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Aristotle on voluntary action

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Presentation on theme: "Aristotle on voluntary action"— Presentation transcript:

1 Aristotle on voluntary action
Michael Lacewing

2 Voluntary and involuntary actions
In voluntary actions, we know what we are doing and we bring it about ourselves Force and ignorance render actions involuntary 3 cases of stepping on someone’s foot

3 Force Physical force and psychological pressure
Don’t blame someone where psychological pressure is very strong When we act involuntarily, we do so with pain and regret What of sailors throwing goods overboard in a storm? This is voluntary, in that it is chosen to avoid a greater evil And we praise them for their choice – praise and blame attaches only to voluntary action

4 Ignorance Whether an action done from ignorance is involuntary or ‘not voluntary’ depends on regret Stepping on someone’s foot (caring, not caring) Acting in ignorance ≠ acting from ignorance E.g. acting when drunk or in a rage – it is these conditions, not ignorance, that bring about the action Involuntary action from ignorance involves ignorance of the particular circumstances of action What you are actually doing, its consequences, your manner of acting …

5 Voluntary action Again: In voluntary actions, we know what we are doing and we bring it about ourselves Actions done from desire or emotion are still voluntary If not, then neither children nor animals ever act voluntarily Many good actions, that we ought to do, are done from desire or emotion Involuntary actions are painful, many actions done from desire are pleasant Our desires and emotions are part of us – we act from them

6 What is choice? Everything we choose to do is voluntary, but not everything voluntary is chosen E.g. the actions of children Choice is what we decide upon as a result of deliberation Deliberation is reasoning about what we can change Esp. where we need to act not from habit but differently on different occasions

7 Deliberating about ends
Do we deliberate about means only, or also ends? I might deliberate about whether it is worth the effort to get good grades I might deliberate about which end to pursue when two ends conflict Aristotle: we don’t deliberate about ends as ends, i.e. we always have some end in view Getting good grades as a means to an end Which end to pursue as part of the good life

8 Are bad actions voluntary?
Do people who are bad do bad things voluntarily and by choice? Socrates: no - everyone aims at what they believe is good and doing something bad is acting from ignorance Aristotle: it involves ignorance, but is still voluntary To know (fully) what the right act is involves understanding why it is right Bad people desire what is not truly desirable, but they are ignorant of this fact Something bad can seem desirable if we think it is pleasant

9 Bad people act voluntarily
What it is in our power to do, it is in our power not to do. So we can choose to do either good or bad actions. So bad actions are voluntary. We encourage people not to do bad actions, yet we don’t encourage people not to do things that are out of their power.

10 Moral responsibility Obj: Bad people act voluntarily, but are not morally responsible, because they do not know that what they desire is not desirable. Reply: Bad people became bad as a result of their choices. Therefore, they are responsible for becoming bad, and thus becoming ignorant of what is good.

11 Moral responsibility We acquire a particular state of character by acting in a corresponding way. Like becoming drunk and then not knowing what you are doing; or becoming ill through ignoring medical advice; we are responsible for becoming bad through the choices we made. Bad action is done in ignorance, not from ignorance.

12 Moral responsibility If the bad person is not responsible for their bad actions, and these are not done voluntarily, then the good person is not responsible for their good actions, and these are not done voluntarily. Actions and character traits are not voluntary in the same way. Voluntary actions are under our control from start to finish. Character traits are only under our control at the beginning.

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