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Nicomachean Ethics   


Acting by reason of ignorance seems also to be different from acting
in ignorance; for the man who is drunk or in a rage is thought to act
as a result not of ignorance but of one of the causes mentioned, yet
not knowingly but in ignorance.
Now every wicked man is ignorant of what he ought to do and what he
ought to abstain from, and it is by reason of error of this kind that
men become unjust and in general bad; but the term 'involuntary' tends
to be used not if a man is ignorant of what is to his advantage- for
it is not mistaken purpose that causes involuntary action (it leads
rather to wickedness), nor ignorance of the universal (for that men
are blamed), but ignorance of particulars, i.e. of the circumstances
of the action and the objects with which it is concerned. For it is on
these that both pity and pardon depend, since the person who is
ignorant of any of these acts involuntarily.
Perhaps it is just as well, therefore, to determine their nature and
number. A man may be ignorant, then, of who he is, what he is doing,
what or whom he is acting on, and sometimes also what (e.g. what
instrument) he is doing it with, and to what end (e.g. he may think
his act will conduce to some one's safety), and how he is doing it
(e.g. whether gently or violently). Now of all of these no one could
be ignorant unless he were mad, and evidently also he could not be
ignorant of the agent; for how could he not know himself? But of what
he is doing a man might be ignorant, as for instance people say 'it
slipped out of their mouths as they were speaking', or 'they did not
know it was a secret', as Aeschylus said of the mysteries, or a man
might say he 'let it go off when he merely wanted to show its
working', as the man did with the catapult. Again, one might think
one's son was an enemy, as Merope did, or that a pointed spear had a
button on it, or that a stone was pumicestone; or one might give a man
a draught to save him, and really kill him; or one might want to touch
a man, as people do in sparring, and really wound him. The ignorance
may relate, then, to any of these things, i.e. of the circumstances of
the action, and the man who was ignorant of any of these is thought to
have acted involuntarily, and especially if he was ignorant on the
most important points; and these are thought to be the circumstances
of the action and its end. Further, the doing of an act that is called
involuntary in virtue of ignorance of this sort must be painful and
involve repentance.
Since that which is done under compulsion or by reason of ignorance is
involuntary, the voluntary would seem to be that of which the moving
principle is in the agent himself, he being aware of the particular
circumstances of the action. Presumably acts done by reason of anger
or appetite are not rightly called involuntary. For in the first
place, on that showing none of the other animals will act voluntarily,
nor will children; and secondly, is it meant that we do not do
voluntarily any of the acts that are due to appetite or anger, or that
we do the noble acts voluntarily and the base acts involuntarily? Is
not this absurd, when one and the same thing is the cause? But it
would surely be odd to describe as involuntary the things one ought to
desire; and we ought both to be angry at certain things and to have an
appetite for certain things, e.g. for health and for learning. Also
what is involuntary is thought to be painful, but what is in
accordance with appetite is thought to be pleasant. Again, what is the
difference in respect of involuntariness between errors committed upon
calculation and those committed in anger? Both are to be avoided, but
the irrational passions are thought not less human than reason is, and
therefore also the actions which proceed from anger or appetite are
the man's actions. It would be odd, then, to treat them as
involuntary.
2
Both the voluntary and the involuntary having been delimited, we must
next discuss choice; for it is thought to be most closely bound up
with virtue and to discriminate characters better than actions do.
Choice, then, seems to be voluntary, but not the same thing as the

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