Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

LCL 73: 116-117

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iΤῆς ἀρετῆς δὲ1 περὶ πάθη τε καὶ πράξεις οὔσης,30 καὶ ἐπὶ μὲν τοῖς ἑκουσίοις ἐπαίνων καὶ ψόγων γινομένων, ἐπὶ δὲ τοῖς ἀκουσίοις συγγνώμης, ἐνίοτε δὲ καὶ ἐλέου, τὸ ἑκούσιον καὶ τὸ ἀκούσιον ἀναγκαῖον ἴσως διορίσαι τοῖς περὶ ἀρετῆς ἐπισκοποῦσι· χρήσιμον δὲ καὶ τοῖς νομοθετοῦσι πρός 2τε τὰς τιμὰς καὶ τὰς κολάσεις. δοκεῖ δὴ2 ἀκούσια35 3εἶναι τὰ βίᾳ ἢ δι᾿ ἄγνοιαν γινόμενα· βίαιον δὲ οὗ1110 a ἡ ἀρχὴ ἔξωθεν, τοιαύτη οὖσα ἐν ᾗ μηδὲν συμβάλλεται ὁ πράττων ἢ ὁ πάσχων, οἷον εἰ πνεῦμα 4κομίσαι ποι ἢ ἄνθρωποι κύριοι ὄντες. ὅσα δὲ διὰ φόβον μειζόνων κακῶν πράττεται ἢ διὰ καλόν τι,5 οἷον εἰ τύραννος προστάττοι αἰσχρόν τι πρᾶξαι κύριος ὢν γονέων καὶ τέκνων, καὶ πράξαντος μὲν3 σῴζοιντο, μὴ πράξαντος δ᾿ ἀποθνήσκοιεν, ἀμφισβήτησιν ἔχει πότερον ἀκούσιά ἐστιν ἢ ἑκούσια.

  • 1δὲ (cf. 1109 a 20) Stocks: δὴ.
  • 2δὴ codd. Morellii: δὲ.
  • 3μὲν <ἂν>? Richards.
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Nicomachean Ethics, III.

Book III

iVirtue however is concerned with emotions and cc i-v Moral Responsibility. c. i The Voluntary and Involuntary.actions, and it is only voluntary actions for which praise and blame are given; those that are involuntary are condoned, and sometimes even pitied. Hence it seems to be necessary for the student of ethics to define the difference between the Voluntary and the Involuntarya; and this will also be of service to the legislator in assigning rewards and punishments.

2It is then generally held that actions are involuntary when done (a) under compulsion or (b) 3through ignorance; 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 he is carried somewhere by stress of weather, or by 4people who have him in their power. 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

  • aἑκούσιον and ἀκούσιον are most conveniently rendered ‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’; but the word ἀκούσιον suggests ‘unwilling’ or ‘against the will,’ and to this meaning Aristotle limits it in § 13. There he introduces a third term, οὐχ ἑκούσιον, ‘not voluntary’ or ‘not willing,’ to describe acts done in ignorance of their full circumstances and consequences, and so not willed in the full sense; but such acts when subsequently regretted by the agent are included in the class of ἀκούσια or unwilling acts, because had the agent not been in ignorance he would not have done them.
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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.aristotle-nicomachean_ethics.1926