Book 7: Characters Other Than Virtue and Vice.

Chapter 6: Incontinence in anger less blamed than in appetite.

The next point we have to consider is that incontinence in anger is less disgraceful than incontinence in appetite.

The angry passions seem to hear something of what reason says, but to mis-hear it, like a hasty servant who starts off before he has heard all you are saying, and so mistakes his errand, or like a dog that barks so soon as he hears a noise, without waiting to find out if it be a friend. Just so our angry passions, in the heat and haste of their nature, hearing something but not hearing what reason orders, make speed to take vengeance. For when reason or imagination announces an insult or slight, the angry passion infers, so to speak, that its author is to be treated as an enemy, and then straightway boils up; appetite, on the other hand, if reason or sense do but proclaim “this is pleasant,” rushes to enjoy it. Thus anger, in some sort, obeys reason, which appetite does not. The latter, therefore, is the more disgraceful; for he who is incontinent in anger succumbs in some sort to reason, while the other succumbs not to reason, but to appetite.

Again, when impulses are natural, it is more excusable to follow them (for even with our appetites it is more pardonable to follow them when they are common to all men, and the more pardonable the commoner they are); but anger and ill temper are more natural than desire for excessive and unnecessary pleasures, as we see in the story of the man who excused himself for beating his father. “He beat his own father,” he said, “and that father beat his, and my son here,” pointing to his child, “will beat me when he is a man; for it runs in the family.” And there is that other story of the man who was being dragged out of the house by his son, and bade him stop at the doorway; for he had dragged his own father so far, but no further.

Again, the more a man is inclined to deliberate malice, the more unjust he is. Now, the hot-tempered man is not given to deliberate malice, nor is anger of that underhand nature, but asserts itself openly. But of appetite we may say what the poets say of Aphrodite: “Craft-weaving daughter of Cyprus;” or what Homer says of her “embroidered girdle,”

“Whose charm doth steal the reason of the wise.”

If then this incontinence be more unjust, it is more disgraceful than incontinence in anger, and is to be called incontinence simply, and a sort of vice.

Again, when a man commits an outrage, he does not feel pain in doing it, but rather pleasure, while he who acts in anger always feels pain as he is acting. If then the acts which rouse the justest indignation are the more unjust, it follows that incontinence in appetite is more unjust [than incontinence in anger]; for such outrage is never committed in anger.

Thus it is plain that incontinence in appetite is more disgraceful than incontinence in anger, and that continence and incontinence proper have to do with bodily appetites and pleasures.

But now let us see what differences we find in these bodily appetites and pleasures.

As we said at the outset, some of them are human and natural in kind and degree; others are signs of a brutal nature; others, again, are the result of organic injury or disease.

Now, it is with the first of these only that temperance and profligacy have to do: and for this reason we do not call beasts either temperate or profligate, except it be metaphorically, if we find a whole class of animals distinguished from others by peculiar lewdness and wantonness and voracity; for there is no purpose or deliberate calculation in what they do, but they are in an unnatural state, like madmen.

Brutality is less dangerous than vice, but more horrible; for the noble part is not corrupted here, as in a man who is merely vicious in a human way, but is altogether absent. To ask which is worse, then, would be like comparing inanimate things with animate: the badness of that which lacks the originating principle is always less mischievous; and reason [which the brutal man lacks] is here the originating principle. (To compare these, then, would be like comparing injustice with an unjust man: each is in its own way the worse.) For a bad man would do ten thousand times as much harm as a brute.


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