Aristotle contra Plato on the Voluntariness of Vice: The Arguments of Nicomachean Ethics 3.5

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Aristotle’s arguments in NE 3.5 target Plato’s position that vice is not blameworthy but to be pitied because involuntary, i.e. contrary to our wish for our good—not the ‘Socratic paradox’ that wrongdoing is involuntary. To this end, Aristotle develops a causal account of voluntary action based on Plato, Laws 9, but replaces Plato’s character-based classification of actions with his own distinction between performing actions of a certain type and having a character of that type. This distinction, central to Aristotle’s account of character-formation by habituating actions, allows Aristotle to show how character, whether vicious or virtuous, can be voluntary.

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