An action is involuntary when it is performed under compulsion and causes pain to the person acting. There are borderline cases, as when someone is compelled to do something dishonorable under threat, but we should generally consider such cases voluntary, since the person is still in control of his or her actions. Something done in ignorance may be called involuntary if the person later recognizes that ignorance, but it is non-voluntary if the person does not recognize or suffer for such ignorance. However, ignorance can excuse only particular cases, and not general behavior, since general ignorance of what is good is precisely what makes a person bad.
It seems the best measure of moral goodness is choice, because unlike actions, choices are always made voluntarily. We make choices about the means we use to achieve a desired end. Deliberation, which precedes ...view middle of the document...
Both virtue and vice, therefore, lie within human power, because they are related to choices that we make voluntarily and deliberately. This conclusion is borne out by the fact that rewards and punishments are only conferred on those actions that we are thought to have done voluntarily. People who behave badly form bad habits that are difficult to change, but their lack of self-control is hardly an excuse for their badness.
Having examined virtue in the abstract, Aristotle examines each particular virtue, starting with courage, which he defines as the appropriate attitude toward fear. Courage does not mean fearlessness, as there are some things, such as shame or brutality toward one’s family, which one ought to fear. Rather, courage involves confidence in the face of fear, best exhibited on the battlefield, where men show themselves unafraid to die an honorable death. An excess of fearfulness constitutes the vice of cowardice, and a deficiency constitutes rashness.
Certain dispositions resemble courage but are not in fact courageous. The soldier who fights for fear of dishonor, the veteran who shows no fear in the face of what he knows to be a false alarm, the spirited soldier aroused by anger or pain, the sanguine man who is unafraid due to overconfidence, and the soldier ignorant of the danger he faces are not courageous. Courage is a difficult and admirable virtue, because it involves enduring pain.
Temperance is the mean state with regard to physical pleasure, while licentiousness is the vice of excessive yearning for physical pleasure. The grossest pleasures are those of taste, and especially touch, which are most liable to be sources of licentiousness. The licentious person feels not only excessive pleasure with regard to physical sensations, but also excessive pain when deprived of these pleasures. The vice of deficiency toward pleasure is so rare that it lacks a name, though we could perhaps call it insensibility. The temperate person will feel appropriate amounts of pleasure, and only toward those things that are conducive to health and fitness.