Aristotle on Incontinence and Intemperance

From the concluding paragraph of a letter from H.D. Thoreau to R.W. Emerson (who was in England at the time), on :

They have been choosing between John Keyes and Sam Staples, if the world wants to know it, as representative of this town, and Staples is chosen. The candidates for governor — think of my writing this to you! — were Governor Briggs and General Cushing, and Briggs is elected, though the Democrats have gained. Ain’t I a brave boy to know so much of politics for the nonce? But I shouldn’t have known it if Coombs hadn’t told me. They have had a peace meeting here, — I shouldn’t think of telling you if I didn’t know anything would do for the English market, — and some men, Deacon Brown at the head, have signed a long pledge, swearing that they will “treat all mankind as brothers henceforth.” I think I shall wait and see how they treat me first. I think that Nature meant kindly when she made our brothers few. However, my voice is still for peace. So good-by, and a truce to all joking, my dear friend…

An envelope full of foot powder, sent to an IRS processing facility from a zip code that belongs to a prison prompted the evacuation of the building so a hazmat team could suit up, come in, and detoxify the place.

In the eighth section of the seventh book of The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle reiterates that self-indulgence or intemperance is a worse vice than the weakness of incontinence or lack of self control (which is not, strictly, a vice since it is not a matter of choice but is action contrary to choice).

He seems to have been reiterating this quite a bit, and I think any good reader will have gotten the point by now. J. Cook Wilson devoted a book, The Structure of the Seventh Book of the Nicomachean Ethics, Chapters Ⅰ–Ⅹ, to the theory that this book in particular shows evidence of having been cobbled together from multiple, parallel, original fragment sources. Wilson suggests that

The compilers looked on the reputed works of Aristotle as “sacred books,” and considered themselves under obligation not to suppress any of the material which they found.

Consequently they incorporated in the text several versions of the same thing, even where they differed but slightly from one another: just as a Christian might regard the various accounts of the same events in the Gospels as of equal value and entitled to preservation in their original form.

The different ways in which they arranged and combined the duplicates may be accounted for by supposing that they endeavoured not to restore accurately an original order, but rather to make a context which would read with some appearance of continuity out of the actual fragments, adding and taking away as little as possible. There seem to be undoubted traces of connecting sentences written by a compiler: but the condition of the text indicates that it was a rule in some books at least to make such work a minimum; if this is so it would be caused by the same feeling as that which prompted the preservation of the duplicates.

So to some extent The Nicomachean Ethics reads as though someone were trying to write a transcript of Aristotle’s lectures by compiling the bits of his students’ lecture notes found in the dumpster behind the school at the end of various terms and trying to make them coherent.

This section, in particular, seems redundant — merely restating with new language and different examples what has been said before in other sections. It would be interesting to follow Wilson’s lead and to try to assemble a version of this book, or of The Nicomachean Ethics as a whole, that organizes the essentials well and perhaps less reverently, a bit like Stock did for books one through five.

Index to the Nicomachean Ethics series

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics