Book 7: Characters Other Than Virtue and Vice.
Now, who is to be called continent? he who abides by any kind of reason and any kind of purpose, or he who abides by a right purpose? And who is to be called incontinent? he who abandons any kind of purpose and any kind of reason, or he who abandons a true reason and a right purpose?—a difficulty which we raised before. Is it not the case that though “accidentally” it may be any kind, yet “essentially” it is a true reason and a right purpose that the one abides by and the other abandons? For if you choose or pursue A for the sake of B, you pursue and choose B “essentially,” but A “accidentally.” But by “essentially” (καθ’ αὑτό) we mean “absolutely” or “simply” (ἁπλῶς); so that we may say that in a certain sense it may be any kind of opinion, but absolutely or simply it is a true opinion that the one abides by and the other abandons.
But there is another class of persons that are apt to stick to their opinions (I mean those whom we call stubborn or obstinate), because they are averse to persuasion and not readily induced to change their mind. These bear some resemblance to the continent, as the prodigal does to the liberal, and the foolhardy to the courageous, but in many respects are different. For it is changing his mind at the prompting of passion or appetite that the continent man dislikes; he is ready enough on occasion to yield to reason: but it is to reason especially that the obstinate man will not listen, while he often conceives a passion, and is led about by his pleasures.
The opinionated, the ignorant, and the boorish are all obstinate—the opinionated from motives of pleasure and pain; for they delight in the sense of victory when they hold out against argument, and are pained if their opinion comes to naught like a decree that is set aside. They resemble the incontinent man, therefore, rather than the continent.
Sometimes also people abandon their resolutions from something else than incontinence, as, for instance, Neoptolemus in the Philoctetes of Sophocles. It may be said, indeed, that pleasure was his motive in abandoning his resolution: but it was a noble pleasure; for truth was fair in his eyes, but Ulysses had persuaded him to lie. For he who acts with pleasure for motive is not always either profligate, or worthless, or incontinent, but only when his motive is a base pleasure.
Again, as there are people whose character it is to take too little delight in the pleasures of the body, and who swerve from reason in this direction, those who come between these and the incontinent are the continent. For while the incontinent swerve from reason because of an excess, and these because of a deficiency, the continent man holds fast and is not turned aside by the one or the other.
But if continence be a good thing, the characters that are opposed to it must be bad, as in fact they evidently are; only, since the other extreme is found but rarely and in few cases, incontinence comes to be regarded as the only opposite of continence, just as profligacy comes to be regarded as the only opposite of temperance.
We often apply names metaphorically; and so we come to speak metaphorically of the continence of the temperate man. For it is the nature both of the continent and of the temperate man never to do anything contrary to reason for the sake of bodily pleasures; but whereas the former has, the latter has not bad desires, and whereas the latter is of such a nature as to take no delight in what is contrary to reason, the former is of such a nature as to take delight in, but not to be swayed by them.
The incontinent and the profligate also resemble each other, though they are different: both pursue bodily pleasures, but the latter pursues them on principle, while the former does not.