Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 2

Actions based on Ignorance and Compulsion

by Aristotle Icon
4 minutes  • 705 words
Table of contents

Every action of which ignorance is the cause is not-voluntary, but that only is involuntary which is attended with pain and remorse; for clearly the man who has done anything by reason of ignorance, but is not annoyed at his own action, cannot be said to have done it with his will because he did not know he was doing it, nor again against his will because he is not sorry for it.

So then of the class “acting by reason of ignorance,” he who feels regret afterwards is thought to be an involuntary agent, and him that has no such feeling, since he certainly is different from the other, we will call a not-voluntary agent; for as there is a real difference it is better to have a proper name.

There is a difference between:

  • acting because of ignorance
  • acting with ignorance.

For instance, we do not usually assign ignorance as the cause of the actions of the drunken or angry man, yet they act not knowingly but with ignorance.

Again, every bad man is ignorant what he should do and what to leave undone, and by reason of such error men become unjust and wholly evil.

We do not usually apply the term involuntary when a man is ignorant of his own true interest[2]. This is because ignorance which affects moral choice[3] constitutes depravity, not involuntariness.

But what he is doing a man may be ignorant, as men in speaking say a thing escaped them unawares; or as Aeschylus did with respect to the Mysteries, that he was not aware that it was unlawful to speak of them; or as in the case of that catapult accident the other day the man said he discharged it merely to display its operation.

Or a person might suppose a son to be an enemy, as Merope did; or that the spear really pointed was rounded off; or that the stone was a pumice;

or in striking with a view to save might kill; or might strike when merely wishing to show another, as people do in sham-fighting.

Ignorance is possible in respect to all these details in which the action consists, he that acted in ignorance of any of them is thought to have acted involuntarily, and he most so who was in ignorance as regards the most important, which are thought to be those in which the action consists, and the result.

Further, not only must the ignorance be of this kind, to constitute an action involuntary, but it must be also understood that the action is followed by pain and regret.

Chapter 3

All involuntary action is either upon compulsion or by reason of ignorance.

Voluntary Action would seem to be “that whose origination is in the agent, he being aware of the particular details in which the action consists.”

For, it may be, men are not justified by calling those actions involuntary, which are done by reason of Anger or Lust.

Because, in the first place, if this be so no other animal but man, and not even children, can be said to act voluntarily.

Next, is it meant that we never act voluntarily when we act from Lust or Anger, or that we act voluntarily in doing what is right and involuntarily in doing what is discreditable?

The latter supposition is absurd, since the cause is one and the same. Then as to the former, it is a strange thing to maintain actions to be involuntary which we are bound to grasp at: now there are occasions on which anger is a duty,[5] and there are things which we are bound to lust after,[6] health, for instance, and learning.

Again, whereas actions strictly involuntary are thought to be attended with pain, those which are done to gratify lust are thought to be pleasant.

How does the involuntariness make any difference[7] between wrong actions done from deliberate calculation, and those done by reason of anger?

Both should be avoided.

The irrational feelings are thought to be just as natural to man as reason, and so of course must be such actions of the individual as are done from Anger and Lust.

It is absurd then to class these actions among the involuntary.

Any Comments? Post them below!