Book 7: Characters Other Than Virtue and Vice.

Chapter 10: Prudence is not, but cleverness is, compatible with incontinence.

It is impossible for the same man to be at once prudent and incontinent; for we have shown that a 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 before 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, 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.


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