Two conceptions of voluntary action in the Nicomachean Ethics
Embargo Lift Date: 2022-01-12
European Journal of Philosophy
292 - 305
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It is nearly universally agreed among commentators that according to Aristotle's account of voluntary action in the Nicomachean Ethics (NE), only voluntary actions are blameworthy. I argue for a qualified rejection of this assumption: some actions that Aristotle counts as blameworthy do not meet the criteria for voluntariness set out in NE 3.1. However, in NE 3.5 and elsewhere, one finds a broader conception of voluntary action, and it is true that, for Aristotle, an action must be voluntary on this broader conception in order to be blameworthy. While the narrow conception only counts actions that are under the agent's direct control as voluntary, the broader conception includes also actions that are under the agent's indirect control. The compresence of these two conceptions in the NE is not simply a matter of sloppiness on Aristotle's part. Rather, he has good philosophical reasons for employing both.