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
- Book Ⅰ
- Book Ⅱ
- Book Ⅲ
- Book Ⅳ
- Book Ⅴ
- Book Ⅵ
- Book Ⅶ
- Book Ⅷ
- Book Ⅸ
- Book Ⅹ