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1109b Nicomachean Ethics So the person who is aiming at the mean must ®rst steer away from the extreme that is in greater opposition to it, as Calypso advised: Beyond this spray and swell keep your ship. 14 For one of the extremes is a greater missing of the mark, the other less so; and since hitting the mean is extremely hard, we must take the next best course, as they say, and choose the lesser of two evils. This will be done best in the way we are suggesting. But we must also consider the things towards which we as individuals are particularly prone. For we each have different natural tendencies, and we can ®nd out what they are by the pain and pleasure that occur in us. And we should drag ourselves in the opposite direction, because we shall arrive at the mean by holding far off from where we would miss the mark, just as people do when straightening warped pieces of wood. In everything, we should be on our guard especially against the pleasant ± pleasure, that is ± because we are not impartial judges of it. So we should adopt the same attitude to it as the elders did towards Helen, and utter their words in everything we do; 15 for by dismissing pleasure in this way, we shall miss the mark to a lesser degree. To sum up, then, it is by doing these things that we shall best be able to hit the mean. Admittedly, however, hitting it is dif®cult, especially in particular cases, since it is not easy to determine how one should be angry, with whom, for what reasons, and for how long; indeed we sometimes praise those who fall short and call them even-tempered, and sometimes those who ¯are up, describing them as manly. But the person who is blamed is not the one who deviates a little, either in excess or de®ciency, from the right degree, but the one who deviates rather more, because he does not escape our notice. But how far and to what extent someone must deviate before becoming blameworthy it is not easy to determine by reason, because nothing perceived by our senses is easily determined; such things are particulars, and judgement about them lies in perception. This much, then, is clear ± that the mean state is in every case to be praised, but that sometimes we must incline towards the excess, sometimes towards the de®ciency, because in this way we shall most easily hit the mean, namely, what is good. 14 Homer, Odyssey xii.219f. 15 Homer, Iliad iii.156±60. 36

Book III Chapter 1 Since virtue is to do with feelings and actions, and since voluntary feelings and actions are praised and blamed, while the involuntary ones are pardoned and occasionally even pitied, presumably anyone considering virtue must determine the limits of the voluntary and the involuntary. It will be useful as well for legislators, in connection with honours and punishments. Things that happen by force or through ignorance are thought to be involuntary. What is forced is what has an external ®rst principle, such that the agent or the person acted upon contributes nothing to it ± if a wind, for example, or people with power over him carry him somewhere. As for things done through fear of greater evils or for the sake of something noble ± if a tyrant, for example, had one's parents and children in his power and ordered one to do something shameful, on the condition that one's doing it would save them, while one's not doing it would result in their death ± there is some dispute about whether they are involuntary or voluntary. The same sort of thing happens also in the case of people throwing cargo overboard in storms at sea. Without quali®cation, no one jettisons cargo voluntarily; but for his own safety and that of others any sensible person will do it. Such actions, then, are mixed, though they seem more like voluntary ones, because at the time they are done they are worthy of choice, and the end of an action depends on the circumstances. So both voluntariness and involuntariness are to be ascribed at the time of the action. In fact, the person acts voluntarily, because in actions like this the ®rst principle 37 1110a

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