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Nicomachean Ethics   


has studied philosophy; for their worth cannot be measured against
money, and they can get no honour which will balance their services,
but still it is perhaps enough, as it is with the gods and with one's
parents, to give them what one can.
If the gift was not of this sort, but was made with a view to a
return, it is no doubt preferable that the return made should be one
that seems fair to both parties, but if this cannot be achieved, it
would seem not only necessary that the person who gets the first
service should fix the reward, but also just; for if the other gets in
return the equivalent of the advantage the beneficiary has received,
or the price lie would have paid for the pleasure, he will have got
what is fair as from the other.
We see this happening too with things put up for sale, and in some
places there are laws providing that no actions shall arise out of
voluntary contracts, on the assumption that one should settle with a
person to whom one has given credit, in the spirit in which one
bargained with him. The law holds that it is more just that the person
to whom credit was given should fix the terms than that the person who
gave credit should do so. For most things are not assessed at the same
value by those who have them and those who want them; each class
values highly what is its own and what it is offering; yet the return
is made on the terms fixed by the receiver. But no doubt the receiver
should assess a thing not at what it seems worth when he has it, but
at what he assessed it at before he had it.
2
A further problem is set by such questions as, whether one should in
all things give the preference to one's father and obey him, or
whether when one is ill one should trust a doctor, and when one has to
elect a general should elect a man of military skill; and similarly
whether one should render a service by preference to a friend or to a
good man, and should show gratitude to a benefactor or oblige a
friend, if one cannot do both.
All such questions are hard, are they not, to decide with precision?
For they admit of many variations of all sorts in respect both of the
magnitude of the service and of its nobility necessity. But that we
should not give the preference in all things to the same person is
plain enough; and we must for the most part return benefits rather
than oblige friends, as we must pay back a loan to a creditor rather
than make one to a friend. But perhaps even this is not always true;
e.g. should a man who has been ransomed out of the hands of brigands
ransom his ransomer in return, whoever he may be (or pay him if he has
not been captured but demands payment) or should he ransom his father?
It would seem that he should ransom his father in preference even to
himself. As we have said, then, generally the debt should be paid, but
if the gift is exceedingly noble or exceedingly necessary, one should
defer to these considerations. For sometimes it is not even fair to
return the equivalent of what one has received, when the one man has
done a service to one whom he knows to be good, while the other makes
a return to one whom he believes to be bad. For that matter, one
should sometimes not lend in return to one who has lent to oneself;
for the one person lent to a good man, expecting to recover his loan,
while the other has no hope of recovering from one who is believed to
be bad. Therefore if the facts really are so, the demand is not fair;
and if they are not, but people think they are, they would be held to
be doing nothing strange in refusing. As we have often pointed out,
then, discussions about feelings and actions have just as much
definiteness as their subject-matter.
That we should not make the same return to every one, nor give a
father the preference in everything, as one does not sacrifice
everything to Zeus, is plain enough; but since we ought to render
different things to parents, brothers, comrades, and benefactors, we
ought to render to each class what is appropriate and becoming. And
this is what people seem in fact to do; to marriages they invite their
kinsfolk; for these have a part in the family and therefore in the

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