19 March, 2000

Author: George Irbe

Back to George's Views



TI- Terence Irwin, Hackett Publishing Co. 1985
DR - David Ross, Oxford University Press 1980
JT - J.A.K. Thomson, Penguin Books 1955


Text Remarks
[DR, JT, TI] The moral states to be avoided are vice, incontinence and brutishness. The contraries of two of these are obvious: we call one of them virtue and the other continence. The contrary to bestiality is most suitably called virtue superior to us, a heroic, indeed divine, sort of virtue. The moral states of virtue, continence, and divine virtue have as their contraries vice, incontinence, and bestiality.
[DR] Both continence and endurance are thought to be included among things good and praiseworthy, and both incontinence and softness among things bad and blameworthy. The incontinent man, knowing that what he does is bad, does it as a result of passion, while the continent man, knowing that his appetites are bad, refuses on account of rational principle to follow them. The temperate man all men call continent and disposed to endurance. Men are said to be incontinent even with respect to anger, honor, and gain. Continence and steadfastness have the undesirable contraries of incontinence and softness. The incontinent man succumbs to his passions, the temperate man does not.
[JT] One can forgive a man for not standing by his opinions in the face of powerful desires, but one cannot forgive wickedness or any other culpable attitude. A temperate man will have neither excessive nor bad appetites. The weakness of the incontinent can be forgiven, but not deliberate wickedness.
[TI] The intemperate person acts on decision when he is led on, since he thinks that it is right in every case to pursue the pleasant thing at hand; but the incontinent person thinks it is wrong to pursue it, yet still pursues it. The intemperate man believes that pursuit of pleasure is never wrong. The incontinent man knows it is wrong but cannot resist it.
[DR] Since we use the word 'know' in two senses (for both the man who has knowledge but is not using it and he who is using it are said to know), it will make a difference whether, when a man does what he should not, he has the knowledge but is not exercising it, or is exercising it; for the latter seems strange, but not the former. It is worse to act wrongly after due deliberation of the act and its consequences than to commit it in an impetuous manner.
[DR] When the universal opinion is present in us restraining us from tasting, and there is also the opinion that 'everything sweet is pleasant', and that 'this is sweet' (now this is the opinion that is active), and when appetite happens to be present in us, the one opinion bids us avoid the object, but appetite leads us towards it (for it can move each of our bodily parts); so that it turns out that a man behaves incontinently under the influence (in a sense) of a rule and an opinion, and of one not contrary in itself, but only incidentally - for the appetite is contrary, not the opinion - to the right rule. Our appetites can tempt us to go against our better judgment, making us behave incontinently.
[TI, DR, JT] Some sources of pleasure are necessary; others are choiceworthy in themselves, but can be taken to excess. The necessary ones are the bodily conditions, i.e. those that concern food, sexual intercourse, and the bodily matters with which we defined self-indulgence and temperance as being concerned. Other sources of pleasure are not necessary, but are choiceworthy in themselves, e.g. victory, honor, wealth and similar good and pleasant things. Now those who indulge to excess in this second class of pleasures, contrary to the right principle within them, we do not call incontinent without qualification. Enjoyment of the necessary bodily pleasures can be temperate or self-indulgent. Incontinence in the pursuit of pleasures of the ego is of a different kind.
[DR, JT] Incontinence either without qualification or in respect of some particular bodily pleasure is blamed not only as a fault but as a kind of vice, while none of the people who are incontinent in these other respects [victory, honor, wealth] is so blamed. But in the case of bodily enjoyments, which we hold to be the sphere of the temperate and licentious, the man who pursues excessive pleasures and avoids excessive pains like hunger and thirst, heat and cold, and all the discomforts of touch and taste, not from choice but in opposition to it and to his reasoning, is described as incontinent without any added determinant. Incontinence in bodily pleasures is a vice, but not in the pursuit of pleasures of the ego. Lack of self-discipline in curbing of excessive pursuit of pleasure and inordinate avoidance of pain is incontinence pure and simple.
[DR] We group together the incontinent and the self-indulgent, the continent and the temperate man. Some of them make a deliberate choice while the others do not. We should describe as self-indulgent rather the man who without appetite or with but a slight appetite pursues the excess of pleasure and avoids moderate pains, than the man who does so because of his strong appetites. The incontinent man is driven to excess by an uncontrollable appetite. The self-indulgent man practices excess deliberately.
[DR] Some pleasant things are by nature worthy of choice, while others are contrary to these, and others are intermediate, e.g. wealth, gain, victory, honor. Men are not blamed for desiring and loving them, but for doing so in a certain way, i.e. for going to excess. There is no wickedness, then, with regard to these objects, because each of them is by nature a thing worthy of choice for its own sake; yet excesses in respect of them are bad and to be avoided. Similarly there is no incontinence with regard to them. Excess in pursuit of worthy things that please the ego is not incontinence, but is bad nevertheless.
[TI, JT] Some things are naturally pleasant, and some of these are unconditionally pleasant, while others correspond to differences between kinds of animals and of human beings. But there are other things that are not naturally pleasant, but become so, either through injury or through habit or through congenital depravity. Naturally pleasant things are enjoyed by animals and men. There are also naturally unpleasant things that are enjoyed by people with mental or physical defects.
[DR] Every excessive state whether of folly, of cowardice, of self-indulgence, or of bad temper, is either brutish or morbid. As the wickedness which is on the human level is called wickedness simply, while that which is called wickedness not simply but with the qualification 'brutish' or 'morbid', in the same way it is plain that some incontinence is brutish and some morbid, while only that which corresponds to human self-indulgence is incontinence simply. Excess of folly, cowardice, self-indulgence, or bad temper is evidence either of brutishness or abnormality. Incontinence, then, is said to be due to one of these defects; ordinary incontinence is due to human weakness.
[DR] We pardon people more easily for following natural desires; anger and bad temper are more natural than the appetites for excess, i.e. for unnecessary objects. We pardon excess of natural desires, anger and bad temper sooner than unnatural excesses.
[DR] Those who are more given to plotting against others are more criminal. Now a passionate man is not given to plotting, nor is anger itself -- it is open. Premeditated criminal acts are worse than crimes committed in a fit of passion.
[JT] Nobody who behaves with wanton insolence does so from a sense of grievance, but always with a feeling of pleasure, whereas everyone who acts in anger does so from a sense of grievance. Gratuitous acts of violence are committed with maliciousness. Acts committed in anger are due to a grievance.
[DR] The incontinence concerned with appetite is more disgraceful than that concerned with anger, and continence and incontinence are concerned with bodily appetites and pleasures. Incontinence of bodily appetites is worse than incontinence of anger.
[JT] Brutishness is not as bad as vice, although it is more alarming, because it consists not in the corruption of the highest part, as it does in man, but in the absence of it. A bad man can do infinitely more harm than a brute. A man who acts badly by design does more harm than the brutish simpleton.
[DR] Since some pleasures are necessary while others are not, and are necessary up to a point while the excesses of them are not, nor the deficiencies, and this is equally true of appetites and pains, the man who pursues the excesses of things pleasant, or pursues to excess necessary objects, and does so by choice, for their own sake and not at all for the sake of any result distinct from them, is self-indulgent; for such a man is of necessity without regrets, and therefore incurable.
The man who is deficient in his pursuit of them is the opposite of self-indulgent; the man who is intermediate is temperate. The self-indulgent man is worse than the incontinent.
The self-indulgent person pursues the pleasures to excess by choice, the temperate person observes moderation. The insensible person abstains from pleasure too much.
[DR] The self-indulgent man, as was said, has no regrets; for he stands by his choice; but any incontinent man is subject to regrets. Wickedness is like a disease such as dropsy or consumption, while incontinence is like epilepsy; the former is permanent, the latter an intermittent badness. And generally incontinence and vice are different in kind; vice is unconscious of itself, incontinence is not. Incontinence is contrary to choice while vice is in accordance with choice. The difference between vice and incontinence.
[JT] The incontinent are not wicked but they do wicked things. Again the incontinent man, while pursuing bodily pleasures that are excessive and contrary to right principle, is so constituted that he pursues them without the conviction that he is right, whereas the licentious man has this conviction, because he is so constituted as to pursue them; consequently the former can easily be persuaded to change, but the latter cannot. For virtue preserves, while vice destroys, the first principle, and in conduct the first principle is the end. The incontinent person understands the first principle of virtue, but cannot resist the temptation of bodily pleasures. The licentious person has no qualms about pursuing excessive pleasures. Virtue preserves, vice destroys the first principle.
[DR, TI] Virtue either natural or produced by habituation is what teaches right opinion about the first principle. The sort of person with this virtue is temperate, and the contrary sort intemperate. The temperate person has the virtue to comprehend the first principle of pleasure. The intemperate person does not.
[DR] Not everyone who does anything for the sake of pleasure is either self-indulgent or bad or incontinent, but he who does it for a disgraceful pleasure. Since there is also a sort of man who takes less delight than he should in bodily things, and does not abide by the rule, he who is intermediate between him and the incontinent man is the continent man; for the incontinent man fails to abide by the rule because he delights too much in them, and this man because he delights in them too little; while the continent man abides by the rule and does not change on either account. The continent person abides by the rule and is intermediate in the pursuit of pleasure between the incontinent person and the insensible one who shuns pleasure.
[TI] The continent and the temperate person are both the sort to do nothing in conflict with reason because of bodily pleasures; but the continent person has base appetites, and the temperate person lacks them. The temperate person is the sort to find nothing pleasant that conflicts with reason; the continent is the sort to find such things pleasant but not to be led by them. The incontinent and the intemperate person are similar too; though they are different, they both pursue bodily sources of pleasure, but the intemperate person pursues them because he also thinks it is right, while the incontinent person does not think so. The continent and the temperate person's attitude towards pleasure compared to the attitude of the incontinent and intemperate person.
[JT] It is impossible for the same person to be at the same time prudent and incontinent; for we have proved that a prudent man is at the same time morally good. Besides, merely knowing what is right does not make a person prudent; he must be disposed to do it too: and the incontinent man is not so disposed. In fact the incontinent man is like a state which passes all the right decrees and has good laws, but makes no use of them, whereas the bad man is like a state that implements its laws, only the laws that it implements are bad ones. A prudent person is prevented by moral virtue from being incontinent. The incontinent person gives in to his weaknesses. The wicked man revels in excessive pleasure.
[JT] Neither thought nor any other activity is hindered by its proper pleasure, but only pleasures of a different origin. Indeed the pleasures that we derive from contemplation and learning will encourage us to contemplate and learn more. Proper pleasure can be had from proper activities. Pleasure derived from contemplation is especially rewarding.
[JT, TI] Pain is an evil, and to be avoided; because it is either absolutely an evil or in some sense an impediment. But the contrary to what is to be avoided, in so far as it is bad and to be avoided, is a good; hence pleasure must be a good. If some pleasures are bad, there is still no reason why some kind of pleasure should not be the supreme good. Pain and pleasure are opposites. Pain is bad, pleasure is good, even if some pleasures are bad.
[TI] This is why all think the happy life is pleasant and weave pleasure into happiness, quite reasonably, since no activity is complete if it is impeded, and happiness is something complete. Hence the happy person needs to have goods of the body and external goods added to good activities, and needs fortune also, so that he will not be impeded in these ways. And because happiness needs fortune added, good fortune seems to some people to be the same as happiness. But it is not. For when it is excessive, it actually impedes happiness. A person must also have bodily and material goods and good fortune to enjoy complete happiness.
[DR] There can be too much of bodily goods, and the bad man is bad by virtue of pursuing the excess, not by virtue of pursuing the necessary pleasures (for all men enjoy in some way or other both dainty foods and wines and sexual intercourse, but not all men do so as they ought). The contrary is the case with pain; for the bad man does not avoid the excess of it, he avoids it altogether. The bad person pursues bodily and material goods to excess and tries to avoid pain completely.
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