Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 5, Chapter 11 (1138a4-1138b15)

By Aristotle

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Book 5, Chapter 11 (1138a4-1138b15)

  • Aristotle introduces more perplexities about doing injustice to yourself.
  • While it's an unjust act to kill yourself in a fit of passion, for instance, the question remains: to whom is the injustice done?
  • Aristotle judges that the injustice is done to the city, since you can't voluntarily do an unjust act to yourself.
  • His proof is that suicide results in a penalty and dishonor comes to the person who kills himself (both, presumably, taken on by the remaining family).
  • Also, unless a person is totally evil, he can't do an injustice to himself.
  • This is because you can't gain from an action that simultaneously deprives you of something so important. Remember that to perpetrate an injustice, you have to take more of the good for yourself.
  • Conclusion: matters of justice require the participation of at least two people.
  • Also, in order to be unjust, an act must be: 1) voluntary; 2) a product of choice; 3) not spurred by external actions.
  • A person who hurts himself is both perpetrator and victim simultaneously.
  • This means that there's no moment of deliberation prior to this that makes him a pre-emptive striker.
  • And anyway, if a person who harms himself commits injustice to himself, it means that he would have suffered injustice voluntarily. That is a no-go for Aristotle.
  • Aristotle takes another tack and says that both doing and suffering an injustice are bad. Of course, doing is worse.
  • He winds the whole discussion up by conceding that there's one way in which we can be unjust to ourselves (after all those mental gymnastics!).
  • It's possible that the two parts of the soul—the rational and non-rational parts—could be at odds with each other.

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