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Nicomachean Ethics   


element in the soul is irrational and one has a rational principle.
Whether these are separated as the parts of the body or of anything
divisible are, or are distinct by definition but by nature
inseparable, like convex and concave in the circumference of a circle,
does not affect the present question.
Of the irrational element one division seems to be widely distributed,
and vegetative in its nature, I mean that which causes nutrition and
growth; for it is this kind of power of the soul that one must assign
to all nurslings and to embryos, and this same power to fullgrown
creatures; this is more reasonable than to assign some different power
to them. Now the excellence of this seems to be common to all species
and not specifically human; for this part or faculty seems to function
most in sleep, while goodness and badness are least manifest in sleep
(whence comes the saying that the happy are not better off than the
wretched for half their lives; and this happens naturally enough,
since sleep is an inactivity of the soul in that respect in which it
is called good or bad), unless perhaps to a small extent some of the
movements actually penetrate to the soul, and in this respect the
dreams of good men are better than those of ordinary people. Enough of
this subject, however; let us leave the nutritive faculty alone, since
it has by its nature no share in human excellence.
There seems to be also another irrational element in the soul-one
which in a sense, however, shares in a rational principle. For we
praise the rational principle of the continent man and of the
incontinent, and the part of their soul that has such a principle,
since it urges them aright and towards the best objects; but there is
found in them also another element naturally opposed to the rational
principle, which fights against and resists that principle. For
exactly as paralysed limbs when we intend to move them to the right
turn on the contrary to the left, so is it with the soul; the impulses
of incontinent people move in contrary directions. But while in the
body we see that which moves astray, in the soul we do not. No doubt,
however, we must none the less suppose that in the soul too there is
something contrary to the rational principle, resisting and opposing
it. In what sense it is distinct from the other elements does not
concern us. Now even this seems to have a share in a rational
principle, as we said; at any rate in the continent man it obeys the
rational principle and presumably in the temperate and brave man it is
still more obedient; for in him it speaks, on all matters, with the
same voice as the rational principle.
Therefore the irrational element also appears to be two-fold. For the
vegetative element in no way shares in a rational principle, but the
appetitive and in general the desiring element in a sense shares in
it, in so far as it listens to and obeys it; this is the sense in
which we speak of 'taking account' of one's father or one's friends,
not that in which we speak of 'accounting for a mathematical property.
That the irrational element is in some sense persuaded by a rational
principle is indicated also by the giving of advice and by all reproof
and exhortation. And if this element also must be said to have a
rational principle, that which has a rational principle (as well as
that which has not) will be twofold, one subdivision having it in the
strict sense and in itself, and the other having a tendency to obey as
one does one's father.
Virtue too is distinguished into kinds in accordance with this
difference; for we say that some of the virtues are intellectual and
others moral, philosophic wisdom and understanding and practical
wisdom being intellectual, liberality and temperance moral. For in
speaking about a man's character we do not say that he is wise or has
understanding but that he is good-tempered or temperate; yet we praise
the wise man also with respect to his state of mind; and of states of
mind we call those which merit praise virtues.
Nicomachean Ethics
By Aristotle
Written 350 B.C.E 1

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