Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 3, Chapter 12 (1119a21-1119b19)

By Aristotle

Book 3, Chapter 12 (1119a21-1119b19)

  • Licentiousness is voluntary (like all vices) and more voluntary (and worse) even than cowardice.
  • This is because cowardice happens when we fear pain, which can "unhinge" just about anybody. Pleasure does no such thing.
  • We can easily avoid licentiousness if we're "habituated" from childhood to resist pleasure. Since pleasures are everywhere, we also have plenty of opportunity to practice restraint.
  • It is harder to get used to pain, since we aren't usually in extreme circumstances. Also, pain can break a person, so habituation is a much harder deal there.
  • In the end, Aristotle says that cowardice is a far less horrible vice than licentiousness for these reasons.
  • He also says that "licentiousness" can be applied to children when they make mistakes, because they are creatures of desire.
  • But this also means that they can be caught and corrected early on, since this particular error makes itself known in childhood.
  • Aristotle draws a parallel between the unruly child and his tutor with the soul and reason. Just as the child ought to be ruled by his tutor, the soul has to be ruled by reason.
  • Or bad things happen.