Book VII

Characters Other Than Virtue and Vice


At this point we will make a fresh start and say that the undesirable forms of moral character are three in number, viz. vice, incontinence, brutality. In the case of two of these it is plain what the opposite is: virtue is the name we give to the opposite of vice, and continence to the opposite of incontinence; but for the opposite of the brutal character it would be most appropriate to take that excellence which is beyond us, the excellence of a hero or a god⁠—as Homer makes Priam say of Hector that he was surpassingly good⁠—

Nor seemed the child
Of any mortal man, but of a god.

If, then, superlative excellence raises men into gods, as the stories tell us, it is evident that the opposite of the brutal character would be some such superlative excellence. For just as neither virtue nor vice belongs to a brute, so does neither belong to a god; to the latter belongs something higher than virtue, to the former something specifically different from vice.

But as it is rare to find a godlike man (to employ the phrase in use among the Spartans; for when they admire a man exceedingly they call him σεῖος169 ἀνήρ), so also is the brutal character rare among men. It occurs most frequently among the barbarians; it is also produced sometimes by disease and organic injuries; and, thirdly, we apply the name as a term of reproach to those who carry vice to a great pitch.170

However, we shall have to make some mention of this disposition further on,171 and we have already discussed vice; so we will now speak of incontinence and softness and luxuriousness, and also of continence and hardiness⁠—for we must regard these as the names of states or types of character that are neither identical with virtue and vice respectively nor yet generically different.

And here we must follow our usual method, and, after stating the current opinions about these affections, proceed first to raise objections, and then to establish, if possible, the truth of all the current opinions on the subject, or, if not of all, at least of the greater number and the most important. For if the difficulties can be resolved and the popular notions thus confirmed, we shall have attained as much certainty as the subject allows.

It is commonly thought (1) that continence and hardiness are good and laudable, while incontinence and softness are bad and blamable; and, again (2), that a continent man is identical with one who abides by his calculations, and an incontinent man with one who swerves from them; and (3) that the incontinent man, knowing that an act is bad, is impelled to do it by passion, while the continent man, knowing that his desires are bad, is withheld from following them by reason. Also (4) it is commonly thought that the temperate man is continent and hardy: but while some hold that conversely the latter is always temperate, others think that this is not always so; and while some people hold that the profligate is incontinent, and that the incontinent man is profligate, and use these terms indiscriminately, others make a distinction between them. Again (5), with regard to the prudent man, sometimes people say it is impossible for him to be incontinent; at other times they say that some men who are prudent and clever are incontinent. Lastly (6), people are called incontinent even in respect of anger and honour and gain. These, then, are the common sayings or current opinions.


But in what sense, it may be objected, can a man judge rightly when he acts incontinently?

Some people maintain that he cannot act so if he really knows what is right; for it would be strange, thought Socrates, if, when real knowledge were in the man, something else should master him and hale him172 about like a slave. Socrates, indeed, contested the whole position, maintaining that there is no such thing as incontinence: when a man acts contrary to what is best, he never, according to Socrates, has a right judgment of the case, but acts so by reason of ignorance.

Now, this theory evidently conflicts with experience; and with regard to the passion which sways the incontinent man, if it really is due to ignorance, we must ask what kind of ignorance it is due to. For it is plain that, at any rate, he who acts incontinently does not fancy that the act is good till the passion is upon him.

There are other people who in part agree and in part disagree with Socrates. They allow that nothing is able to prevail against knowledge, but do not allow that men never act contrary to what seems best; and so they say that the incontinent man, when he yields to pleasure, has not knowledge, but only opinion.

But if, in truth, it be only opinion and not knowledge, and if it be not a strong but a weak belief or judgment that opposes the desires (as is the case when a man is in doubt), we pardon a man for not abiding by it in the face of strong desires; but, in fact, we do not pardon vice nor anything else that we call blamable.

Are we, then, to say that it is prudence that opposes desire [in those cases when we blame a man for yielding]? For it is the strongest form of belief. Surely that would be absurd: for then the same man would be at once prudent and incontinent; but no one would maintain that a prudent man could voluntarily do the vilest acts. Moreover, we have already shown that prudence is essentially a faculty that issues in act; for it is concerned with the ultimate thing [the thing to be done], and implies the possession of all the moral virtues.

Again, if a man cannot be continent without having strong and bad desires, the temperate man will not be continent, nor the continent man temperate; for it is incompatible with the temperate character to have either very violent or bad desires.

They must, however, be both strong and bad in the continent man: for if they were good, the habit that hindered from following them would be bad, so that continence would not be always good; if they were weak and not bad, it would be nothing to respect; and if they were bad, but at the same time weak, it would be nothing to admire.

Again, if continence makes a man apt to abide by any opinion whatsoever, it is a bad thing⁠—as, for instance, if it makes him abide by a false opinion: and if incontinence makes a man apt to abandon any opinion whatsoever, there will be a kind of incontinence that is good, an instance of which is Neoptolemus in the Philoctetes of Sophocles; for he merits praise for being prevented from persevering in the plan which Ulysses had persuaded him to adopt, by the pain which he felt at telling a lie.

Again, the well-known argument of the sophists, though fallacious, makes a difficulty: for, wishing to establish a paradoxical conclusion, so that they may be thought clever if they succeed, they construct a syllogism which puzzles the hearer; for his reason fettered, as he is unwilling to rest in the conclusion, which is revolting to him, but is unable to advance, since he cannot find a flaw in the argument. Thus it may be argued173 that folly combined with incontinence is virtue:⁠—by reason of his incontinence a man does the opposite of that which he judges to be good; but he judges that the good is bad and not to be done; the result is that he will do the good and not the bad.

Again, he who pursues and does what is pleasant from conviction, and deliberately chooses these things, would seem [if this doctrine be true] to be better than he who does so, not upon calculation, but by reason of incontinence. For the former is more curable, as his convictions might be changed; but to the incontinent man we may apply the proverb which says, “If water chokes you, what will you wash it down with?” For if he were convinced that what he does is good, a change in his convictions might stop his doing it; but, as it is, though he is convinced that something else is good, he nevertheless does this.

Again, if incontinence and continence may be displayed in anything, who is the man whom we call incontinent simply? For though no one man unites all the various forms of incontinence, there yet are people to whom we apply the term without any qualification.

Something of this sort, then, are the objections that suggest themselves: and of these we must remove some and leave others;174 for the resolution of a difficulty is the discovery of the truth.


We have, then, to inquire (1) whether the incontinent man acts with knowledge or not, and what knowledge means here; then (2) what is to be regarded as the field in which continence and incontinence manifest themselves⁠—I mean whether their field be all pleasures and pains, or certain definite classes of these; then (3), with regard to the continent and the hardy man, whether they are the same or different; and so on with the other points that are akin to this inquiry.

(But we ought to begin by inquiring whether the species of continence and the species of incontinence of which we are here speaking are to be distinguished from other species by the field of their manifestation or by their form or manner⁠—I mean whether a man is to be called incontinent in this special sense merely because he is incontinent or uncontrolled by reason in certain things, or because he is incontinent in a certain manner, or rather on both grounds; and in connection with this we ought to determine whether or no this incontinence and this continence may be displayed in all things. And our answer to these questions will be that the man who is called simply incontinent, without any qualification, does not display his character in all things, but only in those things in which the profligate manifests himself; nor is it simply an uncontrolled disposition with regard to them that makes him what he is (for then incontinence would be the same as profligacy), but a particular kind of uncontrolled disposition. For the profligate is carried along of his own deliberate choice or purpose, holding that what is pleasant at the moment is always to be pursued; while the incontinent man thinks otherwise, but pursues it all the same.)175 [Let us now turn to question (1).]

As to the argument that it is true opinion and not knowledge against which men act incontinently, it really makes no difference here; for some of those who merely have opinions are in no doubt at all, but fancy that they have exact knowledge.

If then it be said that those who have opinion more readily act against their judgment because of the weakness of their belief, we would answer that there is no such difference between knowledge and opinion; for some people have just as strong a belief in their mere opinions as others have in what they really know, of which Heraclitus is an instance.176

But we use the word know (ἐπίστασθαι) in two different senses: he who has knowledge which he is not now using is said to know a thing, and also he who is now using his knowledge. Having knowledge, therefore, which is not now present to the mind, about what one ought not to do, will be different from having knowledge which is now present. Only in the latter sense, not in the former, does it seem strange that a man should act against his knowledge.

Again, since these reasonings involve two kinds of premises [a universal proposition for major and a particular for minor], there is nothing to prevent a man from acting contrary to his knowledge though he has both premises, if he is now using the universal only, and not the particular; for the particular is the thing to be done.

Again, different kinds of universal propositions may be involved: one may concern the agent himself, another the thing; for instance, you may reason (1) “all men are benefited by dry things, and I am a man;” and (2) “things of this kind are dry;” but the second minor, “this thing is of this kind,” may be unknown or the knowledge of it may be dormant.177

These distinctions, then, will make a vast difference, so much so that it does not seem strange that a man should act against his knowledge if he knows in one way, though it does seem strange if he knows in another way.

But, again, it is possible for a man to “have knowledge” in yet another way than those just mentioned: we see, I mean, that “having knowledge without using it” includes different modes of having, so that a man may have it in one sense and in another sense not have it; for instance, a man who is asleep, or mad, or drunk. But people who are under the influence of passion are in a similar state; for anger, and sexual desire and the like do evidently alter the condition of the body, and in some cases actually produce madness. It is plain, then, that the incontinent man must be allowed to have knowledge in the same sort of way as those who are asleep, mad, or drunk.178

But to repeat the words of knowledge is no proof that a man really has knowledge [in the full sense of having an effective knowledge]; for even when they are under the influence of these passions people repeat demonstrations and sayings of Empedocles, just as learners string words together before they understand their meaning⁠—the meaning must be ingrained in them, and that requires time. So we must hold that the incontinent repeat words in the same sort of way that actors do.

Again, one may inquire into the cause of this phenomenon [of incontinence] by arguments based upon its special nature,179 as follows:⁠—You may have (1) a universal judgment, (2) a judgment about particular facts which fall at once within the province of sense or perception; but when the two are joined together,180 the conclusion must in matters of speculation be assented to by the mind, in matters of practice be carried out at once into act; for instance, if you judge (1) “all sweet things are to be tasted,” (2) “this thing before me is sweet”⁠—a particular fact⁠—then, if you have the power and are not hindered, you cannot but at once put the conclusion [“this is to be tasted”] into practice.

Now, when you have on the one side the universal judgment forbidding you to taste, and on the other side the universal judgment, “all sweet things are pleasant,”181 with the corresponding particular, “this thing before me is sweet” (but it is the particular judgment which is effective), and appetite is present⁠—then, though the former train of reasoning bids you avoid this, appetite moves you [to take it]; for appetite is able to put the several bodily organs in motion.

And thus it appears that it is in a way under the influence of reason, that is to say of opinion, that people act incontinently⁠—opinion, too, that is, not in itself, but only accidentally, opposed to right reason. For it is the desire, not the opinion, that is opposed to right reason.182

And this is the reason why brutes cannot be incontinent; they have no universal judgments, but only images and memories of particular facts.

As to the process by which the incontinent man gets out of this ignorance and recovers his knowledge, the account of it will be the same as in the case of a man who is drunk or asleep, and will not be peculiar to this phenomenon; and for such an account we must go to the professors of natural science.

But since the minor premise183 is an opinion or judgment about a fact of perception, and determines action, the incontinent man, when under the influence of passion, either has it not, or has it in a sense in which, as we explained, having is equivalent, not to knowing in the full sense, but to repeating words as a drunken man repeats the sayings of Empedocles.

And thus, since the minor premise is not universal, and is thought to be less a matter of knowledge than the universal judgment [or major premise], it seems that what Socrates sought to establish really is the case;184 for when passion carries a man away, what is present to his mind is not what is regarded as knowledge in the strict sense, nor is it such knowledge that is perverted by his passion, but sensitive knowledge merely.185


So much, then, for the question whether the incontinent man knows or not, and in what sense it is possible to act incontinently with knowledge. We next have to consider whether a man can be incontinent simply, or only incontinent in some particular way,186 and, if the former be the case, what is the field in which the character is manifested.

It is evident that it is in the matter of pleasures and pains that both continent and hardy and incontinent and soft men manifest their characters.

Of the sources of pleasure, some are necessary, and others are desirable in themselves but admit of excess: “necessary” are the bodily processes, such as nutrition, the propagation of the species, and generally those bodily functions with which we said that profligacy and temperance have to do; others, though not necessary, are in themselves desirable, such as victory, honour, wealth, and other things of the kind that are good and pleasant.187

Now, those who go to excess in these latter in spite of their own better reason are not called incontinent simply, but with a qualifying epithet, as incontinent with respect to money, or gain, or honour, or anger⁠—not simply, since they are different characters, and only called incontinent in virtue of a resemblance⁠—just as the victor in the last Olympic games was called a man; for though the meaning of the name as applied to him was but slightly different from its common meaning, still it was different.188

And this may be proved thus: incontinence is blamed, not simply as a mistake, but as a kind of vice, either of vice simply, or of some particular vice; but those who are thus incontinent [in the pursuit of wealth, etc.] are not thus blamed.

But of the characters that manifest themselves in the matter of bodily enjoyments, with which we say the temperate and the profligate are concerned, he who goes to excess in pursuing what is pleasant and avoiding what is painful, in the matter of hunger and thirst, and heat and cold, and all things that affect us by touch or taste, and who does this not of deliberate choice, but contrary to his deliberate choice and reasoning, is called incontinent⁠—not with the addition that he is incontinent with respect to this particular thing, as anger, but simply incontinent.

A proof of this is that people are also called soft in these latter matters, but not in any of the former [honour, gain, etc.].

And on this account we group the incontinent with the profligate and the continent and the temperate (but do not class with them any of those who are metaphorically called continent and incontinent), because they are in a way concerned with the same pleasures and pains. They are, in fact, concerned with the same matters, but their behaviour is different; for whereas the other three deliberately choose what they do, the incontinent man does not.

And so a man who, without desire, or with only a moderate desire, pursues excess of pleasure, and avoids even slight pains, would more properly be called profligate than one who is impelled so to act by violent desires; for what would the former do if the violent passions of youth were added, and if it were violent pain to him to forego the satisfaction of his natural appetites?

But some of our desires and pleasures are to be classed as noble and good (for some of the things that please us are naturally desirable), while others are the reverse of this, and others are intermediate between the two, as we explained before,189⁠—such things as money, gain, victory, and honour falling within the first class. With regard both to these, then, and to the intermediate class, men are blamed not for being affected by them, or desiring them, or caring for them, but only for doing so in certain ways and beyond the bounds of moderation. So we blame those who are moved by, or pursue, some good and noble object to an unreasonable extent, as, for instance, those who care too much for honour, or for their children or parents: for these, too, are noble objects, and men are praised for caring about them; but still one might go too far in them also, if one were to fight even against the gods, like Niobe, or to do as did Satyrus, who was nicknamed Philopator from his affection for his father⁠—for he seemed to carry his affection to the pitch of folly.

In these matters, then, there is no room for vice or wickedness for the reason mentioned, viz. that all these are objects that are in themselves desirable, though excess in them is not commendable, and is to be avoided.

Similarly, in these matters there is no room for incontinence strictly so called (for incontinence is not only to be avoided, but is actually blamable), but because of the similarity of the state of mind we do here use the term incontinence with a qualification, saying “incontinent in this or in that,” just as we apply the term “bad physician” or “bad actor” to a man whom we should not call bad simply or without a qualifying epithet. Just as in the latter case, then, the term badness or vice is applied, not simply, but with a qualification, because each of these qualities is not a vice strictly, but only analogous to a vice, so in this case also it is plain that we must understand that only to be strictly incontinence (or continence) which is manifested in those matters with which temperance and profligacy are concerned, while that which is manifested with regard to anger is only metaphorically called so; and therefore we call a man “incontinent in anger,” as “in honour” or “in gain,” adding a qualifying epithet.


While some things are naturally pleasant (of which some are pleasant in themselves, others pleasant to certain classes of animals or men), other things, though not naturally pleasant, come to be pleasant (1) through organic injuries, or (2) through custom, or again (3) through an originally bad nature; and in each of these three classes of things a corresponding character is manifested.

For instance [taking (3) first], there are the brutal characters, such as the creature in woman’s shape that is said to rip up pregnant females and devour the embryos, or the people who take delight, as some of the wild races about the Black Sea are said to take delight, in such things as eating raw meat or human flesh, or giving their children to one another to feast upon; or, again, in such things as are reported of Phalaris.

These, then, are what we call brutal natures [corresponding to (3)]: but in other cases the disposition is engendered by disease or madness; for instance, there was the man who slew and ate his mother, and that other who devoured the liver of his fellow-slave [and these correspond to (1)].

Other habits are either signs of a morbid state, or the result of custom [and so come either under (1) or under (2)]; e.g. plucking out the hair and biting the nails, or eating cinders and earth, or, again, the practice of unnatural vice; for these habits sometimes come naturally,190 sometimes by custom, as in the case of those who have been ill treated from their childhood.

Whenever nature is the cause of these morbid habits, no one would think of applying the term incontinence, any more than we should call women incontinent for the part they play in the propagation of the species; nor should we apply the term to those who, by habitual indulgence, have brought themselves into a morbid state.191

Habits of this kind, then, fall without the pale of vice, just as the brutal character does; but when a man who has these impulses conquers or is conquered by them, this is not to be called [continence or] incontinence strictly, but only metaphorically, just as the man who behaves thus in the matter of his angry passions cannot be strictly called incontinent. For even folly and cowardice, and profligacy, and ill temper, whenever they are carried beyond a certain pitch, are either brutal or morbid When a man is naturally so constituted as to be frightened at anything, even at the sound of a mouse, his cowardice is brutal [inhuman]; but in the well-known case of a man who was afraid of a weasel, disease was the cause. And of irrational human beings, those who by nature are devoid of reason, and live only by their senses, are to be called brutal, as some races of remote barbarians, while those in whom the cause is disease (e.g. epilepsy) or insanity are to be called morbidly irrational.

Again, a man may on occasion have one of these impulses without being dominated by it, as, for instance, if Phalaris on some occasion desired to eat the flesh of a child, or to indulge his unnatural lusts, and yet restrained himself; and, again, it is possible not only to have the impulse, but to be dominated by it.

To conclude, then: as in the case of vice there is a human vice that is called vice simply, and another sort that is called with a qualifying epithet “brutal” or “morbid vice” (not simply vice), so also it is plain that there is a sort of incontinence that is called brutal, and another that is called morbid incontinence, while that only is called incontinence simply which can be classed with human profligacy.

We have thus shown that incontinence and continence proper have to do only with those things with which profligacy and temperance have to do, and that in other matters there is a sort of incontinence to which the name is applied metaphorically and with, a qualifying epithet.


The next point we have to consider is that incontinence in anger is less disgraceful than incontinence in appetite.

The angry passions seem to hear something of what reason says, but to mis-hear it, like a hasty servant who starts off before he has heard all you are saying, and so mistakes his errand, or like a dog that barks so soon as he hears a noise, without waiting to find out if it be a friend. Just so our angry passions, in the heat and haste of their nature, hearing something but not hearing what reason orders, make speed to take vengeance. For when reason or imagination announces an insult or slight, the angry passion infers, so to speak, that its author is to be treated as an enemy, and then straightway boils up; appetite, on the other hand, if reason or sense do but proclaim “this is pleasant,” rushes to enjoy it. Thus anger, in some sort, obeys reason, which appetite does not. The latter, therefore, is the more disgraceful; for he who is incontinent in anger succumbs in some sort to reason, while the other succumbs not to reason, but to appetite.

Again, when impulses are natural, it is more excusable to follow them (for even with our appetites it is more pardonable to follow them when they are common to all men, and the more pardonable the commoner they are); but anger and ill temper are more natural than desire for excessive and unnecessary pleasures, as we see in the story of the man who excused himself for beating his father. “He beat his own father,” he said, “and that father beat his, and my son here,” pointing to his child, “will beat me when he is a man; for it runs in the family.” And there is that other story of the man who was being dragged out of the house by his son, and bade him stop at the doorway; for he had dragged his own father so far, but no further.

Again, the more a man is inclined to deliberate malice, the more unjust he is. Now, the hot-tempered man is not given to deliberate malice, nor is anger of that underhand nature, but asserts itself openly. But of appetite we may say what the poets say of Aphrodite: “craft-weaving daughter of Cyprus;” or what Homer says of her “embroidered girdle,”

Whose charm doth steal the reason of the wise.192

If then this incontinence be more unjust, it is more disgraceful than incontinence in anger, and is to be called incontinence simply, and a sort of vice.

Again, when a man commits an outrage, he does not feel pain in doing it, but rather pleasure, while he who acts in anger always feels pain as he is acting. If then the acts which rouse the justest indignation are the more unjust, it follows that incontinence in appetite is more unjust [than incontinence in anger]; for such outrage is never committed in anger.193

Thus it is plain that incontinence in appetite is more disgraceful than incontinence in anger, and that continence and incontinence proper have to do with bodily appetites and pleasures.

But now let us see what differences we find in these bodily appetites and pleasures.

As we said at the outset, some of them are human and natural in kind and degree; others are signs of a brutal nature; others, again, are the result of organic injury or disease.

Now, it is with the first of these only that temperance and profligacy have to do: and for this reason we do not call beasts either temperate or profligate, except it be metaphorically, if we find a whole class of animals distinguished from others by peculiar lewdness and wantonness and voracity; for there is no purpose or deliberate calculation in what they do, but they are in an unnatural state, like madmen.

Brutality is less dangerous than vice, but more horrible; for the noble part is not corrupted here, as in a man who is merely vicious in a human way, but is altogether absent. To ask which is worse, then, would be like comparing inanimate things with animate: the badness of that which lacks the originating principle is always less mischievous; and reason [which the brutal man lacks] is here the originating principle. (To compare these, then, would be like comparing injustice with an unjust man: each is in its own way the worse.194) For a bad man would do ten thousand times as much harm as a brute.


With regard to the pleasures and pains of touch and taste, and the corresponding desires and aversions, which we before marked out as the field of profligacy and temperance, it is possible to be so disposed as to succumb to allurements which most people resist, or so as to resist allurements to which most people succumb. When they are exhibited in the matter of pleasures, the former of these characters is called incontinent and the latter continent; when they are exhibited in the matter of pains, the former is called soft and the latter hardy. The character of the general run of men falls between these two, inclining perhaps rather to the worse.

But since some pleasures are necessary, while others are not, and since the necessary pleasures are necessary in certain quantities only, but not in too great nor yet in too small quantities, and since the same is true of appetites and of pains, he who pursues pleasures that fall beyond the pale of legitimate pleasures, or pursues any pleasures to excess,195 is called profligate, if he pursues them of deliberate purpose for their own sake and not for any result which follows from them; for such a man must be incapable of remorse⁠—must be incurable therefore; for he who feels no remorse is incurable. In the opposite extreme is he who falls short of the mean (while he who observes the mean is temperate). So with the man who avoids bodily pains, not because he is momentarily overcome, but of deliberate purpose.

But those who act thus without deliberate purpose may do so either to gain pleasure or to escape the pain of desire, and we must accordingly distinguish these from one another.

But all would allow that a man who does something disgraceful without desire, or with only a moderate desire, is worse than if he had a violent desire; and that if a man strike another in cool blood he is worse than if he does it in anger; for what would he do if he were in a passion? The profligate man, therefore, is worse than the incontinent.

Of the characters mentioned, then, we must distinguish softness from profligacy.

The continent character is opposed to the incontinent, and the hardy to the soft; for hardiness implies that you endure, while continence implies that you overcome, and enduring is different from overcoming, just as escaping a defeat is different from winning a victory; so continence is better than hardiness.

But he that gives way to what the generality of men can and do resist is soft and luxurious (for luxury, too, is a kind of softness)⁠—the sort of man that suffers his cloak to trail along the ground rather than be at the pains to pull it up; that plays the invalid, and yet does not consider himself wretched, though it is a wretched man that he imitates.

Similarly with continence and incontinence. If a man give way to violent and excessive pleasures or pains, we do not marvel, but are ready to pardon him if he struggled, like Philoctetes when bitten by the viper in the play of Theodectes, or Cercyon in the “Alope of Carcinus;” or like people who, in trying to restrain their laughter, burst out into a violent explosion, as happened to Xenophantus. But we do marvel when a man succumbs to and cannot resist what the generality of men are able to hold out against, unless the cause be hereditary disposition or disease (e.g. softness is hereditary in the Scythian kings, and the female is naturally softer than the male).

The man that is given up to amusement is generally thought to be profligate, but in fact he is soft; for amusement is relaxation, since it is a rest from labour; and among those who take too much relaxation are those who are given up to amusement.

There are two kinds of incontinence, the hasty and the weak. Some men deliberate, but, under the influence of passion, do not abide by the result of their deliberations; others are swayed by passion because they do not deliberate; for as it is not easy to tickle a man who has just been tickling you, so there are people who when they see what is coming, and are forewarned and rouse themselves and their reason, are able to resist the impulse, whether it be pleasant or painful. People of quick sensibility or of a melancholic temperament are most liable to incontinence of the hasty sort; such people do not wait to hear the voice of reason, because, in the former case through the rapidity, in the latter case through the intensity of their impressions, they are apt to follow their imagination.


Again, a profligate man, as we said, is not given to remorse, for he abides by his deliberate purpose; but an incontinent man is always apt to feel remorse. So the case is not as it was put in one of the difficulties we enumerated,196 but the former is incurable, the latter is curable. For full-formed vice [profligacy] seems to be like such diseases as dropsy or consumption, incontinence like epilepsy; for the former is chronic, the latter intermittent badness.

Indeed, we may roundly say that incontinence is generically different from vice; for the vicious man knows not, but the incontinent man knows, the nature of his acts.197

But of these incontinent characters, those who momentarily lose their reason are not so bad as those who retain their reason but disobey it;198 for the latter give way to a slighter impulse, and cannot, like the former, be said to act without deliberation. For an incontinent man is like one who gets drunk quickly and with little wine, i.e. with less than most men.

We have seen that incontinence is not vice, but perhaps we may say that it is in a manner vice. The difference is that the vicious man acts with deliberate purpose, while the incontinent man acts against it. But in spite of this difference their acts are similar; as Demodocus said against the Milesians, “The Milesians are not fools, but they act like fools.” So an incontinent man is not unjust, but will act unjustly.

It is the character of the incontinent man to pursue, without being convinced of their goodness, bodily pleasures that exceed the bounds of moderation and are contrary to right reason; but the profligate man is convinced that these things are good because it is his character to pursue them: the former, then, may be easily brought to a better mind, the latter not. For virtue preserves, but vice destroys the principle; but in matters of conduct the motive [end or final cause] is the principle [beginning or efficient cause] of action, holding the same place here that the hypotheses do in mathematics.199 In mathematics, no reasoning or demonstration can instruct us about these principles or starting points; so here it is not reason but virtue, either natural or acquired by training, that teaches us to hold right opinions about the principle of action. A man of this character, then, is temperate, while a man of opposite character is profligate.

But there is a class of people who are apt to be momentarily deprived of their right senses by passion, and who are swayed by passion so far as not to act according to reason, but not so far that it has become part of their nature to believe that they ought to pursue pleasures of this kind without limit. These are the incontinent, who are better than the profligate, and not absolutely bad; for the best part of our nature, the principle of right conduct, still survives in them.

To these are opposed another class of people who are wont to abide by their resolutions, and not to be deprived of their senses by passion at least. It is plain from this, then, that the latter is a good type of character, the former not good.


Now, who is to be called continent? he who abides by any kind of reason and any kind of purpose, or he who abides by a right purpose? And who is to be called incontinent? he who abandons any kind of purpose and any kind of reason, or he who abandons a true reason and a right purpose?⁠—a difficulty which we raised before.200 Is it not the case that though “accidentally” it may be any kind, yet “essentially” it is a true reason and a right purpose that the one abides by and the other abandons? For if you choose or pursue A for the sake of B, you pursue and choose B “essentially,” but A “accidentally.” But by “essentially” (καθ’ αὑτό) we mean “absolutely” or “simply” (ἁπλῶς); so that we may say that in a certain sense it may be any kind of opinion, but absolutely or simply it is a true opinion that the one abides by and the other abandons.

But there is another class of persons that are apt to stick to their opinions (I mean those whom we call stubborn or obstinate), because they are averse to persuasion and not readily induced to change their mind. These bear some resemblance to the continent, as the prodigal does to the liberal, and the foolhardy to the courageous, but in many respects are different. For it is changing his mind at the prompting of passion or appetite that the continent man dislikes; he is ready enough on occasion to yield to reason: but it is to reason especially that the obstinate man will not listen, while he often conceives a passion, and is led about by his pleasures.

The opinionated, the ignorant, and the boorish are all obstinate⁠—the opinionated from motives of pleasure and pain; for they delight in the sense of victory when they hold out against argument, and are pained if their opinion comes to naught like a decree that is set aside. They resemble the incontinent man, therefore, rather than the continent.

Sometimes also people abandon their resolutions from something else than incontinence, as, for instance, Neoptolemus in the Philoctetes of Sophocles. It may be said, indeed, that pleasure was his motive in abandoning his resolution: but it was a noble pleasure; for truth was fair in his eyes, but Ulysses had persuaded him to lie. For he who acts with pleasure for motive is not always either profligate, or worthless, or incontinent, but only when his motive is a base pleasure.

Again, as there are people whose character it is to take too little delight in the pleasures of the body, and who swerve from reason in this direction, those who come between these and the incontinent are the continent. For while the incontinent swerve from reason because of an excess, and these because of a deficiency, the continent man holds fast and is not turned aside by the one or the other.

But if continence be a good thing, the characters that are opposed to it must be bad, as in fact they evidently are; only, since the other extreme is found but rarely and in few cases, incontinence comes to be regarded as the only opposite of continence, just as profligacy comes to be regarded as the only opposite of temperance.

We often apply names metaphorically; and so we come to speak metaphorically of the continence of the temperate man. For it is the nature both of the continent and of the temperate man never to do anything contrary to reason for the sake of bodily pleasures; but whereas the former has, the latter has not bad desires, and whereas the latter is of such a nature as to take no delight in what is contrary to reason, the former is of such a nature as to take delight in, but not to be swayed by such things.

The incontinent and the profligate also resemble each other, though they are different: both pursue bodily pleasures, but the latter pursues them on principle,201 while the former does not.


It is impossible for the same man to be at once prudent and incontinent; for we have shown that man cannot be prudent without being at the same time morally good.

Moreover, a man is not prudent simply because he knows⁠—he must also be apt to act according to his knowledge; but the incontinent man is not apt to act according to his knowledge (though there is nothing to prevent a man who is clever at calculating means from being incontinent; and so people sometimes think a man prudent and yet incontinent, because this cleverness is related to prudence in the manner before202 explained, resembling prudence as an intellectual faculty, but differing from it by the absence of purpose): nor indeed does he know as one who knows and is now using his knowledge, but as one may know who is asleep or drunk.

He acts voluntarily (for in a manner he knows what he is doing and with what object), and yet is not bad: for his purpose is good; so he is only half bad. Moreover, incontinent men are not unjust,203 for they are not deliberately malicious⁠—some of them being apt to swerve from their deliberate resolutions, others of melancholic temper and apt to act without deliberating at all. An incontinent man, then, may be compared to a state which always makes excellent decrees and has good laws, but never carries them out; as Anaxandrides jestingly says⁠—

“So willed the state that takes no heed of laws.”

The bad man, on the contrary, may be compared to a state that carries out its laws, but has bad laws.

Both incontinence and continence imply something beyond the average character of men; for the one is more steadfast than most men can be, the other less.

Of the several kinds of incontinence, that of the melancholic temper is more curable than that of those who make resolutions but do not keep them, and that which proceeds from custom than that which rests on natural infirmity: it is easier to alter one’s habit than to change one’s nature. For the very reason why habits are hard to change is that they are a sort of second, nature, as Euenus says⁠—

Train men but long enough to what you will,
And that shall be their nature in the end.

We have now considered the nature of continence and incontinence, of hardiness and softness, and the relation of these types of character to each other.

Of Pleasure


The consideration of pleasure and pain also falls within the scope of the political philosopher, since he has to construct the end by reference to which we call everything good or bad.

Moreover, this is one of the subjects we are bound to discuss; for we said that moral virtue and vice have to do with pleasures and pains, and most people say that happiness implies pleasure, which is the reason of the name μακάριος, blessed, from χαίρειν, to rejoice.

Now, (1) some people think that no pleasure is good, either essentially or accidentally, for they say that good and pleasure are two distinct things; (2) others think that though some pleasures are good most are bad; (3) others, again, think that even though all pleasures be good, yet it is impossible that the supreme good can be pleasure.

(1) It is argued that pleasure cannot be good, (a) because all pleasure is a felt transition to a natural state, but a transition or process is always generically different from an end, e.g. the process of building is generically different from a house; (b) because the temperate man avoids pleasures; (c) because the prudent man pursues the painless, not the pleasant; (d) because pleasures impede thinking, and that in proportion to their intensity (for instance, the sexual pleasures: no one engaged therein could think at all); (e) because there is no art of pleasure, and yet every good thing has an art devoted to its production; (f) because pleasure is the pursuit of children and brutes.

(2) It is argued that not all pleasures are good, a because some are base and disgraceful, and even hurtful; for some pleasant things are unhealthy.

(3) It is argued that pleasure is not the supreme good, because it is not an end, but a process or transition.⁠—These, then, we may take to be the current opinions on the subject.


But that these arguments do not prove that pleasure is not good, or even the highest good, may be shown as follows.

In the first place, since “good” is used in two senses (“good in itself” and “relatively good”), natures and faculties will be called good in two senses, and so also will motions and processes: and when they are called bad, this sometimes means that they are bad in themselves, though for particular persons not bad but desirable; sometimes that they are not desirable even for particular persons, but desirable occasionally and for a little time, though in themselves not desirable; while some of them are not even pleasures, though they seem to be⁠—I mean those that involve pain and are used medicinally, such as those of sick people.

In the second place, since the term good may be applied both to activities and to faculties, those activities that restore us to our natural faculties [or state] are accidentally pleasant.

But in the satisfaction of the animal appetites that which is active is not that part of our faculties204 or of our nature which is in want, but that part which is in its normal state; for there are pleasures which involve no previous pain or appetite, such as those of philosophic study, wherein our nature is not conscious of any want.

This is corroborated by the fact that while our natural wants are being filled we do not take delight in the same things which delight us when that process has been completed: when the want has been filled we take delight in things that are pleasant in themselves, while it is being filled in their opposites; for we then take delight in sharp and bitter things, none of which are naturally pleasant or pleasant in themselves. The pleasures, then, which these things give are not real pleasures; for pleasures are related to one another as the things that produce them.

Again, it does not necessarily follow, as some maintain, that there is something else better than pleasure, as the end is better than the process or transition to the end: for a pleasure is not a transition, nor does it always even imply a transition; but it is an activity [or exercise of faculty], and itself an end: further, it is not in becoming something, but in doing something that we feel pleasure: and, lastly, the end is not always something different from the process or transition, but it is only when something is being brought to the completion of its nature that this is the case.

For these reasons it is not proper to say that pleasure is a felt transition, but rather that it is an exercise of faculties that are in their natural state, substituting “unimpeded” for “felt.”

Some people, indeed, think that pleasure is a transition, just because it is in the full sense good, supposing that the exercise of faculty is a transition; but it is in fact something different.205

But to say that pleasures are bad because some pleasant things are unhealthy, is like saying that health is bad because some healthy things are bad for moneymaking. Both are bad in this respect, but that does not make them bad: even philosophic study is sometimes injurious to health.

As to pleasure being an impediment to thinking, the fact is that neither prudence nor any other faculty is impeded by the pleasure proper to its exercise, but by other pleasures; the pleasure derived from study and learning will make us study and learn more.

That there should be no art devoted to the production of any kind of pleasure, is but natural; for art never produces an activity, but only makes it possible: the arts of perfumery and cookery, however, are usually considered to be arts of pleasure.

As to the arguments that the temperate man avoids pleasure, that the prudent man pursues the painless life, and that children and brutes pursue pleasure, they may all be met in the same way, viz. thus:⁠—

As we have already explained in what sense all pleasures are to be called good in themselves, and in what sense not good, we need only say that pleasures of a certain kind are pursued by brutes and by children, and that freedom from the corresponding pains is pursued by the prudent man⁠—the pleasures, namely, that involve appetite and pain, i.e. the bodily pleasures (for these do so), and excess in them, the deliberate pursuit of which constitutes the profligate. These pleasures, then, the temperate man avoids; but he has pleasures of his own.


But all admit that pain is a bad thing undesirable; partly bad in itself, partly bad as in some sort an impediment to activity. But that which is opposed to what is undesirable, in that respect in which it is undesirable and bad, is good. It follows, then, that pleasure is a good thing. And this argument cannot be met, as Speusippus tried to meet it, by the analogy of the greater which is opposed to the equal as well as to the less; for no one would say that pleasure is essentially a bad thing.206

Moreover, there is no reason why a certain kind of pleasure should not be the supreme good, even though some kinds be bad, just as there is no reason why a certain kind of knowledge should not be, though some kinds be bad. Nay, perhaps we ought rather to say that since every formed faculty admits of unimpeded exercise, it follows that, whether happiness be the exercise of all these faculties, or of some one of them, that exercise must necessarily be most desirable when unimpeded: but unimpeded exercise of faculty is pleasure: a certain kind of pleasure, therefore, will be the supreme good, even though most pleasures should turn out to be bad in themselves.

And on this account all men suppose that the happy life is a pleasant one, and that happiness involves pleasure: and the supposition is reasonable; for no exercise of a faculty is complete if it be impeded; but happiness we reckon among complete things; and so, if he is to be happy, a man must have the goods of the body and external goods and good fortune, in order that the exercise of his faculties may not be impeded. And those who say that though a man be put to the rack and overwhelmed by misfortune, he is happy if only he be good, whether they know it or not, talk nonsense.

Because fortune is a necessary condition, some people consider good fortune to be identical with happiness; but it is not really so, for good fortune itself, if excessive, is an impediment, and is then, perhaps, no longer to be called good fortune; for good fortune can only be defined by its relation to happiness.

Again, the fact that all animals and men pursue pleasure is some indication that it is in some way the highest good:

Not wholly lost can e’er that saying be
Which many peoples share.

But as the nature of man and the best development of his faculties neither are nor are thought to be the same for all, so the pleasure which men pursue is not always the same, though all pursue pleasure. Yet, perhaps, they do in fact pursue a pleasure different from that which they fancy they pursue and would say they pursue⁠—a pleasure which is one and the same for all. For all beings have something divine implanted in them by nature.

But bodily pleasures have come to be regarded as the sole claimants to the title of pleasure, because they are oftenest attained and are shared by all; these then, as the only pleasures they know, men fancy to be the only pleasures that are.

But it is plain that unless pleasure⁠—that is, unimpeded exercise of the faculties⁠—be good, we can no longer say that the happy man leads a pleasant life; for why should he need it if it be not good? Nay, he may just as well lead a painful life: for pain is neither bad nor good, if pleasure be neither; so why should he avoid pain? The life of the good man, then, would be no pleasanter than others unless the exercise of his faculties were pleasanter.


Those who say that though some pleasures are very desirable⁠—to wit, noble pleasures⁠—the pleasures of the body, with which the profligate is concerned, are not desirable, should consider the nature of these pleasures of the body. Why [if they are bad] are the opposite pains bad? for the opposite of bad is good. Are we to say that the “necessary” pleasures are good in the sense that what is not bad is good? or are they good up to a certain point?

Those faculties and those motions or activities which do not admit of excess beyond what is good,207 do not admit of excessive pleasure; but those which admit of excess admit also of excessive pleasure. Now, bodily goods admit of excess, and the bad man is bad because he pursues this excess, not merely because he pursues the necessary pleasures; for men always take some delight in meat, and drink, and the gratification of the sexual appetite, but not always as they ought. But with pain the case is reversed: it is not excess of pain merely that the bad man avoids, but pain generally; [which is not inconsistent with the proposition that pain is bad,] for the opposite of excessive pleasure is not painful, except to the man who pursues the excess.208

But we ought to state not only the truth, but also the cause of the error; for this helps to produce conviction, as, when something has been pointed out to us which would naturally make that seem true which is not, we are more ready to believe the truth. And so we must say why it is that the bodily pleasures seem more desirable.

First of all, then, it is because of its efficacy in expelling pain, and because of the excessiveness of the pain to which it is regarded as an antidote, that men pursue excessive pleasure and bodily pleasure generally. But these remedies produce an intense feeling, and so are pursued, because they appear in strong contrast to the opposite pain.

(The reasons why pleasure is thought to be not good are two, as we said before: (1) some pleasures are the manifestation of a nature that is bad either from birth, as with brutes, or by habit, as with bad men: (2) the remedial pleasures imply want; and it is better to be in a [natural] state than in a transition to such a state; but these pleasures are felt while a want in us is being filled up, and therefore they are only accidentally good.)209

Again, these pleasures are pursued because of their intensity by those who are unable to take delight in other pleasures; thus we see people make themselves thirsty on purpose. When the pleasures they pursue are harmless, we do not blame them (though when they are hurtful the pursuit is bad); for they have no other sources of enjoyment, and the neutral state is painful to many because of their nature: for an animal is always labouring, as physical science teaches, telling us that seeing and hearing is labour and pain, only we are all used to it, as the saying is. And thus in youth, because they are growing, men are in a state resembling drunkenness; and youth is pleasant. But people of a melancholic nature are always wanting something to restore their balance; for their bodies are always vexing them because of their peculiar temperament, and they are always in a state of violent desire. But pain is expelled either by the opposite pleasure or by any pleasure, if it be sufficiently strong; and this is the reason why such men become profligate and worthless.

But pleasures that have no antecedent pain do not admit of excess. These are the pleasures derived from things that are naturally and not merely accidentally pleasant. I call those things accidentally pleasant that have a restorative effect; for as the restoration cannot take place unless that part of the system which remains healthy be in some way active, the restoration itself seems pleasant: but I call those things naturally pleasant that stimulate the activity of a healthy system.210

But nothing can continue to give us uninterrupted pleasure, because our nature is not simple, but contains a second element which makes us mortal beings;211 so that if the one element be active in any way, this is contrary to the nature of the other element, but when the two elements are in equilibrium, what we do seems neither painful nor pleasant; for if there were a being whose nature were simple, the same activity would be always most pleasant to him. And on this account God always enjoys one simple pleasure; for besides the activity of movement, there is also activity without movement, and rest admits of truer pleasure than motion. But change is “the sweetest of all things,” as the poet says, because of a certain badness in us: for just as it is the bad man who is especially apt to change, so is it the bad nature that needs change; for it is neither simple nor good.

We have now considered continence and incontinence, and pleasure and pain, and have explained what each is, and how some of them are good and some bad. It remains to consider friendship.