Book 7: Characters Other Than Virtue and Vice.

Chapter 5: Of incontinence in respect of brutal or morbid appetites.

While some things are naturally pleasant (of which some are pleasant in themselves, others pleasant to certain classes of animals or men), other things, though not naturally pleasant, come to be pleasant (1) through organic injuries, or (2) through custom, or again (3) through an originally bad nature and in each of these three classes of things a corresponding character is manifested.

For instance [taking (3) first], there are the brutal characters, such as the creature in woman’s shape that is said to rip up pregnant females and devour the embryos, or the people who take delight, as some of the wild races about the Black Sea are said to take delight, in such things as eating raw meat or human flesh, or giving their children to one another to feast upon; or, again, in such things as are reported of Phalaris.

These, then, are what we call brutal natures [corresponding to (3)]: but in other cases the disposition is engendered by disease or madness; for instance, there was the man who slew and ate his mother, and that other who devoured the liver of his fellow-slave [and these correspond to (1)].

Other habits are either signs of a morbid state, or the result of custom [and so come either under (1) or under (2)]; e.g. plucking out the hair and biting the nails, or eating cinders and earth, or, again, the practice of unnatural vice; for these habits sometimes come naturally, sometimes by custom, as in the case of those who have been ill treated from their childhood.

Whenever nature is the cause of these morbid habits, no one would think of applying the term incontinence, any more than we should call women incontinent for the part they play in the propagation of the species; nor should we apply the term to those who, by habitual indulgence, have brought themselves into a morbid state.

Habits of this kind, then, fall without the pale of vice, just as the brutal character does; but when a man who has these impulses conquers or is conquered by them, this is not to be called [continence or] incontinence strictly, but only metaphorically, just as the man who behaves thus in the matter of his angry passions cannot be strictly called incontinent. For even folly, and cowardice, and profligacy, and ill temper, whenever they are carried beyond a certain pitch, are either brutal or morbid. When a man is naturally so constituted as to be frightened at anything, even at the sound of a mouse, his cowardice is brutal [inhuman]; but in the wellknown case of a man who was afraid of a weasel, disease was the cause. And of irrational human beings, those who by nature are devoid of reason, and live only by their senses, are to be called brutal, as some races of remote barbarians, while those in whom the cause is disease (e.g. epilepsy) or insanity are to be called morbidly irrational.

Again, a man may on occasion have one of these impulses without being dominated by it, as, for instance, if Phalaris on some occasion desired to eat the flesh of a child, or to indulge his unnatural lusts, and yet restrained himself; and, again, it is possible not only to have the impulse, but to be dominated by it.

To conclude, then: as in the case of vice there is a human vice that is called vice simply, and another sort that is called with a qualifying epithet “brutal” or “morbid vice” (not simply vice), so also it is plain that there is a sort of incontinence that is called brutal, and another that is called morbid incontinence, while that only is called incontinence simply which can be classed with human profligacy.

We have thus shown that incontinence and continence proper have to do only with those things with which profligacy and temperance have to do, and that in other matters there is a sort of incontinence to which the name is applied metaphorically and with a qualifying epithet.


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