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Nicomachean Ethics   


that arises from the absoluteness of the statement. And this is the
nature of the equitable, a correction of law where it is defective
owing to its universality. In fact this is the reason why all things
are not determined by law, that about some things it is impossible to
lay down a law, so that a decree is needed. For when the thing is
indefinite the rule also is indefinite, like the leaden rule used in
making the Lesbian moulding; the rule adapts itself to the shape of
the stone and is not rigid, and so too the decree is adapted to the
facts.
It is plain, then, what the equitable is, and that it is just and is
better than one kind of justice. It is evident also from this who the
equitable man is; the man who chooses and does such acts, and is no
stickler for his rights in a bad sense but tends to take less than his
share though he has the law oft his side, is equitable, and this state
of character is equity, which is a sort of justice and not a different
state of character.
11
Whether a man can treat himself unjustly or not, is evident from what
has been said. For (a) one class of just acts are those acts in
accordance with any virtue which are prescribed by the law; e.g. the
law does not expressly permit suicide, and what it does not expressly
permit it forbids. Again, when a man in violation of the law harms
another (otherwise than in retaliation) voluntarily, he acts unjustly,
and a voluntary agent is one who knows both the person he is affecting
by his action and the instrument he is using; and he who through anger
voluntarily stabs himself does this contrary to the right rule of
life, and this the law does not allow; therefore he is acting
unjustly. But towards whom? Surely towards the state, not towards
himself. For he suffers voluntarily, but no one is voluntarily treated
unjustly. This is also the reason why the state punishes; a certain
loss of civil rights attaches to the man who destroys himself, on the
ground that he is treating the state unjustly.
Further (b) in that sense of 'acting unjustly' in which the man who
'acts unjustly' is unjust only and not bad all round, it is not
possible to treat oneself unjustly (this is different from the former
sense; the unjust man in one sense of the term is wicked in a
particularized way just as the coward is, not in the sense of being
wicked all round, so that his 'unjust act' does not manifest
wickedness in general). For (i) that would imply the possibility of
the same thing's having been subtracted from and added to the same
thing at the same time; but this is impossible-the just and the unjust
always involve more than one person. Further, (ii) unjust action is
voluntary and done by choice, and takes the initiative (for the man
who because he has suffered does the same in return is not thought to
act unjustly); but if a man harms himself he suffers and does the same
things at the same time. Further, (iii) if a man could treat himself
unjustly, he could be voluntarily treated unjustly. Besides, (iv) no
one acts unjustly without committing particular acts of injustice; but
no one can commit adultery with his own wife or housebreaking on his
own house or theft on his own property,
In general, the question 'can a man treat himself unjustly?' is solved
also by the distinction we applied to the question 'can a man be
voluntarily treated unjustly?'
(It is evident too that both are bad, being unjustly treated and
acting unjustly; for the one means having less and the other having
more than the intermediate amount, which plays the part here that the
healthy does in the medical art, and that good condition does in the
art of bodily training. But still acting unjustly is the worse, for it
involves vice and is blameworthy-involves vice which is either of the
complete and unqualified kind or almost so (we must admit the latter
alternative, because not all voluntary unjust action implies injustice
as a state of character), while being unjustly treated does not
involve vice and injustice in oneself. In itself, then, being unjustly
treated is less bad, but there is nothing to prevent its being

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