Why I Love Aristotle, Reason #82721

 Posted by on 10 February 2009 at 12:01 am  Aristotle, Ethics, Philosophy
Feb 102009

Here’s a delightful passage from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book 7, Chapter 6:

That incontinence [i.e. lack of self-control] in respect of anger is less disgraceful than that in respect of the appetites is what we will now proceed to see.

Anger seems to listen to argument to some extent, but to mishear it, as do hasty servants who run out before they have heard the whole of what one says, and then muddle the order, or as dogs bark if there is but a knock at the door, before looking to see if it is a friend; so anger by reason of the warmth and hastiness of its nature, though it hears, does not hear an order, and springs to take revenge. For argument or imagination informs us that we have been insulted or slighted, and anger, reasoning as it were that anything like this must be fought against, boils up straightway; while appetite, if argument or perception merely says that an object is pleasant, springs to the enjoyment of it. Therefore anger obeys the argument in a sense, but appetite does not. It is therefore more disgraceful; for the man who is incontinent in respect of anger is in a sense conquered by argument, while the other is conquered by appetite and not by argument.

Aristotle is correct to say that indulgence in unjustified anger requires some kind of rational judgment, whereas indulgence in mere appetites (i.e. bodily pleasures) does not. I’m not certain that the difference makes indulgence in anger less disgraceful than indulgence in appetites; I’m doubtful that such a comparison is sensible. (The argument above is not Aristotle’s only argument for that conclusion, however. He offers quite a few in that chapter.)

Regardless of such concerns, what I love about this passage is his analogy to the hasty servant and the barking dog. That’s just priceless — and oh so much like Aristotle.

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