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Nicomachean Ethics   


that is formed by a slight variation from the word ethos (habit). From
this it is also plain that none of the moral virtues arises in us by
nature; for nothing that exists by nature can form a habit contrary to
its nature. For instance the stone which by nature moves downwards
cannot be habituated to move upwards, not even if one tries to train
it by throwing it up ten thousand times; nor can fire be habituated to
move downwards, nor can anything else that by nature behaves in one
way be trained to behave in another. Neither by nature, then, nor
contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted
by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit.
Again, of all the things that come to us by nature we first acquire
the potentiality and later exhibit the activity (this is plain in the
case of the senses; for it was not by often seeing or often hearing
that we got these senses, but on the contrary we had them before we
used them, and did not come to have them by using them); but the
virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case
of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do
them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and
lyreplayers by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just
acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.
This is confirmed by what happens in states; for legislators make the
citizens good by forming habits in them, and this is the wish of every
legislator, and those who do not effect it miss their mark, and it is
in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one.
Again, it is from the same causes and by the same means that every
virtue is both produced and destroyed, and similarly every art; for it
is from playing the lyre that both good and bad lyre-players are
produced. And the corresponding statement is true of builders and of
all the rest; men will be good or bad builders as a result of building
well or badly. For if this were not so, there would have been no need
of a teacher, but all men would have been born good or bad at their
craft. This, then, is the case with the virtues also; by doing the
acts that we do in our transactions with other men we become just or
unjust, and by doing the acts that we do in the presence of danger,
and being habituated to feel fear or confidence, we become brave or
cowardly. The same is true of appetites and feelings of anger; some
men become temperate and good-tempered, others self-indulgent and
irascible, by behaving in one way or the other in the appropriate
circumstances. Thus, in one word, states of character arise out of
like activities. This is why the activities we exhibit must be of a
certain kind; it is because the states of character correspond to the
differences between these. It makes no small difference, then, whether
we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes
a very great difference, or rather all the difference.
2
Since, then, the present inquiry does not aim at theoretical knowledge
like the others (for we are inquiring not in order to know what virtue
is, but in order to become good, since otherwise our inquiry would
have been of no use), we must examine the nature of actions, namely
how we ought to do them; for these determine also the nature of the
states of character that are produced, as we have said. Now, that we
must act according to the right rule is a common principle and must be
assumed-it will be discussed later, i.e. both what the right rule is,
and how it is related to the other virtues. But this must be agreed
upon beforehand, that the whole account of matters of conduct must be
given in outline and not precisely, as we said at the very beginning
that the accounts we demand must be in accordance with the
subject-matter; matters concerned with conduct and questions of what
is good for us have no fixity, any more than matters of health. The
general account being of this nature, the account of particular cases
is yet more lacking in exactness; for they do not fall under any art
or precept but the agents themselves must in each case consider what
is appropriate to the occasion, as happens also in the art of medicine
or of navigation.

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