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CHAPTERS 1–5.: THE WILL. - Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics 
The Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle, trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. 5th edition (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Truebner & Co., 1893).
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An act is involuntary when done (a) under compulsion, or (b) through ignorance: (a) means not originated by doer, (b) means through ignorance of the circumstances: voluntary then means originated with knowledge of circumstances.
Virtue, as we have seen, has to do with feelings and actions. Now, praise* or blame is given only to what is voluntary; that which is involuntary receives pardon, and sometimes even pity.
It seems, therefore, that a clear distinction between the voluntary and the involuntary is necessary for those who are investigating the nature of virtue, and will also help legislators in assigning rewards and punishments.
That is generally held to be involuntary which is done under compulsion or through ignorance.
“Done under compulsion” means that the cause is external, the agent or patient contributing nothing towards it; as, for instance, if he were carried somewhere by a whirlwind or by men whom he could not resist.
But there is some question about acts done in order to avoid a greater evil, or to obtain some noble end; e.g. if a tyrant were to order you to do something disgraceful, having your parents or children in his power, who were to live if you did it, but to die if you did not—it is a matter of dispute whether such acts are involuntary or voluntary.
Throwing a cargo overboard in a storm is a somewhat analogous case. No one voluntarily throws away his property if nothing is to come of it,* but any sensible person would do so to save the life of himself and the crew.
Acts of this kind, then, are of a mixed nature, but they more nearly resemble voluntary acts. For they are desired or chosen at the time when they are done, and the end or motive of an act is that which is in view at the time. In applying the terms voluntary and involuntary, therefore, we must consider the state of the agent’s mind at the time. Now, he wills the act at the time; for the cause which sets the limbs going lies in the agent in such cases, and where the cause lies in the agent, it rests with him to do or not to do.
Such acts, then, are voluntary, though in themselves [or apart from these qualifying circumstances] we may allow them to be involuntary; for no one would choose anything of this kind on its own account.
And, in fact, for actions of this sort men are sometimes praised,†e.g. when they endure something disgraceful or painful in order to secure some great and noble result: but in the contrary case they are blamed; for no worthy person would endure the extremity of disgrace when there was no noble result in view, or but a trifling one.
But in some cases we do not praise, but pardon, i.e. when a man is induced to do a wrong act by pressure which is too strong for human nature and which no one could bear. Though there are some cases of this kind, I think, where the plea of compulsion is inadmissible,* and where, rather than do the act, a man ought to suffer death in its most painful form; for instance, the circumstances which “compelled” Alcmæon in Euripides† to kill his mother seem absurd.
It is sometimes hard to decide whether we ought to do this deed to avoid this evil, or whether we ought to endure this evil rather than do this deed; but it is still harder to abide by our decisions: for generally the evil which we wish to avoid is something painful, the deed we are pressed to do is something disgraceful; and hence we are blamed or praised according as we do or do not suffer ourselves to be compelled.
What kinds of acts, then, are to be called compulsory?
I think our answer must be that, in the first place, when the cause lies outside and the agent has no part in it, the act is called, without qualification, “compulsory” [and therefore involuntary]; but that, in the second place, when an act that would not be voluntarily done for its own sake is chosen now in preference to this given alternative, the cause lying in the agent, such an act must be called “involuntary in itself,” or “in the abstract,” but “now, and in preference to this alternative, voluntary.” But an act of the latter kind is rather of the nature of a voluntary act: for acts fall within the sphere of particulars; and here the particular thing that is done is voluntary.
It is scarcely possible, however, to lay down rules for determining which of two alternatives is to be preferred; for there are many differences in the particular cases.
It might, perhaps, be urged that acts whose motive is something pleasant or something noble are compulsory, for here we are constrained by something outside us.
Again, acting under compulsion and against one’s will is painful, but action whose motive is something pleasant or noble involves pleasure.‡ It is absurd, then, to blame things outside us instead of our own readiness to yield to their allurements, and, while we claim our noble acts as our own, to set down our disgraceful actions to “pleasant things outside us.”
Compulsory, then, it appears, is that of which the cause is external, the person compelled contributing nothing thereto.
What is done through ignorance is always “not-voluntary,” but is “involuntary”* when the agent is pained afterwards and sorry when he finds what he has done.† For when a man, who has done something through ignorance, is not vexed at what he has done, you cannot indeed say that he did it voluntarily, as he did not know what he was doing, but neither can you say that he did it involuntarily or unwillingly, since he is not sorry.
A man who has acted through ignorance, then, if he is sorry afterwards, is held to have done the deed involuntarily or unwillingly; if he is not sorry afterwards we may say (to mark the distinction) he did the deed “not-voluntarily;” for, as the case is different, it is better to have a distinct name.
Acting through ignorance, however, seems to be different from acting in ignorance. For instance, when a man is drunk or in a rage he is not thought to act through ignorance, but through intoxication or rage, and yet not knowingly, but in ignorance.
Every vicious man, indeed, is ignorant of* what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, and it is this kind of error that makes men unjust and bad generally. But the term “involuntary” is not properly applied to cases in which a man is ignorant of what is fitting.† The ignorance that makes an act involuntary is not this ignorance of the principles which should determine preference (this constitutes vice),—not, I say, this ignorance of the universal (for we blame a man for this), but ignorance of the particulars, of the persons and things affected by the act. These are the grounds of pity and pardon; for he who is ignorant of any of these particulars acts involuntarily.
It may be as well, then, to specify what these particulars are, and how many. They are—first, the doer; secondly, the deed; and, thirdly, the object or person affected by it; sometimes also that wherewith (e.g. the instrument with which) it is done, and that for the sake of which it is done (e.g. for protection), and the way in which it is done (e.g. gently or violently.)
Now, a man cannot (unless he be mad) be ignorant of all these particulars; for instance, he evidently cannot be ignorant of the doer: for how can he not know himself?
But a man may be ignorant of what he is doing; e.g. a man who has said something will sometimes plead that the words escaped him unawares, or that he did not know that the subject was forbidden (as Æschylus pleaded in the case of the Mysteries); or a man might plead that when he discharged the weapon he only intended to show the working of it, as the prisoner did in the catapult case. Again, a man might mistake his son for an enemy, as Merope does,* or a sharp spear for one with a button, or a heavy stone for a pumice-stone. Again, one might kill a man with a drug intended to save him, or hit him hard when one wished merely to touch him (as boxers do when they spar with open hands).
Ignorance, then, being possible with regard to all these circumstances, he who is ignorant of any of them is held to have acted involuntarily, and especially when he is ignorant of the most important particulars; and the most important seem to be the persons affected and the result.†
Besides this, however, the agent must be grieved and sorry for what he has done, if the act thus ignorantly committed is to be called involuntary [not merely not-voluntary].
But now, having found that an act is involuntary when done under compulsion or through ignorance, we may conclude that a voluntary act is one which is originated by the doer with knowledge of the particular circumstances of the act.
For I venture to think that it is incorrect to say that acts done through anger or desire are involuntary.
In the first place, if this be so we can no longer allow that any of the other animals act voluntarily, nor even children.
Again, does the saying mean that none of the acts which we do through desire or anger are voluntary, or that the noble ones are voluntary and the disgraceful ones involuntary? Interpreted in the latter sense, it is surely ridiculous, as the cause of both is the same. If we take the former interpretation, it is absurd, I think, to say that we ought to desire a thing, and also to say that its pursuit is involuntary; but, in fact, there are things at which we ought to be angry, and things which we ought to desire, e.g. health and learning.
Again, it seems that what is done unwillingly is painful, while what is done through desire is pleasant.
Again, what difference is there, in respect of involuntariness, between wrong deeds done upon calculation and wrong deeds done in anger? Both alike are to be avoided, but the unreasoning passions or feelings seem to belong to the man just as much as does the reason, so that the acts that are done under the impulse of anger or desire are also the man’s acts.* To make such actions involuntary, therefore, would be too absurd.
Purpose, a mode of will, means choice after deliberation.
Now that we have distinguished voluntary from involuntary acts, our next task is to discuss choice or purpose. For it seems to be most intimately connected with virtue, and to be a surer test of character than action itself.
It seems that choosing is willing, but that the two terms are not identical, willing being the wider. For children and other animals have will, but not choice or purpose; and acts done upon the spur of the moment are said to be voluntary, but not to be done with deliberate purpose.
Those who say that choice is appetite, or anger, or wish, or an opinion of some sort, do not seem to give a correct account of it.
In the first place, choice is not shared by irrational creatures, but appetite and anger are.
Again, the incontinent man acts from appetite and not from choice or purpose, the continent man from purpose and not from appetite.
Again, appetite may be contrary to purpose, but one appetite can not be contrary to another appetite.*
Again, the object of appetite [or aversion] is the pleasant or the painful, but the object of purpose [as such] is neither painful nor pleasant.
Still less can purpose be anger (θυμός); for acts done in anger seem to be least of all done of purpose or deliberate choice.
Nor yet is it wish, though it seem very like; for we cannot purpose or deliberately choose the impossible, and a man who should say that he did would be thought a fool; but we may wish for the impossible, e.g. to escape death.
Again, while we may wish what never could be effected by our own agency (e.g. the success of a particular actor or athlete), we never purpose or deliberately choose such things, but only those that we think may be effected by our own agency.
Again, we are more properly said to wish the end, to choose the means; e.g. we wish to be healthy, but we choose what will make us healthy: we wish to be happy, and confess the wish, but it would not be correct to say we purpose or deliberately choose to be happy; for we may say roundly that purpose or choice deals with what is in our power.
Nor can it be opinion; for, in the first place, anything may be matter of opinion—what is unalterable and impossible no less than what is in our power; and, in the second place, we distinguish opinion according as it is true or false, not according as it is good or bad, as we do with purpose or choice.
We may say, then, that purpose is not the same as opinion in general; nor, indeed, does any one maintain this.
But, further, it is not identical with a particular kind of opinion. For our choice of good or evil makes us morally good or bad, holding certain opinions does not.
Again, we choose to take or to avoid a good or evil thing; we opine what its nature is, or what it is good for, or in what way; but we cannot opine to take or to avoid.
Again, we commend a purpose for its rightness or correctness, an opinion for its truth.
Again, we choose a thing when we know well that it is good; we may have an opinion about a thing of which we know nothing.
Again, it seems that those who are best at choosing are not always the best at forming opinions, but that some who have an excellent judgment fail, through depravity, to choose what they ought.
It may be said that choice or purpose must be preceded or accompanied by an opinion or judgment; but this makes no difference: our question is not that, but whether they are identical.
What, then, is choice or purpose, since it is none of these?
It seems, as we said, that what is chosen or purposed is willed, but that what is willed is not always chosen or purposed.
The required differentia, I think, is “after previous deliberation.” For choice or purpose implies calculation and reasoning. The name itself, too, seems to indicate this, implying that something is chosen before or in preference to other things.*
We deliberate on what we can do—not on ends, but means.
Now, as to deliberation, do we deliberate about everything, and may anything whatever be matter for deliberation, or are there some things about which deliberation is impossible?
By “matter for deliberation” we should understand, I think, not what a fool or a maniac, but what a rational being would deliberate about.
Now, no one deliberates about eternal or unalterable things, e.g. the system of the heavenly bodies, or the incommensurability of the side and the diagonal of a square.
Again, no one deliberates about things which change, but always change in the same way (whether the cause of change be necessity, or nature, or any other agency), e.g. the solstices and the sunrise;* nor about things that are quite irregular, like drought and wet; nor about matters of chance, like the finding of a treasure.
Again, even human affairs are not always matter of deliberation; e.g. what would be the best constitution for Scythia is a question that no Spartan would deliberate about.
The reason why we do not deliberate about these things is that none of them are things that we can ourselves effect.
But the things that we do deliberate about are matters of conduct that are within our control. And these are the only things that remain; for besides nature and necessity and chance, the only remaining cause of change is reason and human agency in general. Though we must add that men severally deliberate about what they can themselves do.
A further limitation is that where there is exact and absolute knowledge, there is no room for deliberation; e.g. writing: for there is no doubt how the letters should be formed.
We deliberate, then, about things that are brought about by our own agency, but not always in the same way; e.g. about medicine and money-making, and about navigation more than about gymnastic, inasmuch as it is not yet reduced to so perfect a system, and so on; but more about matters of art than matters of science, as there is more doubt about them.
Matters of deliberation, then, are matters in which there are rules that generally hold good, but in which the result cannot be predicted, i.e. in which there is an element of uncertainty. In important matters we call in advisers, distrusting our own powers of judgment.
It is not about ends, but about means that we deliberate. A physician does not deliberate whether he shall heal, nor an orator whether he shall persuade, nor a statesman whether he shall make a good system of laws, nor a man in any other profession about his end; but, having the proposed end in view, we consider how and by what means this end can be attained; and if it appear that it can be attained by various means, we further consider which is the easiest and best; but if it can only be attained by one means, we consider how it is to be attained by this means, and how this means itself is to be secured, and so on, until we come to the first link in the chain of causes, which is last in the order of discovery.
For in deliberation we seem to inquire and to analyze in the way described, just as we analyze a geometrical figure in order to learn how to construct it* (and though inquiry is not always deliberation—mathematical inquiry, for instance, is not—deliberation is always inquiry); that which is last in the analysis coming first in the order of construction.
If we come upon something impossible, we give up the plan; e.g. if it needs money, and money cannot be got: but if it appear possible, we set to work. By possible I mean something that can be done by us; and what can be done by our friends can in a manner be done by us; for it is we who set our friends to work.
Sometimes we have to find out instruments, sometimes how to use them; and so on with the rest: sometimes we have to find out what agency will produce the desired effect, sometimes how or through whom this agency is to be set at work.
It appears, then, that a man, as we have already said, originates his acts; but that he deliberates about that which he can do himself, and that what he does is done for the sake of something else.† For he cannot deliberate about the end, but about the means to the end; nor, again, can he deliberate about particular facts, e.g. whether this be a loaf, or whether it be properly backed: these are matters of immediate perception. And if he goes on deliberating for ever he will never come to a conclusion.
But the object of deliberation and the object of choice or purpose are the same, except that the latter is already fixed and determined; when we say, “this is chosen” or “purposed,” we mean that it has been selected after deliberation. For we always stop in our inquiry how to do a thing when we have traced back the chain of causes to ourselves, and to the commanding part of ourselves; for this is the part that chooses.
This may be illustrated by the ancient constitutions which Homer describes; for there the kings announce to the people what they have chosen.
Since, then, a thing is said to be chosen or purposed when, being in our power, it is desired after deliberation, choice or purpose may be defined as deliberate desire for something in our power; for we first deliberate, and then, having made our decision thereupon, we desire in accordance with deliberation.
Let this stand, then, for an account in outline of choice or purpose, and of what it deals with, viz. means to ends.
We wish for
Wish, we have already said, is for the end; but whereas some hold that the object of wish is the good others hold that it is what seems good.
Those who maintain that the object of wish* is the good have to admit that what those wish for who choose wrongly is not object of wish (for if so it would be good; but it may so happen that it was bad); on the other hand, those who maintain that the object of wish is what seems good have to admit that there is nothing which is naturally object of wish, but that each wishes for what seems good to him—different and even contrary things seeming good to different people.
As neither of these alternatives quite satisfies us, perhaps we had better say that the good is the real object of wish (without any qualifying epithet), but that what seems good is object of wish to each man. The good man, then, wishes for the real object of wish; but what the bad man wishes for may be anything whatever; just as, with regard to the body, those who are in good condition find those things healthy that are really healthy, while those who are diseased find other things healthy (and it is just the same with things bitter, sweet, hot, heavy, etc.): for the good or ideal man judges each case correctly, and in each case what is true seems true to him.
For, corresponding to each of our trained faculties, there is a special form of the noble and the pleasant, and perhaps there is nothing so distinctive of the good or ideal man as the power he has of discerning these special forms in each case, being himself, as it were, their standard and measure.
What misleads people seems to be in most cases pleasure; it seems to be a good thing, even when it is not. So they choose what is pleasant as good, and shun pain as evil.
Virtue and vice are alike voluntary, our acts are our own; for we are punished for them; if this be our character, we have made it by repeated acts; even bodily vices are blamable when thus formed. We cannot plead that our notion of good depends on our nature; for (1) vice would still be as voluntary as virtue, (2) we help to make ourselves what we are.
We have seen that, while we wish for the end, we deliberate upon and choose the means thereto.
Actions that are concerned with means, then, will be guided by choice, and so will be voluntary.
But the acts in which the virtues are manifested are concerned with means.*
Therefore virtue depends upon ourselves: and vice likewise. For where it lies with us to do, it lies with us not to do. Where we can say no, we can say yes. If then the doing a deed, which is noble, lies with us, the not doing it, which is disgraceful, lies with us; and if the not doing, which is noble, lies with us, the doing, which is disgraceful, also lies with us. But if the doing and likewise the not doing of noble or base deeds lies with us, and if this is, as we found, identical with being good or bad, then it follows that it lies with us to be worthy or worthless men.
And so the saying—
“None would be wicked, none would not be blessed,”
seems partly false and partly true: no one indeed is blessed against his will; but vice is voluntary.
If we deny this, we must dispute the statements made just now, and must contend that man is not the originator and the parent of his actions, as of his children.
But if those statements commend themselves to us, and if we are unable to trace our acts to any other sources than those that depend upon ourselves, then that whose source is within us must itself depend upon us and be voluntary.
This seems to be attested, moreover, by each one of us in private life, and also by the legislators; for they correct and punish those that do evil (except when it is done under compulsion, or through ignorance for which the agent is not responsible), and honour those that do noble deeds, evidently intending to encourage the one sort and discourage the other. But no one encourages us to do that which does not depend on ourselves, and which is not voluntary: it would be useless to be persuaded not to feel heat or pain or hunger and so on, as we should feel them all the same.
I say “ignorance for which the agent is not responsible,” for the ignorance itself is punished by the law, if the agent appear to be responsible for his ignorance, e.g. for an offence committed in a fit of drunkenness the penalty is doubled: for the origin of the offence lies in the man himself; he might have avoided the intoxication, which was the cause of his ignorance. Again, ignorance of any of the ordinances of the law, which a man ought to know and easily can know, does not avert punishment. And so in other cases, where ignorance seems to be the result of negligence, the offender is punished, since it lay with him to remove this ignorance; for he might have taken the requisite trouble.
It may be objected that it was the man’s character not to take the trouble.
We reply that men are themselves responsible for acquiring such a character by a dissolute life, and for being unjust or profligate in consequence of repeated acts of wrong, or of spending their time in drinking and so on. For it is repeated acts of a particular kind that give a man a particular character.
This is shown by the way in which men train themselves for any kind of contest or performance: they practise continually.
Not to know, then, that repeated acts of this or that kind produce a corresponding character or habit, shows an utter want of sense.
Moreover, it is absurd to say that he who acts unjustly does not wish to be unjust, or that he who behaves profligately does not wish to be profligate.
But if a man knowingly does acts which must make him unjust, he will be voluntarily unjust; though it does not follow that, if he wishes it, he can cease to be unjust and be just, any more than he who is sick can, if he wishes it, be whole. And it may be that he is voluntarily sick, through living incontinently and disobeying the doctor. At one time, then, he had the option not to be sick, but he no longer has it now that he has thrown away his health. When you have discharged a stone it is no longer in your power to call it back; but nevertheless the throwing and casting away of that stone rests with you; for the beginning of its flight depended upon you.*
Just so the unjust or the profligate man at the beginning was free not to acquire this character, and therefore he is voluntarily unjust or profligate; but now that he has acquired it, he is no longer free to put it off.
But it is not only our mental or moral vices that are voluntary; bodily vices also are sometimes voluntary, and then are censured. We do not censure natural ugliness, but we do censure that which is due to negligence and want of exercise. And so with weakness and infirmity: we should never reproach a man who was born blind, or had lost his sight in an illness or by a blow—we should rather pity him; but we should all censure a man who had blinded himself by excessive drinking or any other kind of profligacy.
We see, then, that of the vices of the body it is those that depend on ourselves that are censured, while those that do not depend on ourselves are not censured. And if this be so, then in other fields also those vices that are blamed must depend upon ourselves.
Some people may perhaps object to this.
“All men,” they may say, “desire that which appears good to them, but cannot control this appearance; a man’s character, whatever it be, decides what shall appear to him to be the end.”
If, I answer, each man be in some way responsible for his habits or character, then in some way he must be responsible for this appearance also.
But if this be not the case, then a man is not responsible for, or is not the cause of, his own evil doing, but it is through ignorance of the end that he does evil, fancying that thereby he will secure the greatest good: and the striving towards the true end does not depend on our own choice, but a man must be born with a gift of sight, so to speak, if he is to discriminate rightly and to choose what is really good: and he is truly well-born who is by nature richly endowed with this gift; for, as it is the greatest and the fairest gift, which we cannot acquire or learn from another, but must keep all our lives just as nature gave it to us, to be well and nobly born in this respect is to be well-born in the truest and completest sense.
Now, granting this to be true, how will virtue be any more voluntary than vice?
For whether it be nature or anything else that determines what shall appear to be the end, it is determined in the same way for both alike, for the good man as for the bad, and both alike refer all their acts of whatever kind to it.
And so whether we hold that it is not merely nature that decides what appears to each to be the end (whatever that be), but that the man himself contributes something; or whether we hold that the end is fixed by nature, but that virtue is voluntary, inasmuch as the good man voluntarily takes the steps to that end—in either case vice will be just as voluntary as virtue; for self is active in the bad man just as much as in the good man, in choosing the particular acts at least, if not in determining the end.
If then, as is generally allowed, the virtues are voluntary (for we do, in fact, in some way help to make our character, and, by being of a certain character, give a certain complexion to our idea of the end), the vices also must be voluntary; for all this applies equally to them.
We have thus described in outline the nature of the virtues in general, and have said that they are forms of moderation or modes of observing the mean, and that they are habits or trained faculties, and that they show themselves in the performance of the same acts which produce them, and that they depend on ourselves and are voluntary, and that they follow the guidance of right reason. But our particular acts are not voluntary in the same sense as our habits: for we are masters of our acts from beginning to end when we know the particular circumstances; but we are masters of the beginnings only of our habits or characters, while their growth by gradual steps is imperceptible, like the growth of disease. Inasmuch, however, as it lay with us to employ or not to employ our faculties in this way, the resulting characters are on that account voluntary.
Now let us take up each of the virtues again in turn, and say what it is, and what its subject is, and how it deals with it; and in doing this, we shall at the same time see how many they are. And, first of all, let us take courage.
[* ]It must be remembered that “virtue” is synonymous with “praiseworthy habit;” I. 13, 20; II. 9, 9.
[* ]ἁπλω̂ς, “without qualification:” no one chooses loss of property simply, but loss of property with saving of life is what all sensible people would choose.
[† ]Which shows that the acts are regarded as voluntary.
[* ]οὐκ ἔστιν ἀναγκασθη̂ναι, “compulsion is impossible.” If the act was compulsory it was not my act, I cannot be blamed: there are some acts, says Aristotle, for which we could not forgive a man, for which, whatever the circumstances, we must blame him; therefore no circumstances can compel him, or compulsion is impossible. The argument is, in fact, “I ought not, therefore I can not (am able not to do it),”—like Kant’s, “I ought, therefore I can.” But, if valid at all, it is valid universally, and the conclusion should be that the body only can be compelled, and not the will—that a compulsory act is impossible.
[† ]The same lost play is apparently quoted in V. 9, 1.
[* ]Reading σ[Editor: illegible character]τω.
[† ]Therefore, strictly speaking, a “compulsory act” is a contradiction in terms; the real question is, “What is an act?”
[‡ ]Therefore, since these are the motives of every act, all voluntary action involves pleasure. If we add “when successful,” this quite agrees with Aristotle’s theory of pleasure in Books VII. and X.
[* ]i.e. not merely “not-willed,” but done “unwillingly,” or “against the agent’s will.” Unfortunately our usage recognizes no such distinction between “not-voluntary” and “involuntary.”
[† ]ἐν μεταμελείᾳ, lit. “when the act involves change of mind.” This, under the circumstances, can only mean that the agent who willed the act, not seeing the true nature of it at the time, is sorry afterwards, when he comes to see what he has done
[* ]i.e. forms a wrong judgment; cf. ἡ μοχθηρία διαψεύδεσθαι ποιεɩ̂ περὶ τὰς πρακτικὰς ἀρχάς, VI. 12, 10: not that the vicious man does not know that such a course is condemned by society, but he does not assent to society’s rules—adopts other maxims contrary to them.
[† ]τὸ συμϕέρον, what conduces to a given end, expedient. The meaning of the term varies with the end in view: here the end in view is the supreme end, happiness: τὸ συμϕέρον, then, means here the rule of conduct to which, in a given case, the agent must conform in order to realize this end; cf. II. 2, 3.
[* ]In a lost play of Euripides, believing her son to have been murdered, she is about to kill her son himself as the murderer. See Stewart.
[† ]τὸ ον̔̂ ἕνεκα usually is the intended result (and so ἕνεκα τίνος in § 16), but of course it is only the actual result that the agent can be ignorant of.
[* ]Reason can modify action only by modifying feeling. Every action issues from a feeling or passion (πάθος), which feeling (and therefore the resultant action) is mine (the outcome of my character, and therefore imputable to me), whether it be modified by reason (deliberation, calculation) or no.
[* ]Two appetites may pull two different, but not contrary ways (ὲναντιον̂ται): that which not merely diverts but restrains me from satisfying an appetite must be desire of a different kind, e.g. desire to do what is right. Ἐπιθυμία is used loosely in cap. 1 for desire (ὄρεξις), here more strictly for appetite, a species of desire, purpose (προαίρεσις) being another species: cf. infra, 3, 19.
[* ]προαίρεσις, lit. “choosing before.” Our “preference” exactly corresponds here, but unfortunately cannot always be employed.
[* ]These are instances of “necessity;” a tree grows by “nature,” i.e. by its own natural powers.
[* ]If we have to construct a geometrical figure, we first “suppose it done,” then analyze the imagined figure in order to see the conditions which it implies and which imply it, and continue the chain till we come to some thing (drawing of some lines) which we already know how to do.
[† ]Cf. III. 2, 9, and 5, 1, and X. 7, 5. There is no real inconsistency between this and the doctrine that the end of life is life, that the good act is to be chosen for its own sake (II. 4, 3), because it is noble (III. 7, 13): for the end is not outside the means; happiness or the perfect life is the complete system of these acts, and the real nature of each act is determined by its relation to this system; to choose it as a means to this end is to choose it for itself.
[* ]βουλητόν. This word hovers between two senses, (1) wished for, (2) to be wished for, just as αἱρετόν hovers between (1) desired, (2) desirable. The difficulty, as here put, turns entirely upon the equivocation; but at bottom lies the fundamental question, whether there be a common human nature, such that we can say, “This kind of life is man’s real life.”
[* ]Each virtuous act is desired and chosen as a means to realizing a particular virtue, and this again is desired as a part or constituent of, and so as a means to, that perfect self-realization which is happiness: cf. 3, 15.
[* ]My act is mine, and does not cease to be mine because I would undo it if I could; and so, further, since we made the habits whose bonds we cannot now unloose, we are responsible, not merely for the acts which made them, but also for the acts which they now produce “in spite of us:” what constrains us is ourselves.