Force, Compulsion, and the Internal Origin of Action

Susan Sauvé Meyer

in Aristotle on Moral Responsibility

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199697427
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191732072 | DOI:
Force, Compulsion, and the Internal Origin of Action

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This chapter considers Aristotle's differing verdicts, in the different ethical works, on whether compelled actions are voluntary. In the EE and the MM Aristotle classifies such actions as involuntary, but in the EN he insists that they are voluntary. These conflicting verdicts reflect different ways of making precise the basic presupposition guiding his dialectical inquiry into voluntariness, the thesis that agents are morally responsible for the actions produced by their moral character. In the EE and MM he denies that such actions originate in the agent because he thinks such actions are not expressions of the agent's character, while in the EN he insists that such actions are voluntary because he believes they do express the agent's character. Reflecting on these difficult cases forces Aristotle to specify the sort of causal relation between character and action he has in mind, and to do this he appeals to his distinction, familiar from his physical works, between intrinsic (kath' hauto) and accidental (kata sumbebēkos) efficient causation. He shows that he thinks the agent's moral character must be the intrinsic, not merely the accidental, cause of the actions for which he is morally responsible. His invocation of this distinction allows him to offer a satisfactory defence of the thesis that agents are morally responsible for compelled actions while at the same time acknowledging the ways in which such actions are different from the other actions for which we are morally responsible.

Keywords: Aristotle; MM; EE; EN; compelled actions; character; causation; moral character

Chapter.  12066 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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