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(iii) But in relation to the pleasures and pains of touch and taste, and the corresponding desires and acts of avoidance, which have already1 been defined as the sphere in which Profligacy and Temperance are displayed, it is possible on the one hand to have such a disposition as to succumb even to those temptations to which most men are superior, or on the other hand to conquer even those to which most men succumb. These two dispositions, when manifested in relation to pleasure, constitute Unrestraint and Restraint respectively; when in relation to pain, Softness and Endurance. The disposition of the great majority of men lies between the two, though they incline rather to the worse extremes. [2]

And inasmuch as some pleasures are necessary and others not, and the former are only necessary within certain limits, excessive indulgence in them not being necessary, nor yet deficient indulgence2 either, and inasmuch as the same holds good also of desires and of pains, one who pursues excessive pleasures, or pursues things3 to excess and from choice, for their own sakes and not for the sake of some ulterior consequence, is a profligate; for a man of this character is certain to feel no regret for his excesses afterwards, and this being so, he is incurable,4 since there is no cure for one who does not regret his error. The man deficient in the enjoyment of pleasures is the opposite of the profligate; and the middle character is the temperate man. And similarly, he who avoids bodily pains not because his will is overpowered but of deliberate choice, is also profligate. [3] (Those on the other hand who yield not from choice, are prompted either by the pleasure of indulgence, or by the impulse to avoid the pain of unsatisfied desire. Hence there is a difference between deliberate and non-deliberate indulgence. Everyone would think a man worse if he did something disgraceful when he felt only a slight desire, or none at all, than if he acted from a strong desire, or if he struck another in cold blood than if he did so in anger; for what would he have done had his passions been aroused? Hence the profligate man is worse than the unrestrained.)

Of the dispositions described above, the deliberate avoidance of pain is rather a kind5 of Softness; the deliberate pursuit of pleasure is Profligacy in the strict sense. [4]

Self-restraint is the opposite of Unrestraint, Endurance of Softness; for Endurance means only successful resistance, whereas Restraint implies mastery, which is a different matter: victory is more glorious than the mere avoidance of defeat. Hence self-restraint is a more valuable quality than Endurance. [5] One who is deficient in resistance to pains that most men withstand with success, is soft or luxurious (for Luxury is a kind of Softness) : such a man lets his cloak trail on the ground to escape the fatigue and trouble of lifting it, or feigns sickness, not seeing that to counterfeit misery is to be miserable. [6] The same holds good of Self-restraint and Unrestraint. It is not surprising that a man should be overcome by violent and excessive pleasures or pains: indeed it is excusable if he succumbs after a struggle, like Philoctetes in Theodectes when bitten by the viper, or Kerkyon in the Alope of Karkinos, or as men who try to restrain their laughter explode in one great guffaw, as happened to Xenophantus.6 But we are surprised when a man is overcome by pleasures and pains which most men are able to withstand, except when his failure to resist is due to some innate tendency, or to disease: instances of the former being the hereditary effeminacy7 of the royal family of Scythia, and the inferior endurance of the female sex as compared with the male. [7]

People too fond of amusement are thought to be profligate, but really they are soft; for amusement is rest, and therefore a slackening of effort, and addiction to amusement is a form of excessive slackness.8 [8]

But there are two forms of Unrestraint, Impetuousness and Weakness. The weak deliberate, but then are prevented by passion from keeping to their resolution; the impetuous are led by passion because they do not stop to deliberate: since some people withstand the attacks of passion, whether pleasant or painful, by feeling or seeing them coming, and rousing themselves, that is, their reasoning faculty, in advance, just as one is proof against tickling if one has just been tickled already.9 It is the quick and the excitable who are most liable to the impetuous form of Unrestraint, because the former are too hasty and the latter too vehement to wait for reason, being prone to follow their imagination.

1 Bk. 3.10.

2 This addition is illogically expressed, but it is a reminder that to take too little of certain ‘necessary’ pleasures is as wrong as to take too much: see 4.5, first note.

3 i.e., necessary things; see the tripartite classification of 4.5.

4 Incurable, and therefore profligate, ἀκόλαστος, which means literally either ‘incorrigible’ or ‘unchastized’ : see note on 3.12.5.

5 Not Softness strictly, which ranges with Unrestraint and is not deliberate.

6 Seneca, De ira, 2.2, says that Xenophantus's martial music made Alexander put out his hand to grasp his weapons (the story is told by Suidas of a Theban flute-player Timotheus, cf. Dryden, Alexander's Feast) ; apparently Alexander's music had a different effect on Xenophantus!

7 Hdt. 1.105, says that certain Scythians who robbed the temple of Uranian Aphrodite at Askalon were smitten with the ‘feminine disease,’ which affected their descendants ever after; but Hippocrates, Περὶ ἀέρων22, describes effeminate symptoms prevalent among wealthy and high-born Scythians, due to being too much on horseback.

8 i.e., it is not an excessive proneness to pursue pleasure, and therefore is not profligacy.

9 The variant ‘can avoid being tickled by tickling the other person first’ seems less likely, but either reading may be doubted: see critical note. Aristotle elsewhere (Aristot. Prob. 965a 11) remarks that one is less sensitive to tickling if one is not taken unawares, and that is why one cannot tickle oneself.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.105
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