Aritotle's Voluntary and Involuntary Actions

Topics: Nicomachean Ethics, Voluntary action, Decision making Pages: 2 (699 words) Published: December 12, 2006
Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics" generally focuses on living a virtuous life and having virtuous characteristics. In Book III Chapter II of "Nicomachean Ethics", Aristotle focuses on different types of actions. He divides actions into three categories: voluntary, involuntary and nonvoluntary. Aristotle makes this distinction mainly because his evaluation of someone's actions depends primarily on whether their actions are voluntary, involuntary, or nonvoluntary.

Aristotle describes voluntary actions as those actions driven by an individual's ambition, passions or desires. "It is only voluntary feelings and actions for which praise and blame are given" (Book.III Ch.I). Praise and blame presuppose that our actions are done voluntarily. The person carrying out the act or the "doer" must also be aware of the particular circumstances in which he or she acts. Some acts may seem to contain both voluntary and involuntary actions. One example is a tyrant forcing a man to commit a shameful act by threatening the man's family. If the man refuses to commit this shameful act his family is to be killed. If the man agrees to commit the shameful act, though the man acted under pressure, his actions are still voluntary because the man freely chose between two alternatives. The situation may not have been voluntary, but his response was voluntary. According to Aristotle, as long as the action is considered of and performed by the doer with no inescapable force, the action is voluntary. The fact that the man knew the circumstances surrounding his decision makes him fully responsible for his actions, therefore, making those actions voluntary. All decisions are voluntary actions.

Aristotle describes involuntary actions as those actions where the principle of the actions lie outside of the doer. When someone does something wrong because of an external agent, they are exempt from blame and punishment. "those [actions] that are involuntary are condoned, and sometimes even pitied"...

Bibliography: Irwin, Terence. Gail Fine. 1996. Aristotle Introductory Readings. Hackett publishing 1995. Indianapolis, Indiana
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