Self-indulgence is more like a voluntary state than cowardice. For
the former is actuated by pleasure, the latter by pain, of which the
one is to be chosen and the other to be avoided; and pain upsets and
destroys the nature of the person who feels it, while pleasure does
nothing of the sort. Therefore self-indulgence is more voluntary.
Hence also it is more a matter of reproach; for it is easier to become
accustomed to its objects, since there are many things of this sort in
life, and the process of habituation to them is free from danger,
while with terrible objects the reverse is the case. But cowardice
would seem to be voluntary in a different degree from its particular
manifestations; for it is itself painless, but in these we are upset
by pain, so that we even throw down our arms and disgrace ourselves in
other ways; hence our acts are even thought to be done under
compulsion. For the self-indulgent man, on the other hand, the
particular acts are voluntary (for he does them with craving and
desire), but the whole state is less so; for no one craves to be
The name self-indulgence is applied also to childish faults; for
they bear a certain resemblance to what we have been considering.
Which is called after which, makes no difference to our present
purpose; plainly, however, the later is called after the earlier.
The transference of the name seems not a bad one; for that which
desires what is base and which develops quickly ought to be kept in
a chastened condition, and these characteristics belong above all to
appetite and to the child, since children in fact live at the beck and
call of appetite, and it is in them that the desire for what is
pleasant is strongest. If, then, it is not going to be obedient and
subject to the ruling principle, it will go to great lengths; for in
an irrational being the desire for pleasure is insatiable even if it
tries every source of gratification, and the exercise of appetite
increases its innate force, and if appetites are strong and violent
they even expel the power of calculation. Hence they should be
moderate and few, and should in no way oppose the rational
principle-and this is what we call an obedient and chastened state-and
as the child should live according to the direction of his tutor, so
the appetitive element should live according to rational principle.
Hence the appetitive element in a temperate man should harmonize
with the rational principle; for the noble is the mark at which both
aim, and the temperate man craves for the things be ought, as he
ought, as when he ought; and when he ought; and this is what
rational principle directs.
Here we conclude our account of temperance.
Back to Nicomachean Ethics: Book III: Section 11
Up to Nicomachean Ethics
Forward to Nicomachean Ethics: Book IV: Section 1