Book 3.5: The Several Moral Virtues and Vices.

Chapter 12: How profligacy is more voluntary than cowardice.

Profligacy seems to be more voluntary than cowardice.

For a man is impelled to the former by pleasure, to the latter by pain; but pleasure is a thing we choose, while pain is a thing we avoid. Pain puts us beside ourselves and upsets the nature of the sufferer, while pleasure has no such effect. Profligacy, therefore, is more voluntary.

Profligacy is for these reasons more to be blamed than cowardice, and for another reason too, viz. that it is easier to train one’s self to behave rightly on these occasions [i.e. those in which profligacy is displayed]; for such occasions are constantly occurring in our lives, and the training involves no risk; but with occasions of fear the contrary is the case.

Again, it would seem that the habit of mind or character called cowardice is more voluntary than the particular acts in which it is exhibited. It is not painful to be a coward, but the occasions which exhibit cowardice put men beside themselves through fear of pain, so that they throw away their arms and altogether disgrace themselves; and hence these particular acts are even thought to be compulsory.

In the case of the profligate, on the contrary, the particular acts are voluntary (for they are done with appetite and desire), but the character itself less so; for no one desires to be a profligate.

The term “profligacy” we apply also to childish faults, for they have some sort of resemblance. It makes no difference for our present purpose which of the two is named after the other, but it is plain that the later is named after the earlier.

And the metaphor, I think, is not a bad one: what needs “chastening” or “correction” is that which inclines to base things and which has great powers of expansion. Now, these characteristics are nowhere so strongly marked as in appetite and in childhood; children too [as well as the profligate] live according to their appetites, and the desire for pleasant things is most pronounced in them. If then this element be not submissive and obedient to the governing principle, it will make great head: for in an irrational being the desire for pleasant things is insatiable and ready to gratify itself in any way, and the gratification of the appetite increases the natural tendency, and if the gratifications are great and intense they even thrust out reason altogether. The gratifications of appetite, ]therefore, should be moderate and few, and appetite should be in no respect opposed to reason (this is what we mean by submissive and “chastened”), but subject to reason as a child should be subject to his tutor.

And so the appetites of the temperate man should be in harmony with his reason; for the aim of both is that which is noble: the temperate man desires what he ought, and as he ought, and when he ought; and this again is what reason prescribes.

This, then, may be taken as an account of temperance.


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