Book III

The Will


Virtue, as we have seen, has to do with feelings and actions. Now, praise33 or blame is given only to what is voluntary; that which is involuntary receives pardon, and sometimes even pity.

It seems, therefore, that a clear distinction between the voluntary and the involuntary is necessary for those who are investigating the nature of virtue, and will also help legislators in assigning rewards and punishments.

That is generally held to be involuntary which is done under compulsion or through ignorance.

“Done under compulsion” means that the cause is external, the agent or patient contributing nothing towards it; as, for instance, if he were carried somewhere by a whirlwind or by men whom he could not resist.

But there is some question about acts done in order to avoid a greater evil, or to obtain some noble end; e.g. if a tyrant were to order you to do something disgraceful, having your parents or children in his power, who were to live if you did it, but to die if you did not⁠—it is a matter of dispute whether such acts are involuntary or voluntary.

Throwing a cargo overboard in a storm is a somewhat analogous case. No one voluntarily throws away his property if nothing is to come of it,34 but any sensible person would do so to save the life of himself and the crew.

Acts of this kind, then, are of a mixed nature, but they more nearly resemble voluntary acts. For they are desired or chosen at the time when they are done, and the end or motive of an act is that which is in view at the time. In applying the terms voluntary and involuntary, therefore, we must consider the state of the agent’s mind at the time. Now, he wills the act at the time; for the cause which sets the limbs going lies in the agent in such cases and where the cause lies in the agent, it rests with him to do or not to do.

Such acts, then, are voluntary, though in themselves [or apart from these qualifying circumstances] we may allow them to be involuntary; for no one would choose anything of this kind on its own account.

And, in fact, for actions of this sort men are sometimes praised,35 e.g. when they endure something disgraceful or painful in order to secure some great and noble result, but in the contrary case they are blamed; for no worthy person would endure the extremity of disgrace when there was no noble result in view, or but a trifling one.

But in some cases we do not praise, but pardon, i.e. when a man is induced to do a wrong act by pressure which is too strong for human nature and which no one could bear. Though there are some cases of this kind, I think, where the plea of compulsion is inadmissible,36 and where, rather than do the act, a man ought to suffer death in its most painful form; for instance, the circumstances which “compelled” Alcmaeon in Euripides37 to kill his mother seem absurd.

It is sometimes hard to decide whether we ought to do this deed to avoid this evil, or whether we ought to endure this evil rather than do this deed; but it is still harder to abide by our decisions: for generally the evil which we wish to avoid is something painful, the deed we are pressed to do is something disgraceful; and hence we are blamed or praised according as we do or do not suffer ourselves to be compelled.

What kinds of acts, then, are to be called compulsory?

I think our answer must be that, in the first place, when the cause lies outside and the agent has no part in it, the act is called, without qualification, “compulsory” [and therefore involuntary]; but that, in the second place, when an act that would not be voluntarily done for its own sake is chosen now in preference to this given alternative, the cause lying in the agent, such an act must be called “involuntary in itself,” or “in the abstract,” but “now, and in preference to this alternative, voluntary,” But an act of the latter kind is rather of the nature of a voluntary act: for acts fall within the sphere of particulars; and here the particular thing that is done is voluntary.

It is scarcely possible, however, to lay down rules for determining which of two alternatives is to be preferred; for there are many differences in the particular cases.

It might, perhaps, be urged that acts whose motive is something pleasant or something noble are compulsory, for here we are constrained by something outside us.

But if this were so,38 all our acts would be compulsory; for these are the motives of every act of every man.39

Again, acting under compulsion and against one’s will is painful, but action whose motive is something pleasant or noble involves pleasure.40 It is absurd, then, to blame things outside us instead of our own readiness to yield to their allurements, and, while we claim our noble acts as our own, to set down our disgraceful actions to “pleasant things outside us.”

Compulsory, then, it appears, is that of which the cause is external, the person compelled contributing nothing thereto.

What is done through ignorance is always “not-voluntary,” but is “involuntary”41 when the agent is pained afterwards and sorry when he finds what he has done.42 For when a man, who has done something through ignorance, is not vexed at what he has done, you cannot indeed say that he did it voluntarily, as he did not know what he was doing, but neither can you say that he did it involuntarily or unwillingly, since he is not sorry.

A man who has acted through ignorance, then, if he is sorry afterwards, is held to have done the deed involuntarily or unwillingly; if he is not sorry afterwards we may say (to mark the distinction) he did the deed “not-voluntarily;” for, as the case is different, it is better to have a distinct name.

Acting through ignorance, however, seems to be different from acting in ignorance. For instance, when a man is drunk or in a rage he is not thought to act through ignorance, but through intoxication or rage, and yet not knowingly, but in ignorance.

Every vicious man, indeed, is ignorant of43 what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, and it is this kind of error that makes men unjust and bad generally. But the term “involuntary” is not properly applied to cases in which a man is ignorant of what is fitting.44 The ignorance that makes an act involuntary is not this ignorance of the principles which should determine preference (this constitutes vice)⁠—not, I say, this ignorance of the universal (for we blame a man for this), but ignorance of the particulars, of the persons and things affected by the act. These are the grounds of pity and pardon; for he who is ignorant of any of these particulars acts involuntarily.

It may be as well, then, to specify what these particulars are, and how many. They are⁠—first, the doer; secondly, the deed; and, thirdly, the object or person affected by it; sometimes also that wherewith (e.g. the instrument with which) it is done, and that for the sake of which it is done (e.g. for protection), and the way in which it is done (e.g. gently or violently).

Now, a man cannot (unless he be mad) be ignorant of all these particulars; for instance, he evidently cannot be ignorant of the doer: for how can he not know himself?

But a man may be ignorant of what he is doing; e.g. a man who has said something will sometimes plead that the words escaped him unawares, or that he did not know that the subject was forbidden (as Aeschylus pleaded in the case of the Mysteries); or a man might plead that when he discharged the weapon he only intended to show the working of it, as the prisoner did in the catapult case. Again, a man might mistake his son for an enemy, as Merope does,45 or a sharp spear for one with a button, or a heavy stone for a pumice-stone. Again, one might kill a man with a drug intended to save him, or hit him hard when one wished merely to touch him (as boxers do when they spar with open hands).

Ignorance, then, being possible with regard to all these circumstances, he who is ignorant of any of them is held to have acted involuntarily, and especially when he is ignorant of the most important particulars: and the most important seem to be the persons affected and the result.46

Besides this, however, the agent must be grieved and sorry for what he has done, if the act thus ignorantly committed is to be called involuntary [not merely not-voluntary].

But now, having found that an act is involuntary when done under compulsion or through ignorance, we may conclude that a voluntary act is one which is originated by the doer with knowledge of the particular circumstances of the act.

For I venture to think that it is incorrect to say that acts done through anger or desire are involuntary.

In the first place, if this be so we can no longer allow that any of the other animals act voluntarily, nor even children.

Again, does the saying mean that none of the acts which we do through desire or anger are voluntary, or that the noble ones are voluntary and the disgraceful ones involuntary? Interpreted in the latter sense, it is surely ridiculous, as the cause of both is the same. If we take the former interpretation, it is absurd, I think, to say that we ought to desire a thing, and also to say that its pursuit is involuntary; but, in fact, there are things at which we ought to be angry, and things which we ought to desire, e.g. health and learning.

Again, it seems that what is done unwillingly is painful, while what is done through desire is pleasant.

Again, what difference is there, in respect of involuntariness, between wrong deeds done upon calculation and wrong deeds done in anger? Both alike are to be avoided, but the unreasoning passions of feelings seem to belong to the man just as much as does the reason, so that the acts that are done under the impulse of anger or desire are also the man’s acts.47 To make such actions involuntary, therefore, would be too absurd.


Now that we have distinguished voluntary from involuntary acts, our next task is to discuss choice or purpose. For it seems to be most intimately connected with virtue, and to be a surer test of character than action itself.

It seems that choosing is willing, but that the two terms are not identical, willing being the wider. For children and other animals have will, but not choice or purpose; and acts done upon the spur of the moment are said to be voluntary, but not to be done with deliberate purpose.

Those who say that choice is appetite, or anger, or wish, or an opinion of some sort, do not seem to give a correct account of it.

In the first place, choice is not shared by irrational creatures, but appetite and anger are.

Again, the incontinent man acts from appetite and not from choice or purpose, the continent man from purpose and not from appetite.

Again, appetite may be contrary to purpose, but one appetite can not be contrary to another appetite.48

Again, the object of appetite [or aversion] is the pleasant or the painful, but the object of purpose [as such] is neither painful nor pleasant.

Still less can purpose be anger (θυμός); for acts done in anger seem to be least of all done of purpose or deliberate choice.

Nor yet is it wish, though it seem very like; for we cannot purpose or deliberately choose the impossible, and a man who should say that he did would be thought a fool; but we may wish for the impossible, e.g. to escape death.

Again, while we may wish what never could be effected by our own agency (e.g. the success of a particular actor or athlete), we never purpose or deliberately choose such things, but only those that we think may be effected by our own agency.

Again, we are more properly said to wish the end, to choose the means; e.g. we wish to be healthy, but we choose what will make us healthy: we wish to be happy, and confess the wish, but it would not be correct to say we purpose or deliberately choose to be happy; for we may say roundly that purpose or choice deals with what is in our power.

Nor can it be opinion; for, in the first place, anything may be matter of opinion⁠—what is unalterable and impossible no less than what is in our power; and, in the second place, we distinguish opinion according as it is true or false, not according as it as good or bad, as we do with purpose or choice.

We may say, then, that purpose is not the same as opinion in general; nor, indeed, does anyone maintain this.

But, further, it is not identical with a particular kind of opinion. For our choice of good or evil makes us morally good or bad, holding certain opinions does not.

Again, we choose to take or to avoid a good or evil thing; we opine what its nature is, or what it is good for, or in what way; but we cannot opine to take or to avoid.

Again, we commend a purpose for its rightness or correctness, an opinion for its truth.

Again, we choose a thing when we know well that it is good; we may have an opinion about a thing of which we know nothing.

Again, it seems that those who are best at choosing are not always the best at forming opinions, but that some who have an excellent judgment fail, through depravity, to choose what they ought.

It may be said that choice or purpose must be preceded or accompanied by an opinion or judgment; but this makes no difference: our question is not that, but whether they are identical.

What, then, is choice or purpose, since it is none of these?

It seems, as we said, that what is chosen or purposed is willed, but that what is willed is not always chosen or purposed.

The required differentia, I think, is “after previous deliberation.” For choice or purpose implies calculation and reasoning. The name itself, too, seems to indicate this, implying that something is chosen before or in preference to other things.49


Now, as to deliberation, do we deliberate about everything, and may anything whatever be matter for deliberation, or are there some things about which deliberation is impossible?

By “matter for deliberation” we should understand, I think, not what a fool or a maniac, but what a rational being would deliberate about.

Now, no one deliberates about eternal or unalterable things, e.g. the system of the heavenly bodies, or the incommensurability of the side and the diagonal of a square.

Again, no one deliberates about things which change, but always change in the same way (whether the cause of change be necessity, or nature, or any other agency), e.g. the solstices and the sunrise;50 nor about things that are quite irregular, like drought and wet; nor about matters of chance, like the finding of a treasure.

Again, even human affairs are not always matter of deliberation; e.g. what would be the best constitution for Scythia is a question that no Spartan would deliberate about.

The reason why we do not deliberate about these things is that none of them are things that we can ourselves effect.

But the things that we do deliberate about are matters of conduct that are within our control. And these are the only things that remain; for besides nature and necessity and chance, the only remaining cause of change is reason and human agency in general. Though we must add that men severally deliberate about what they can themselves do.

A further limitation is that where there is exact and absolute knowledge, there is no room for deliberation; e.g. writing: for there is no doubt how the letters should be formed.

We deliberate, then, about things that are brought about by our own agency, but not always in the same way; e.g. about medicine and moneymaking, and about navigation more than about gymnastic, inasmuch as it is not yet reduced to so perfect a system, and so on; but more about matters of art than matters of science, as there is more doubt about them.

Matters of deliberation, then, are matters in which there are rules that generally hold good, but in which the result cannot be predicted, i.e. in which there is an element of uncertainty. In important matters we call in advisers, distrusting our own powers of judgment.

It is not about ends, but about means that we deliberate. A physician does not deliberate whether he shall heal, nor an orator whether he shall persuade, nor a statesman whether he shall make a good system of laws, nor a man in any other profession about his end; but, having the proposed end in view, we consider how and by what means this end can be attained; and if it appear that it can be attained by various means, we further consider which is the easiest and best; but if it can only be attained by one means, we consider how it is to be attained by this means, and how this means itself is to be secured, and so on, until we come to the first link in the chain of causes, which is last in the order of discovery.

For in deliberation we seem to inquire and to analyze in the way described, just as we analyze a geometrical figure in order to learn how to construct it51 (and though inquiry is not always deliberation⁠—mathematical inquiry, for instance, is not⁠—deliberation is always inquiry); that which is last in the analysis coming first in the order of construction.

If we come upon something impossible, we give up the plan; e.g. if it needs money, and money cannot be got: but if it appear possible, we set to work. By possible I mean something that can be done by us; and what can be done by our friends can in a manner be done by us; for it is we who set our friends to work.

Sometimes we have to find out instruments, sometimes how to use them; and so on with the rest: sometimes we have to find out what agency will produce the desired effect, sometimes how or through whom this agency is to be set at work.

It appears, then, that a man, as we have already said, originates his acts; but that he deliberates about that which he can do himself, and that what he does is done for the sake of something else.52 For he cannot deliberate about the end, but about the means to the end; nor, again, can he deliberate about particular facts, e.g. whether this be a loaf, or whether it be properly baked: these are matters of immediate perception. And if he goes on deliberating forever he will never come to a conclusion.

But the object of deliberation and the object of choice or purpose are the same, except that the latter is already fixed and determined; when we say, “this is chosen” or “purposed,” we mean that it has been selected after deliberation. For we always stop in our inquiry how to do a thing when we have traced back the chain of causes to ourselves, and to the commanding part of ourselves; for this is the part that chooses.

This may be illustrated by the ancient constitutions which Homer describes; for there the kings announce to the people what they have chosen.

Since, then, a thing is said to be chosen or purposed when, being in our power, it is desired after deliberation, choice or purpose may be defined as deliberate desire for something in our power; for we first deliberate, and then, having made our decision thereupon, we desire in accordance with deliberation.

Let this stand, then, for an account in outline of choice or purpose, and of what it deals with, viz. means to ends.


Wish, we have already said, is for the end: but whereas some hold that the object of wish is the good others hold that it is what seems good.

Those who maintain that the object of wish53 is the good have to admit that what those wish for who choose wrongly is not object of wish (for if so it would be good; but it may so happen that it was bad); on the other hand, those who maintain that the object of wish is what seems good have to admit that there is nothing which is naturally object of wish, but that each wishes for what seems good to him⁠—different and even contrary things seeming good to different people.

As neither of these alternatives quite satisfies us, perhaps we had better say that the good is the real object of wish (without any qualifying epithet), but that what seems good is object of wish to each man. The good man, then, wishes for the real object of wish; but what the bad man wishes for may be anything whatever; just as, with regard to the body, those who are in good condition find those things healthy that are really healthy, while those who are diseased find other things healthy (and it is just the same with things bitter, sweet, hot, heavy, etc.): for the good or ideal man judges each case correctly, and in each case what is true seems true to him.

For, corresponding to each of our trained faculties, there is a special form of the noble and the pleasant, and perhaps there is nothing so distinctive of the good or ideal man as the power he has of discerning these special forms in each case, being himself, as it were, their standard and measure.

What misleads people seems to be in most cases pleasure; it seems to be a good thing, even when it is not. So they choose what is pleasant as good, and shun pain as evil.


We have seen that, while we wish for the end, we deliberate upon and choose the means thereto.

Actions that are concerned with means, then, will be guided by choice, and so will be voluntary.

But the acts in which the virtues are manifested are concerned with means.54

Therefore virtue depends upon ourselves: and vice likewise. For where it lies with us to do, it lies with us not to do. Where we can say no, we can say yes. If then the doing a deed, which is noble, lies with us, the not doing it, which is disgraceful, lies with us; and if the not doing, which is noble, lies with us, the doing, which is disgraceful, also lies with us. But if the doing and likewise the not doing of noble or base deeds lies with us, and if this is, as we found, identical with being good or bad, then it follows that it lies with us to be worthy or worthless men.

And so the saying

“None would be wicked, none would not be blessed,”

seems partly false and partly true: no one indeed is blessed against his will; but vice is voluntary.

If we deny this, we must dispute the statements made just now, and must contend that man is not the originator and the parent of his actions, as of his children.

But if those statements commend themselves to us, and if we are unable to trace our acts to any other sources than those that depend upon ourselves, then that whose source is within us must itself depend upon us and be voluntary.

This seems to be attested, moreover, by each one of us in private life, and also by the legislators; for they correct and punish those that do evil (except when it is done under compulsion, or through ignorance for which the agent is not responsible), and honour those that do noble deeds, evidently intending to encourage the one sort and discourage the other. But no one encourages us to do that which does not depend on ourselves, and which is not voluntary: it would be useless to be persuaded not to feel heat or pain or hunger and so on, as we should feel them all the same.

I say “ignorance for which the agent is not responsible,” for the ignorance itself is punished by the law, if the agent appear to be responsible for his ignorance, e.g. for an offence committed in a fit of drunkenness the penalty is doubled: for the origin of the offence lies in the man himself; he might have avoided the intoxication, which was the cause of his ignorance. Again, ignorance of any of the ordinances of the law, which a man ought to know and easily can know, does not avert punishment. And so in other cases, where ignorance seems to be the result of negligence, the offender is punished, since it lay with him to remove this ignorance; for he might have taken the requisite trouble.

It may be objected that it was the man’s character not to take the trouble.

We reply that men are themselves responsible for acquiring such a character by a dissolute life, and for being unjust or profligate in consequence of repeated acts of wrong, or of spending their time in drinking and so on. For it is repeated acts of a particular kind that give a man a particular character.

This is shown by the way in which men train themselves for any kind of contest or performance: they practise continually.

Not to know, then, that repeated acts of this or that kind produce a corresponding character or habit, shows an utter want of sense.

Moreover, it is absurd to say that he who acts unjustly does not wish to be unjust, or that he who behaves profligately does not wish to be profligate.

But if a man knowingly does acts which must make him unjust, he will be voluntarily unjust; though it does not follow that, if he wishes it, he can cease to be unjust and be just, any more than he who is sick can, if he wishes it, be whole. And it may be that he is voluntarily sick, through living incontinently and disobeying the doctor. At one time, then, he had the option not to be sick, but he no longer has it now that he has thrown away his health. When you have discharged a stone it is no longer in your power to call it back; but nevertheless the throwing and casting away of that stone rests with you; for the beginning of its flight depended upon you.55

Just so the unjust or the profligate man at the beginning was free not to acquire this character, and therefore he is voluntarily unjust or profligate; but now that he has acquired it, he is no longer free to put it off.

But it is not only our mental or moral vices that are voluntary; bodily vices also are sometimes voluntary, and then are censured. We do not censure natural ugliness, but we do censure that which is due to negligence and want of exercise. And so with weakness, and infirmity: we should never reproach a man who was born blind, or had lost his sight in an illness or by a blow⁠—we should rather pity him; but we should all censure a man who had blinded himself by excessive drinking or any other kind of profligacy.

We see, then, that of the vices of the body it is those that depend on ourselves that are censured, while those that do not depend on ourselves are not censured. And if this be so, then in other fields also those vices that are blamed must depend upon ourselves.

Some people may perhaps object to this.

“All men,” they may say, “desire that which appears good to them, but cannot control this appearance; a man’s character, whatever it be, decides what shall appear to him to be the end.”

If, I answer, each man be in some way responsible for his habits or character, then in some way he must be responsible for this appearance also.

But if this be not the case, then a man is not responsible for, or is not the cause of, his own evil doing, but it is through ignorance of the end that he does evil, fancying that thereby he will secure the greatest good: and the striving towards the true end does not depend on our own choice, but a man must be born with a gift of sight, so to speak, if he is to discriminate rightly and to choose what is really good: and he is truly wellborn who is by nature richly endowed with this gift; for, as it is the greatest and the fairest gift, which we cannot acquire or learn from another, but must keep all our lives just as nature gave it to us, to be well and nobly born in this respect is to be wellborn in the truest and completest sense.

Now, granting this to be true, how will virtue be any more voluntary than vice?

For whether it be nature or anything else that is determines what shall appear to be the end, it is determined in the same way for both alike, for the good man as for the bad, and both alike refer all their acts of whatever kind to it.

And so whether we hold that it is not merely nature that decides what appears to each to be the end (whatever that be), but that the man himself contributes something; or whether we hold that the end is fixed by nature, but that virtue is voluntary, inasmuch as the good man voluntarily takes the steps to that end⁠—in either case vice will be just as voluntary as virtue; for self is active in the bad man just as much as in the good man, in choosing the particular acts at least, if not in determining the end.

If then, as is generally allowed, the virtues are voluntary (for we do, in fact, in some way help to make our character, and, by being of a certain character, give a certain complexion to our idea of the end), the vices also must be voluntary; for all this applies equally to them.

We have thus described in outline the nature of the virtues in general, and have said that they are forms of moderation or modes of observing the mean, and that they are habits or trained faculties, and that they show themselves in the performance of the same acts which produce them, and that they depend on ourselves and are voluntary, and that they follow the guidance of right reason. But our particular acts are not voluntary in the same sense as our habits: for we are masters of our acts from beginning to end when we know the particular circumstances; but we are masters of the beginnings only of our habits or characters, while their growth by gradual steps is imperceptible, like the growth of disease. Inasmuch, however, as it lay with us to employ or not to employ our faculties in this way, the resulting characters are on that account voluntary.

Now let us take up each of the virtues again in turn, and say what it is, and what its subject is, and how it deals with it; and in doing this, we shall at the same time see how many they are. And, first of all, let us take courage.

The Several Moral Virtues and Vices


We have already said that courage is moderation or observance of the mean with respect to feelings of fear and confidence.

Now, fear evidently is excited by fearful things, and these are, roughly speaking, evil things; and so fear is sometimes defined as “expectation of evil.”

Fear, then, is excited by evil of any kind, e.g. by disgrace, poverty, disease, friendlessness, death; but it does not appear that every kind gives scope for courage. There are things which we actually ought to fear, which it is noble to fear and base not to fear, e.g. disgrace. He who fears disgrace is an honourable man, with a due sense of shame, while he who fears it not is shameless (though some people stretch the word courageous so far as to apply it to him; for he has a certain resemblance to the courageous man, courage also being a kind of fearlessness). Poverty, perhaps, we ought not to fear, nor disease, nor generally those things that are not the result of vice, and do not depend upon ourselves. But still to be fearless in regard to these things is not strictly courage; though here also the term is sometimes applied in virtue of a certain resemblance. There are people, for instance, who, though cowardly in the presence of the dangers of war, are yet liberal and bold in the spending of money.

On the other hand, a man is not to be called cowardly for fearing outrage to his children or his wife, or for dreading envy and things of that kind, nor courageous for being unmoved by the prospect of a whipping.

In what kind of terrors, then, does the courageous man display his quality? Surely in the greatest; for no one is more able to endure what is terrible. But of all things the most terrible is death; for death is our limit, and when a man is once dead it seems that there is no longer either good or evil for him.

It would seem, however, that even death does not on all occasions give scope for courage, e.g. death by water or by disease.

On what occasions then? Surely on the noblest occasions: and those are the occasions which occur in war; for they involve the greatest and the noblest danger.

This is confirmed by the honours which courage receives in free states and at the hands of princes.

The term courageous, then, in the strict sense, will be applied to him who fearlessly faces an honourable death and all sudden emergencies which involve death; and such emergencies mostly occur in war.

Of course the courageous man is fearless in the presence of illness also, and at sea, but in a different way from the sailors; for the sailors, because of their experience, are full of hope when the landsmen are already despairing of their lives and filled with aversion at the thought of such a death.

Moreover, the circumstances which especially call out courage are those in which prowess may be displayed, or in which death is noble; but in these forms of death there is neither nobility nor room for prowess.


Fear is not excited in all men by the same things, but yet we commonly speak of fearful things that surpass man’s power to face. Such things, then, inspire fear in every rational man. But the fearful things that a man may face differ in importance and in being more or less fearful (and so with the things that inspire confidence). Now, the courageous man always keeps his presence of mind (so far as a man can). So though he will fear these fearful things, he will endure them as he ought and as reason bids him, for the sake of that which is noble;56 for this is the end or aim of virtue.

But it is possible to fear these things too much or too little, and again to take as fearful what is not really so. And thus men err sometimes by fearing the wrong things, sometimes by fearing in the wrong manner or at the wrong time, and so on.

And all this applies equally to things that inspire confidence.

He, then, that endures and fears what he ought from the right motive, and in the right manner, and at the right time, and similarly feels confidence, is courageous.

For the courageous man regulates both his feeling and his action according to the merits of each case and as reason bids him.

But the end or motive of every manifestation of a habit or exercise of a trained faculty is the end or motive of the habit or trained faculty itself.

Now, to the courageous man courage is essentially a fair or noble thing.

Therefore the end or motive of his courage is also noble; for everything takes its character from its end.

It is from a noble motive, therefore, that the courageous man endures and acts courageously in each particular case.57

Of the characters that run to excess, he that exceeds in fearlessness has no name (and this is often the case, as we have said before); but a man would be either a maniac or quite insensible to pain who should fear nothing, not even earthquakes and breakers, as they say is the case with the Celts.

He that is overconfident in the presence of fearful things is called foolhardy. But the foolhardy man is generally thought to be really a braggart, and to pretend a courage which he has not: at least he wishes to seem what the courageous man really is in the presence of danger; so he imitates him where he can. And so your foolhardy man is generally a coward at bottom: he blusters so long as he can do so safely,58 but turns tail when real danger comes.

He who is over-fearful is a coward; for he fears what he ought not, and as he ought not, etc.

He is also deficient in confidence; but his character rather displays itself in excess of fear in the presence of pain.

The coward is also despondent, for he is frightened at everything. But it is the contrary with the courageous man; for confidence implies hopefulness.

Thus the coward and the foolhardy and the courageous man display their characters in the same circumstances, behaving differently under them: for while the former exceed or fall short, the latter behaves moderately and as he ought; and while the foolhardy are precipitate and eager before danger comes, but fall away in its presence, the courageous are keen in action, but quiet enough beforehand.

Courage then, as we have said, is observance of the mean with regard to things that excite confidence or fear, under the circumstances which we have specified, and chooses its course and sticks to its post because it is noble to do so, or because it is disgraceful not to do so.

But to seek death as a refuge from poverty, or love, or any painful thing, is not the act of a brave man, but of a coward. For it is effeminacy thus to fly from vexation; and in such a case death is accepted not because it is noble, but simply as an escape from evil.


Courage proper, then, is something of this sort.

But besides this there are five other kinds of courage so called.

First, “political courage,” which most resembles true courage.

Citizens seem often to face dangers because of legal pains and penalties on the one hand, and honours on the other. And on this account the people seem to be most courageous in those states where cowards are disgraced and brave men honoured.

This, too, is the kind of courage which inspires Homer’s characters, e.g. Diomede and Hector.

“Polydamas will then reproach me first,”59

says Hector; and so Diomede:

“Hector one day will speak among his folk
And say, ‘The son of Tydeus at my hand’ ”60

This courage is most like that which we described above, because its impulse is a virtuous one, viz. a sense of honour (αἰδώς), and desire for a noble thing (glory), and aversion to reproach, which is disgraceful.

We might, perhaps, put in the same class men who are forced to fight by their officers; but they are inferior, inasmuch as what impels them is not a sense of honour, but fear, and what they shun is not disgrace, but pain. For those in authority compel them in Hector’s fashion⁠—

“Whoso is seen to skulk and shirk the fight
Shall nowise save his carcase from the dogs.”61

And the same thing is done by commanders who order their men to stand, and flog them if they run, or draw them up with a ditch in their rear, and so on: all alike, I mean, employ compulsion.

But a man ought to be courageous, not under compulsion, but because it is noble to be so.

Secondly, experience in this or that matter is sometimes thought to be a sort of courage; and this indeed is the ground of the Socratic notion that courage is knowledge.

This sort of courage is exhibited by various persons in various matters, but notably by regular troops in military affairs; for it seems that in war there are many occasions of groundless alarm, and with these the regulars are better acquainted; so they appear to be courageous, simply because the other troops do not understand the real state of the case.

Again, the regular troops by reason of their experience are more efficient both in attack and defence; for they are skilled in the use of their weapons, and are also furnished with the best kind of arms for both purposes. So they fight with the advantage of armed over unarmed men, or of trained over untrained men; for in athletic contests also it is not the bravest men that can fight best, but those who are strongest and have their bodies in the best order.

But these regular troops turn cowards whenever the danger rises to a certain height and they find themselves inferior in numbers and equipment; then they are the first to fly, while the citizen-troops stand and are cut to pieces, as happened at the temple of Hermes.62 For the citizens deem it base to fly, and hold death preferable to saving their lives on these terms; but the regulars originally met the danger only because they fancied they were stronger, and run away when they learn the truth, fearing death more than disgrace. But that is not what we mean by courageous.

Thirdly, people sometimes include rage within the meaning of the term courage.

Those who in sheer rage turn like wild beasts on those who have wounded them are taken for courageous, because the courageous man also is full of rage; for rage is above all things eager to rush on danger; so we find in Homer, “Put might into his rage,” and “roused his wrath and rage,” and “fierce wrath breathed through his nostrils,” and “his blood boiled.” For all these expressions seem to signify the awakening and the bursting out of rage.

The truly courageous man, then, is moved to act by what is noble, rage helping him: but beasts are moved by pain, i.e. by blows or by fear; for in a wood or a marsh they do not attack man. And so beasts are not courageous, since it is pain and rage that drives them to rush on danger, without foreseeing any of the terrible consequences. If this be courage, then asses must be called courageous when they are hungry; for though you beat them they will not leave off eating. Adulterers also are moved to do many bold deeds by their lust.

Being driven to face danger by pain or rage, then, is not courage proper. However, this kind of courage, whose impulse is rage, seems to be the most natural, and, when deliberate purpose and the right motive are added to it, to become real courage.

Again, anger is a painful state, the act of revenge is pleasant; but those who fight from these motives [i.e. to avoid the pain or gain the pleasure] may fight well, but are not courageous: for they do not act because it is noble to act so, or as reason bids, but are driven by their passions; though they bear some resemblance to the courageous man.

Fourthly, the sanguine man is not properly called courageous: he is confident in danger because he has often won and has defeated many adversaries. The two resemble one another, since both are confident; but whereas the courageous man is confident for the reasons specified above, the sanguine man is confident because he thinks he is superior and will win without receiving a scratch. (People behave in the same sort of way when they get drunk; for then they become sanguine.) But when he finds that this is not the case, he runs away; while it is the character of the courageous man, as we saw, to face that which is terrible to a man even when he sees the danger, because it is noble to do so and base not to do so.

And so (it is thought) it needs greater courage to be fearless and cool in sudden danger than in danger that has been foreseen; for behaviour in the former case must be more directly the outcome of formed character, since it is less dependent on preparation. When we see what is coming we may choose to meet it, as the result of calculation and reasoning, but when it comes upon us suddenly we must choose according to our character.

Fifthly, those who are unaware of their danger sometimes appear to be courageous, and in fact are not very far removed from the sanguine persons we last spoke of, only they are inferior in that they have not necessarily any opinion of themselves, which the sanguine must have. And so while the latter hold their ground for some time, the former, whose courage was due to a false belief, run away the moment they perceive or suspect that the case is different; as the Argives did when they engaged the Spartans under the idea that they were Sicyonians.63

Thus we have described the character of the courageous man, and of those who are taken for courageous.

But there is another point to notice.


Courage is concerned, as we said, with feelings both of confidence and of fear, yet it is not equally concerned with both, but more with occasions of fear: it is the man who is cool and behaves as he ought on such occasions that is called courageous, rather than he who behaves thus on occasions that inspire confidence.

And so, as we said, men are called courageous for enduring painful things.

Courage, therefore, brings pain, and is justly praised; for it is harder to endure what is painful than to abstain from what is pleasant.

I do not, of course, mean to say that the end of courage is not pleasant, but that it seems to be hidden from view by the attendant circumstances, as is the case in gymnastic contests also. Boxers, for instance, have a pleasant end in view, that for which they strive, the crown and the honours; but the blows they receive are grievous to flesh and blood, and painful, and so are all the labours they undergo; and as the latter are many, while the end is small, the pleasantness of the end is hardly apparent.

If, then, the case of courage is analogous, death and wounds will be painful to the courageous man and against his will, but he endures them because it is noble to do so or base not to do so.

And the more he is endowed with every virtue, and the happier he is, the more grievous will death be to him; for life is more worth living to a man of his sort than to anyone else, and he deprives himself knowingly of the very best things; and it is painful to do that. But he is no less courageous because he feels this pain; nay, we may say he is even more courageous, because in spite of it he chooses noble conduct in battle in preference to those good things.

Thus we see that the rule that the exercise of a virtue is pleasant64 does not apply to all the virtues, except in so far as the end is attained.

Still there is, perhaps, no reason why men of this character should not be less efficient as soldiers than those who are not so courageous, but have nothing good to lose; for such men are reckless of risk, and will sell their lives for a small price.

Here let us close our account of courage; it will not be hard to gather an outline of its nature from what we have said.


After courage, let us speak of temperance, for these two seem to be the virtues of the irrational parts of our nature.

We have already said that temperance is moderation or observance of the mean with regard to pleasures (for it is not concerned with pains so much, nor in the same manner); profligacy also manifests itself in the same field.

Let us now determine what kind of pleasures these are.

First, let us accept as established the distinction between the pleasures of the body and the pleasures of the soul, such as the pleasures of gratified ambition or love of learning.

When he who loves honour or learning is delighted by that which he loves, it is not his body that is affected, but his mind. But men are not called either temperate or profligate for their behaviour with regard to these pleasures; nor for their behaviour with regard to any other pleasures that are not of the body. For instance, those who are fond of gossip and of telling stories, and spend their days in trifles, are called babblers, but not profligate; nor do we apply this term to those who are pained beyond measure at the loss of money or friends.

Temperance, then, will be concerned with the pleasures of the body, but not with all of these even: for those who delight in the use of their eyesight, in colours and forms and painting, are not called either temperate or profligate; and yet it would seem that it is possible to take delight in these things too as one ought, and also more or less than one ought.

And so with the sense of hearing: a man is never called profligate for taking an excessive delight in music or in acting, nor temperate for taking a proper delight in them.

Nor are these terms applied to those who delight (unless it be accidentally) in smells. We do not say that those who delight in the smell of fruit or roses or incense are profligate, but rather those who delight in the smell of unguents and savoury dishes; for the profligate delights in these smells because they remind him of the things that he lusts after.

You may, indeed, see other people taking delight in the smell of food when they are hungry; but only a profligate takes delight in such smells [constantly], as he alone is [constantly] lusting after such things.

The lower animals, moreover, do not get pleasure through these senses, except accidentally. It is not the scent of a hare that delights a dog, but the eating of it; only the announcement comes through his sense of smell. The lion rejoices not in the lowing of the ox, but in the devouring of him; but as the lowing announces that the ox is near, the lion appears to delight in the sound itself. So also, it is not seeing a stag or a wild goat that pleases him, but the anticipation of a meal.

Temperance and profligacy, then, have to do with those kinds of pleasure which are common to the lower animals, for which reason they seem to be slavish and brutal; I mean the pleasures of touch and taste.

Taste, however, seems to play but a small part here, or perhaps no part at all. For it is the function of taste to distinguish flavours, as is done by wine-tasters and by those who season dishes; but it is by no means this discrimination of objects that gives delight (to profligates, at any rate), but the actual enjoyment of them, the medium of which is always the sense of touch, alike in the pleasures of eating, of drinking, and of sexual intercourse.

And hence a certain gourmand wished that his throat were longer than a crane’s, thereby implying that his pleasure was derived from the sense of touch.

That sense, then, with which profligacy is concerned is of all senses the commonest or most widespread; and so profligacy would seem to be deservedly of all vices the most censured, inasmuch as it attaches not to our human, but to our animal nature.

To set one’s delight in things of this kind, then, and to love them more than all things, is brutish.

And further, the more manly sort even of the pleasures of touch are excluded from the sphere of profligacy, such as the pleasures which the gymnast finds in rubbing and the warm bath; for the profligate does not cultivate the sense of touch over his whole body, but in certain parts only.


Now, of our desires or appetites some appear to be common to the race, others to be individual and acquired.

Thus the desire of food is natural [or common to the race]; every man when he is in want desires meat or drink, or sometimes both, and sexual intercourse, as Homer says, when he is young and vigorous.

But not all men desire to satisfy their wants in this or that particular way, nor do all desire the same things; and therefore such desire appears to be peculiar to ourselves, or individual.

Of course it is also partly natural: different people are pleased by different things, and yet there are some things which all men like better than others.

Firstly, then, in the matter of our natural or common desires but few err, and that only on one side, viz. on the side of excess; e.g. to eat or drink of whatever is set before you till you can hold no more is to exceed what is natural in point of quantity, for natural desire or appetite is for the filling of our want simply. And so such people are called “belly-mad,” implying that they fill their bellies too full.

It is only utterly slavish natures that acquire this vice.

Secondly, with regard to those pleasures that are individual [i.e. which attend the gratification of our individual desires] many people err in various ways.

Whereas people are called fond of this or that because they delight either in wrong things, or to an unusual degree, or in a wrong fashion, profligates exceed in all these ways. For they delight in some things in which they ought not to delight (since they are hateful things), and if it be right to delight in any of these things they delight in them more than is right and more than is usual.

It is plain, then, that excess in these pleasures is profligacy, and is a thing to be blamed.

But in respect of the corresponding pains the case is not the same here as it was with regard to courage: a man is not called temperate for bearing them, and profligate for not bearing them; but the profligate man is called profligate for being more pained than he ought at not getting certain pleasant things (his pain being caused by his pleasure65), and the temperate man is called temperate because the absence of these pleasant things or the abstinence from them is not painful to him.

The profligate, then, desires all pleasant things or those that are most intensely pleasant, and is led by his desire so as to choose these in preference to all other things. And so he is constantly pained by failing to get them and by lusting after them: for all appetite involves pain; but it seems a strange thing to be pained for the sake of pleasure.

People who fall short in the matter of pleasure, and take less delight than they ought in these things, are hardly found at all; for this sort of insensibility is scarcely in human nature. And indeed even the lower animals discriminate kinds of food, and delight in some and not in others; and a being to whom nothing was pleasant, and who found no difference between one thing and another, would be very far removed from being a man. We have no name for such a being, because he does not exist.

But the temperate man observes the mean in these things. He takes no pleasure in those things that the profligate most delights in (but rather disdains them), nor generally in the wrong things, nor very much in any of these things,66 and when they are absent he is not pained, nor does he desire them, or desires them but moderately, not more than he ought, nor at the wrong time, etc.; but those things which, being pleasant, at the same time conduce to health and good condition, he will desire moderately and in the right manner, and other pleasant things also, provided they are not injurious, or incompatible with what is noble, or beyond his means; for he who cares for them then, cares for them more than is fitting, and the temperate man is not apt to do that, but rather to be guided by right reason.


Profligacy seems to be more voluntary than cowardice.

For a man is impelled to the former by pleasure, to the latter by pain; but pleasure is a thing we choose, while pain is a thing we avoid. Pain puts us beside ourselves and upsets the nature of the sufferer, while pleasure has no such effect. Profligacy, therefore, is more voluntary.

Profligacy is for these reasons more to be blamed than cowardice, and for another reason too, viz. that it is easier to train one’s self to behave rightly on these occasions [i.e. those in which profligacy is displayed]; for such occasions are constantly occurring in our lives, and the training involves no risk; but with occasions of fear the contrary is the case.

Again, it would seem that the habit of mind or character called cowardice is more voluntary than the particular acts in which it is exhibited. It is not painful to be a coward, but the occasions which exhibit cowardice put men beside themselves through fear of pain, so that they throw away their arms and altogether disgrace themselves; and hence these particular acts are even thought to be compulsory.

In the case of the profligate, on the contrary, the particular acts are voluntary (for they are done with appetite and desire), but the character itself less so; for no one desires to be a profligate.

The term “profligacy” we apply also to childish faults,67 for they have some sort of resemblance. It makes no difference for our present purpose which of the two is named after the other, but it is plain that the later is named after the earlier.

And the metaphor, I think, is not a bad one: what needs “chastening” or “correction”68 is that which inclines to base things and which has great powers of expansion. Now, these characteristics are nowhere so strongly marked as in appetite and in childhood; children too [as well as the profligate] live according to their appetites, and the desire for pleasant things is most pronounced in them. If then this element be not submissive and obedient to the governing principle, it will make great head: for in an irrational being the desire for pleasant things is insatiable and ready to gratify itself in any way, and the gratification of the appetite increases the natural tendency, and if the gratifications are great and intense they even thrust out reason altogether. The gratifications of appetite, therefore, should be moderate and few, and appetite should be in no respect opposed to reason (this is what we mean by submissive and “chastened”), but subject to reason as a child should be subject to his tutor.

And so the appetites of the temperate man should be in harmony with his reason; for the aim of both is that which is noble: the temperate man desires what he ought, and as he ought, and when he ought; and this again is what reason prescribes.

This, then, may be taken as an account of temperance.