Book 7: Characters Other Than Virtue and Vice.
Again, a profligate man, as we said, is not given to remorse, for he abides by his deliberate purpose; but an incontinent man is always apt to feel remorse. So the case is not as it was put in one of the difficulties we enumerated, but the former is incurable, the latter is curable. For full-formed vice [profligacy] seems to be like such diseases as dropsy or consumption, incontinence like epilepsy; for the former is chronic, the latter intermittent badness.
Indeed, we may roundly say that incontinence is generically different from vice; for the vicious man knows not, but the incontinent man knows, the nature of his acts.
But of these incontinent characters, those who momentarily lose their reason are not so bad as those who retain their reason but disobey it; for the latter give way to a slighter impulse, and cannot, like the former, be said to act without deliberation. For an incontinent man is like one who gets drunk quickly and with little wine, i.e. with less than most men.
We have seen that incontinence is not vice, but perhaps we may say that it is in a manner vice. The difference is that the vicious man acts with deliberate purpose, while the incontinent man acts against it. But in spite of this difference their acts are similar; as Demodocus said against the Milesians, “The Milesians are not fools, but they act like fools.” So an incontinent man is not unjust, but will act unjustly.
It is the character of the incontinent man to pursue, without being convinced of their goodness, bodily pleasures that exceed the bounds of moderation and are contrary to right reason; but the profligate man is convinced that these things are good because it is his character to pursue them: the former, then, may be easily brought to a better mind, the latter not. For virtue preserves, but vice destroys the principle; but in matters of conduct the motive [end or final cause] is the principle [beginning or efficient cause] of action, holding the same place here that the hypotheses do in mathematics. In mathematics no reasoning or demonstration can instruct us about these principles or starting points; so here it is not reason but virtue, either natural or acquired by training, that teaches us to hold right opinions about the principle of action. A man of this character, then, is temperate, while a man of opposite character is profligate.
But there is a class of people who are apt to be momentarily deprived of their right senses by passion, and who are swayed by passion so far as not to act according to reason, but not so far that it has become part of their nature to believe that they ought to pursue pleasures of this kind without limit. These are the incontinent, who are better than the profligate, and not absolutely bad; for the best part of our nature, the principle of right conduct, still survives in them.
To these are opposed another class of people who are wont to abide by their resolutions, and not to be deprived of their senses by passion at least. It is plain from this, then, that the latter is a good type of character, the former not good.