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Aristotle considers "incontinence" to be failure to act reasonably despite foreknowledge of what virtuous behavior is, and "intemperance" to be straightforward hedonism. Intemperance, Aristotle asserts, is far worse than incontinence because while incontinence has a potential cure, intemperance is entirely incurable. In Book 7, Section (or 'Chapter') 8 of Nicomachean Ethics, he provides three arguments in support of this:
- Intemperance refuses regret, while incontinence allows it.
- Intemperate people are ignorant of their intemperance, but incontinent people recognize their incontinence.
- Intemperate people are ignorant of reason, whereas the incontinent are merely seduced by pleasure despite good foreknowledge of reason.
Intemperance and incontinence are distinguished not by outward action, but rather by forethought and motivation. The three arguments he offers all suggest that reason can save the incontinent person from his incontinence, but not the intemperate one from his intemperance. This is because incontinence heeds reason while intemperance does not.
Aristotle posits that incontinent people have intact knowledge of reason, and that their error occurs merely in the abandonment of a virtuous decision that they have already made, in favor of personal pleasure. An incontinent person, he writes, can be "persuaded out of" incorrect actions. But persuasion necessarily involves appealing to reason. So by saying that an incontinent person can be "persuaded out of" his incontinence, Aristotle contradicts his other assertion that incontinent people do not suffer from flawed reasoning. This inconsistency makes the argument fail.