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Nicomachean Ethics   


has been laid down is not indifferent, e.g. that a prisoner's ransom
shall be a mina, or that a goat and not two sheep shall be sacrificed,
and again all the laws that are passed for particular cases, e.g. that
sacrifice shall be made in honour of Brasidas, and the provisions of
decrees. Now some think that all justice is of this sort, because that
which is by nature is unchangeable and has everywhere the same force
(as fire burns both here and in Persia), while they see change in the
things recognized as just. This, however, is not true in this
unqualified way, but is true in a sense; or rather, with the gods it
is perhaps not true at all, while with us there is something that is
just even by nature, yet all of it is changeable; but still some is by
nature, some not by nature. It is evident which sort of thing, among
things capable of being otherwise, is by nature, and which is not but
is legal and conventional, assuming that both are equally changeable.
And in all other things the same distinction will apply; by nature the
right hand is stronger, yet it is possible that all men should come to
be ambidextrous. The things which are just by virtue of convention and
expediency are like measures; for wine and corn measures are not
everywhere equal, but larger in wholesale and smaller in retail
markets. Similarly, the things which are just not by nature but by
human enactment are not everywhere the same, since constitutions also
are not the same, though there is but one which is everywhere by
nature the best. Of things just and lawful each is related as the
universal to its particulars; for the things that are done are many,
but of them each is one, since it is universal.
There is a difference between the act of injustice and what is unjust,
and between the act of justice and what is just; for a thing is unjust
by nature or by enactment; and this very thing, when it has been done,
is an act of injustice, but before it is done is not yet that but is
unjust. So, too, with an act of justice (though the general term is
rather 'just action', and 'act of justice' is applied to the
correction of the act of injustice).
Each of these must later be examined separately with regard to the
nature and number of its species and the nature of the things with
which it is concerned.
8
Acts just and unjust being as we have described them, a man acts
unjustly or justly whenever he does such acts voluntarily; when
involuntarily, he acts neither unjustly nor justly except in an
incidental way; for he does things which happen to be just or unjust.
Whether an act is or is not one of injustice (or of justice) is
determined by its voluntariness or involuntariness; for when it is
voluntary it is blamed, and at the same time is then an act of
injustice; so that there will be things that are unjust but not yet
acts of injustice, if voluntariness be not present as well. By the
voluntary I mean, as has been said before, any of the things in a
man's own power which he does with knowledge, i.e. not in ignorance
either of the person acted on or of the instrument used or of the end
that will be attained (e.g. whom he is striking, with what, and to
what end), each such act being done not incidentally nor under
compulsion (e.g. if A takes B's hand and therewith strikes C, B does
not act voluntarily; for the act was not in his own power). The person
struck may be the striker's father, and the striker may know that it
is a man or one of the persons present, but not know that it is his
father; a similar distinction may be made in the case of the end, and
with regard to the whole action. Therefore that which is done in
ignorance, or though not done in ignorance is not in the agent's
power, or is done under compulsion, is involuntary (for many natural
processes, even, we knowingly both perform and experience, none of
which is either voluntary or involuntary; e.g. growing old or dying).
But in the case of unjust and just acts alike the injustice or justice
may be only incidental; for a man might return a deposit unwillingly
and from fear, and then he must not be said either to do what is just
or to act justly, except in an incidental way. Similarly the man who

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