Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 3, Chapter 5 (1113b3-1115a6)

By Aristotle

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Book 3, Chapter 5 (1113b3-1115a6)

  • Aristotle's discussion of deliberation, choice and wish moves onto the next level.
  • Since deliberation and choice consider means (that which is in our power to do), they're voluntary actions. So the employment of virtues applies here, since a person's will is at play.
  • Of course, when we say virtues, we also mean vices—since both of these are within our choice.
  • So it's up to us to choose to be good or bad, to act or not to act in either situation.
  • All of this is to say one thing: we're the origin of our actions. There's no saying "the devil made me do it" in Aristotle's world.
  • He says that we see this reinforced in the world of law, where a person is punished if they do "corrupt things."
  • The exception? If a person is forced to do something depraved.
  • Even ignorance can be punished, if such lack of knowledge or sense depends on us.
  • So for instance, we can be punished by law for incidents that happen while we're drunk, since drinking to excess is a choice.
  • Also, if we choose to live badly—a licentious life, as Aristotle calls it—we suffer from our "loose" behavior.
  • That's ignorance, but it's something we should have taken care of and didn't.
  • The same is true of an unjust person. If he behaves unjustly through ignorance, it's his fault because he does so voluntarily.
  • When he has the choice to act with justice, he simply doesn't.
  • Not only are we responsible for vices of the soul, we're to be held accountable for vices of the body.
  • If we are disfigured in some way because we neglect ourselves, then it's our fault.
  • Aristotle reiterates that things appear to people according to their moral stature. If you're a right-thinking, moral person, you'll see things as they really are.
  • As a result, you'll make good choices, since you aren't being seduced by ephemeral things, like pleasure.
  • But if you're "base" you won't see things as they truly are. It'll be easy for you to make poor choices because you're chasing all the wrong things.
  • He challenges the idea that only people who are born with a true vision of the good and noble can make the right decisions or grasp what is truly good.
  • If this were true, how could anyone ever be virtuous?
  • Aristotle wants us to see that both virtues and vices are voluntary, since both have origins in ourselves.
  • He also says that even if we want to argue that being able to perceive the good properly is an in-born gift (rather than something taught), we still choose to act as we do.
  • The origins of these actions lie within our choice—therefore, they're voluntary.
  • To recap on virtues: 1) they're a means to an end; 2) they're characteristics that a person might have; 3) they're actions which help make us virtuous; 4) they're a voluntary choice of reason.
  • Characteristics may be voluntary or involuntary: we choose to set them in motion, but then they grow of their own accord.

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