Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 7, Chapter 2 (1145b22-1146b7)

By Aristotle

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Book 7, Chapter 2 (1145b22-1146b7)

  • Aristotle begins with "perplexities" about self-restraint. For instance, can a learned person lack self-restraint? To Aristotle, this seems impossible.
  • Socrates didn't even believe in lack of self-restraint as a thing, since he felt that no one would reasonably act against his own best interests.
  • But Aristotle says that we do this kind of thing all the time—and we need an explanation for this.
  • Some say that a person who gives in to wicked desires isn't a person of strong conviction. They have morals, but can't stick to them. Aristotle thinks these guys should be pitied.
  • But really corrupt people can't be pitied for lack of self-restraint.
  • More perplexities follow about how we resist wicked desires. Does prudence help us? Surely prudence can't come within a mile of a person without self-restraint...
  • Also, there's this: only a person who has wicked desires in the first place can actually have self-restraint (otherwise, he wouldn't need it).
  • Should we praise such a person when they resist as they should? It seems that moderation deserves the kudos, since the moderate person doesn't even have base desires in the first place.
  • Self-restraint can also be bad if it leads us to conform to opinion unquestioningly—especially if the opinion is a bad one.
  • This might be something that's culturally acceptable, but not morally.
  • On the other side, a lack of self-restraint might allow a person to disregard bad opinion and make better choices. (Think of whistleblowers and rebels who advocate for social change.)
  • Aristotle continues to add other perplexities concerning self-restraint from other philosophies.
  • A person who behaves badly at the suggestion of others is less bad than one who lacks self-restraint. After all, he can be persuaded to behave himself better, too.
  • One last question: can we lack self-restraint generally, or only toward specific things?

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