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Nicomachean Ethics   


Now we may ask (1) how a man who judges rightly can behave
incontinently. That he should behave so when he has knowledge, some
say is impossible; for it would be strange-so Socrates thought-if when
knowledge was in a man something else could master it and drag it
about like a slave. For Socrates was entirely opposed to the view in
question, holding that there is no such thing as incontinence; no one,
he said, when he judges acts against what he judges best-people act so
only by reason of ignorance. Now this view plainly contradicts the
observed facts, and we must inquire about what happens to such a man;
if he acts by reason of ignorance, what is the manner of his
ignorance? For that the man who behaves incontinently does not, before
he gets into this state, think he ought to act so, is evident. But
there are some who concede certain of Socrates' contentions but not
others; that nothing is stronger than knowledge they admit, but not
that on one acts contrary to what has seemed to him the better course,
and therefore they say that the incontinent man has not knowledge when
he is mastered by his pleasures, but opinion. But if it is opinion and
not knowledge, if it is not a strong conviction that resists but a
weak one, as in men who hesitate, we sympathize with their failure to
stand by such convictions against strong appetites; but we do not
sympathize with wickedness, nor with any of the other blameworthy
states. Is it then practical wisdom whose resistance is mastered? That
is the strongest of all states. But this is absurd; the same man will
be at once practically wise and incontinent, but no one would say that
it is the part of a practically wise man to do willingly the basest
acts. Besides, it has been shown before that the man of practical
wisdom is one who will act (for he is a man concerned with the
individual facts) and who has the other virtues.
(2) Further, if continence involves having strong and bad appetites,
the temperate man will not be continent nor the continent man
temperate; for a temperate man will have neither excessive nor bad
appetites. But the continent man must; for if the appetites are good,
the state of character that restrains us from following them is bad,
so that not all continence will be good; while if they are weak and
not bad, there is nothing admirable in resisting them, and if they are
weak and bad, there is nothing great in resisting these either.
(3) Further, if continence makes a man ready to stand by any and every
opinion, it is bad, i.e. if it makes him stand even by a false
opinion; and if incontinence makes a man apt to abandon any and every
opinion, there will be a good incontinence, of which Sophocles'
Neoptolemus in the Philoctetes will be an instance; for he is to be
praised for not standing by what Odysseus persuaded him to do, because
he is pained at telling a lie.
(4) Further, the sophistic argument presents a difficulty; the
syllogism arising from men's wish to expose paradoxical results
arising from an opponent's view, in order that they may be admired
when they succeed, is one that puts us in a difficulty (for thought is
bound fast when it will not rest because the conclusion does not
satisfy it, and cannot advance because it cannot refute the argument).
There is an argument from which it follows that folly coupled with
incontinence is virtue; for a man does the opposite of what he judges,
owing to incontinence, but judges what is good to be evil and
something that he should not do, and consequence he will do what is
good and not what is evil.
(5) Further, he who on conviction does and pursues and chooses what is
pleasant would be thought to be better than one who does so as a
result not of calculation but of incontinence; for he is easier to
cure since he may be persuaded to change his mind. But to the
incontinent man may be applied the proverb 'when water chokes, what is
one to wash it down with?' If he had been persuaded of the rightness
of what he does, he would have desisted when he was persuaded to
change his mind; but now he acts in spite of his being persuaded of
something quite different.
(6) Further, if incontinence and continence are concerned with any and

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