Book 7: Characters Other Than Virtue and Vice.

Chapter 1: Of continence and incontinence, heroic virtue and brutality. Of method. Statement of opinions about continence.

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 σεῖος 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.

However, we shall have to make some mention of this disposition further on, 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.


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