Sculpting Character: Aristotle's Voluntary as Affectability


  • Audrey L. Anton Philosophy Faculty of Western Kentucky University



Aristotle, voluntary, involuntary, character, eph' hēmin, praise, blame


I argue that the two criteria traditionally identified as jointly sufficient for voluntary behavior according to Aristotle require qualification. Without such qualification, they admit troubling exceptions (i.e., they are not sufficient). Through minding these difficult examples, I conclude that a third condition mentioned by Aristotle – the eph' hēmin – is key to qualifying the original two criteria. What is eph' hēmin is that which is efficiently caused by appetite and teleologically caused by reason such that the agent could have, in theory, acted differently. I propose that praise and blame are justified only when 1: the behavior is voluntary and 2: the agent is susceptible (at least in principle) to the positive influences of appropriate praise and blame to help form, improve, or strengthen a good character. Through concentrating on the agent's affectability in morally salient situations, we may better understand the qualified criteria's role in voluntary human behavior in general.


Metrics Loading ...


Anton, Audrey L. "Fixed and Flexible Characters: Aristotle on the permanence and mutability of distinct types of character." Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter Vol. 15, Nr 1 (2014): 22-28.

Anton, Audrey L. "Breaking the Habit: Aristotle on recidivism and how a thoroughly vicious person might begin to improve." Dialogue with Ancient Philosophy, a special issue of Philosophy in the Contemporary World Vol. 13, Nr. 2 (2006): 58-66.

Aristotle. The Complete Works of Aristotle: the Revised Oxford Translation, ed. Jonathan Barnes, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Bondeson, William. "Aristotle on Responsibility for One's Character and the Possibility of Character Change." Phronesis. Vol. 19 (1974): 59-65.

Brickhouse, Thomas C. "A Contradiction in Aristotle's Doctrines Concerning the Alterability of "Hexeis" and the Role of "Hexeis" in the Explanation of Action." Southern Journal of Philoso-phy. Vol. 14 (1976): 401-411.

Burnyeat, Myles F. "Aristotle on Learning to Be Good" in Essays on Aristotle's Ethics. In Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980: 69-92.

Di Muzio, Gianluca. "Aristotle on Improving One's Character." Phronesis. Vol. 45, Nr. 3 (2000): 205-219.

Everson, Stephen. "Aristotle's Compatibilism in the Nicomachean Ethics." Ancient Philosophy. Vol. 10, Nr. 1 (1990): 81-103.

Heinaman, Robert. "Compulsion and Voluntary Action in the Eudemian Ethics." Nous. Vol. 22, Nr. 2 (1988): 253-281.

Klimchuk, Dennis. "Aristotle on Necessity and Voluntariness." History of Philosophy Quarterly. Vol. 19, Nr. 1 (2002): 1-19.

Kosman, L. A. "Being Properly Affected: Virtues and Feelings in Aristotle's Ethics," in Essays on Aristotle's Ethics. Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press (1980): 103-116.

Meyer, Susan Sauvé. "Aristotle on the Voluntary." in The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle's Nicomache-an Ethics, Richard Kraut (ed.). London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006: 137-157.

Meyer, Susan Sauvé. "Why Involuntary Actions are Painful," in Spindel Conference 1988: Aristotle's Ethics. T.D. Roche (ed.). Southern Journal of Philosophy supplement. London, Wiley-Blackwell, 1989.

Ott, Walter. "A Troublesome Passage in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics iii 5." Ancient Philosophy. Vol. 20, Nr.1 (2000): 99-107.

Phillips-Garrett, Carissa. "Sungnōmē in Aristotle." Apeiron: Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science. Vol. 49, Nr. 5. DOI 10.1515/apeiron-2016-0030.

Tessitore, Aristide. Reading Aristotle's Ethics: Virtue, Rhetoric, and Political Philosophy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996.

Tuozzo, Thomas M. "Aristotelian Deliberation Is Not Of Ends," in Essays in Ancient Greek Philoso-phy IV: Aristotle's Ethics. Anton, J.P. and A. Preus. (eds.). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991.




How to Cite

Anton, A. L. (2016). Sculpting Character: Aristotle’s Voluntary as Affectability. Labyrinth, 18(2), 75–103.