon their mother, invoking on them famine and childlessness if they disobeyed. The verse in question is preserved: μάλιστα μὲν μ᾽ ἐπῆρ᾽ ἐπισκήψας πατήρ. Alcmaeon, fr. 69 (Nauck).

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