Aristotle on Incontinence

In the tenth section of the seventh book of The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle wraps up his investigation into self-control.

He hearkens back to a couple of earlier arguments: the twelfth and thirteenth sections of book six in which he distinguished practical wisdom from mere cleverness (practical wisdom aims at what is good, while cleverness may aim at any old thing), and the second section of this book in which he insisted that incontinence is not a variety of practical wisdom (in other words, the incontinent person doesn’t change his or her mind at the last minute because of a sudden better grasp of the situation).

He brings forward a new analogy to explain the difference between the incontinent person and the intemperate one. The incontinent person is like a city that has good laws on the books but that doesn’t enforce them; the intemperate person is like a city with bad laws.

He also emphasizes here that continence is not a binary thing that you either have or don’t have. It’s measured on a scale — the continent person has more self-control than the average person, the incontinent person less.

Finally, he notes that incontinence due to impetuosity (failure to deliberate at all) is easier to correct than incontinence due to weakness (inability to stick to the choices you make by deliberation). Also, incontinence that is acquired by bad habit is easier to correct than incontinence that is innate (though he notes that habitual incontinence can become as-if-innate over time).

Index to the Nicomachean Ethics series

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

The government has a variety of programs that are supposed to help poor people by either giving them money (for instance, via the Earned Income Tax Credit), or money-like resources (for instance, food stamps), or other benefits (for instance, Medicaid or housing subsidies).

These benefits are directed to financially poorer people, and so they end or phase out as a person’s income rises. But if the programs are carelessly designed, this can lead to a situation in which a person can actually become worse-off by earning more money. That is to say, by earning an extra dollar, a person might lose more than a dollar in benefits. This is a strong disincentive to earn more, rise out of poverty, and get off of government assistance.

The Mises Institute recently ran the numbers for a hypothetical single parent living in Virginia with two children and came up with a pair of graphs showing the effective marginal tax rate on this person at various income levels. As benefits cut off between about $20,000 and $45,000 in income, the tax rate for those dollars is greater than 100%. In other words, if this hypothetical person were earning $20,000 a year, she would be financially worse off were she to get a 50% raise, and worse off still if she were able to double her salary.

This can have the effect of promoting and maintaining dependence on government welfare programs. And it’s not a matter of the bugaboo of lazy welfare bums preferring a handout to an honest job. You wouldn’t expect anyone to be willing to run more than twice as hard just to stay in the same place, particularly a single parent.

Tax savings for energy-efficient improvements to your home have increased this year. If you’re an American home-owner, you may want to review these tax provisions to see what you can take advantage of.