is a neutral term (applying to both use and misuse); thus it comes to seem obvious that 'used' and 'not used' may be substituted for 'active' and its negation in any context.

We might have expected that Aristotle would complete his close analysis of incontinence (in terms of the two arguments and the presence of appetite) with a similar analysis of continence. In fact by comparison he says rather little about continence, and does not face the puzzles which arise when we consider how it resembles incontinence in logical structure and in other respects. In the case of continence, too, the B-argument and its conclusion must be held unconditionally, to the extent that appetite is present creating an actual conflict. No doubt there is the same gamut of possible forms: sometimes appetite distorts or hampers perception; sometimes it gives rise to self-deceptive misinterpretation; sometimes it takes away the sense of the shamefulness of doing B. And any physical changes set going by appetite (1147 a 15- 16) can be the same as occur in incontinence. The difference is that the continent agent (called so on the basis of what he does) pulls himself together in time to respect his rational choice. 41 By what mechanism does he resist temptation, when the other does not? Aristotle does not trouble about this question, let alone about the next round of questions, such as whether the incontinent has the same mechanism and whether, if so, he lacks a further mechanism for activating the first. Perhaps there are metaphysical reasons why Aristotle does not try to hunt down the source of the difference between continence and incontinence, but there is also a reason based on practical ethics. From the point of view of the moral educator the two conditions present more or less the same problem, since it is the purpose of training to minimize both, and the same sorts of methods are called for.


Notes
1.
NE VII.3 in particular has surely generated more commentary than any similar sized portion of Aristotle's text, apart from De Interpretatione 9 and On the Soul III.4-5. But the conceptual log jam has recently started to break up. Of recent discussions, the two most helpful known to me are those by Mele [2], and Dahl. Dahl's main conclusions on Aristotle's theory of incontinence are similar to mine, although the detail of our arguments differs considerably.
2.
For a vigorous demonstration, see Matthews.
3.
At 1151 b 23-32 he describes a condition, analogous to incontinence, in which the agent goes against his rational choice in refusing a legitimate pleasure. Aristotle's own excessive love of triads of moral qualities leads him to say that continence stands to this condition as mean to deficiency, with incontinence being the excessive member of the threesome. But since Aristotle sees continence as entailing excessive appetite for pleasure, he ought to define a fourth condition, analogous to continence, in which reason prevails against excessive aversion from pleasure.
4.
By 'being actually tempted' I mean, for instance, that if there were time for consideration, one would seriously consider taking what is tempting.
5.
It is often remarked that Aristotle's virtue of courage, which involves pain at the thought of death (1117 b 7-16), resembles continence more closely than it resembles a virtue such as temperance. See, e.g., Joachim, 118; Ross [1], 203 and 206; Pears; Leighton [2]; for a different angle see Hardie [3], Appendix, and [4], 401-4.
6.
Cf. 1110 a 4 ff. on 'hard choices'. But we should not assume that whenever what is set

-307-

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Ethics with Aristotle
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Contents xi
  • Chapter 1 Happiness, the Supreme End 3
  • Notes 54
  • Chapter 2 Virtues and Parts of the Soul 57
  • Notes 118
  • Chapter 3 the Voluntary 124
  • Notes 174
  • Chapter 4 Practical Wisdom 179
  • Notes 260
  • Chapter 5 Incontinence 266
  • Notes 307
  • Chapter 6 Pleasure 313
  • Notes 363
  • Chapter 7 Aristotle's Values 366
  • Notes 433
  • Works Cited 439
  • Name Index 445
  • Subject Index 449
  • Index Locorum Aristotelis 453
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