Study Guide

The Nicomachean Ethics Book 7, Chapter 3 (1146b8-1148b14)

By Aristotle

Book 7, Chapter 3 (1146b8-1148b14)

  • What level of awareness do those who act without self-restraint have? Do they make a conscious decision to act this way?
  • Other talking points for this chapter: are the steadfast and self-restrained the same person? Does self-restraint apply to all pleasures…or just to certain ones?
  • Aristotle says that a person lacking self-restraint generally meddles in the same things that a licentious person does (i.e. bodily pleasures).
  • But unlike the licentious person, the person lacking self-restraint (let's call this "LSR") chooses pleasure even though he thinks he shouldn't be chasing it.
  • It comes down to being a "knower." It is possible that a person LSR has the right learning to know that what he's doing is wrong, but he's simply ignoring it.
  • Sometimes, a person LSR does have knowledge and does have this actively in mind but still behaves in a way he shouldn't.
  • Aristotle calls this "a terrible thing."
  • There is also the difficulty of the universal and the particular. Perhaps a person LSR has general knowledge but fails to apply it correctly to the particular situation.
  • Aristotle says that humans also "have" knowledge in different ways.
  • So while we might possess understanding, all bets are off when we are in an altered state: drunk, asleep, insane.
  • He displays a pretty shocking depth of understanding about how changes in our mind can affect our bodies (i.e. how passions can bring about madness/irrational behavior).
  • Aristotle likens people LSR to those whose minds/bodies are in this altered state. They might still be able to display knowledge but not fully understand the implications of it.
  • Even our reason and knowledge can be placed in the service of a lack of self-restraint.
  • We may know that too many doughnuts are bad for us, but we may also have a competing opinion that says we should always have doughnuts when they're available.
  • If our desire or longing is to indulge ourselves, it agrees with the opinion that indulgence is good and voila: diabetes.
  • But how to make such an "ignorant" person back into a "knower" (someone who grasps the limits in both a universal and particular sense)?
  • It's a poser of a question, because the person LSR has a perception problem: he knows what is good for him, but he can't see how to put that knowledge into action.