Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 5, Chapter 8 (1135a17-1136a9)

By Aristotle

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Book 5, Chapter 8 (1135a17-1136a9)

  • A person can only do an unjust or just act if they do so voluntarily.
  • If you do an unjust act involuntarily (check out Aristotle's definition of this), you might be blamed—but not considered 100% unjust.
  • A quick recap of involuntary action: 1) when a person acts in ignorance; 2) when the action is not his choice; 3) when the action is forced.
  • There are also incidental actions—things we do not intend to be just or unjust, but they end up being so.
  • Aristotle says that what is voluntary is something deliberated on beforehand.
  • He includes as involuntary the things we do in ignorance and under ignorance.
  • These are three: 1) when a person doesn't realize that he'll cause harm or use a harmful instrument; 2) when the action isn't aimed at a particular person; 3) the "end" is unexpected.
  • If in any of these cases, the person involuntarily acts unjustly and causes harm—it isn't what he intended. This can only be called error.
  • If there's pre-meditation (i.e. deliberation), then the act is properly unjust. And if we harm someone intentionally but without deliberation, it's still unjust.
  • But if these acts of injustice don't come about because of wickedness and conscious choice, the doer is not an unjust person.
  • Aristotle says that in matters of judgment, it's not the result that we dispute. If there's a body lying on the ground in a pool of blood, we pretty much know that we've got a violent death.
  • The real thing at issue is who is at fault. What is the just action that will set things right?
  • When a person harms by choice, he behaves unjustly. And when that person seeks to gain more of anything through an unjust act, he actually becomes unjust.
  • On the other side of the spectrum, a person may be called just if he performs just acts voluntarily.
  • Aristotle addresses forgiveness as well. We can forgive involuntary things (or not).
  • If they are done without understanding, they might be forgiven. If done in a "passion," they might not be forgiven.

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