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The Nichomachean Ethics: Voluntary & Involuntary Action

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1. Ethika Nikomacheia: Explain what Aristotle means in this text. Why is it important to distinguish between actions that are voluntary and involuntary? Discuss.

2. (Legal Example) Put this in a concrete context. Have you ever been concerned with an action that was less than fully voluntary? Have you ever seen a case where one was wrongly accused for something that was less than voluntary? Be creative here. In particular, you might want to look into the legal arena. Have you ever heard of a case where someone was forced to commit a crime against his or her will?

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Ethika Nikomacheia: Voluntary/Involuntary Action

The book 'The Nichomachean Ethics' is seen as Aristotle's primary work on ethics. His main focus here is laying out the foundation of how human agents can take up and ascribe moral responsibility, values and virtues and to explain and explore how a human agent takes up the opposite of these - vices and deliquency for example. One of his main concerns is what makes an action voluntary or involuntary and how responsibility is attached to a particular action. Voluntary action, he explains is thus:

"...what is voluntary seems to be what has its origin in the agent himself when he knows the particulars that the action consists in." NE 3:1

This is pretty plain. Voluntary action happens because of self motivation, like when we choose to buy a record or choose to go on holiday or choose to procrastinate instead of studying. The driver, the reason behind that action is the self, nothing else. Now, how does this differ from involuntary action? According to Aristotle, an involuntary action is:

"What comes about by force or because of ignorance seems to be involuntary. What is forced has an external origin, the sort of origin in which the agent or victim contributes nothing- if, e.g., a wind or human beings who control him were to carry him off." NE3: 109

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Solution Summary

The solution discusses Aristotle's 'Ethika Nikomacheia', particularly his views on Voluntary/Involuntary Action. Sections of his this particular work are included in the narrative. Additionally, a legal example is presented to show application in a legal context. References are listed for further studies on the topic.

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Happiness and Rationality.

Imagine that you have to undergo some operation that would leave you perfectly healthy, but without your ability to reason. As part of this operation, you'd still be able to feel pleasure but not pain, either emotionally or physically. You'd end up with the basic awareness of some sort of lower animal in exchange for a life of gratuitous pleasure.

According to the position of Hedonism, what ultimately makes one happy is what is right to do. Consequently, the operation explains the most perfect form of hedonism: pure happiness, with no worry, no stress, nor emotional anguish.

(A) Would you undergo such an operation? Why or why not?

(B) Explain how your answer in (A) differs (if at all) from what Aristotle says about a fulfilled life.

(C) Explain what your answer in (A) reveals to you about the role of rationality within the larger context of human life.

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