To see a commentary note, click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.


Chapter i

Is there some divine virtue in Man opposed to bestiality?
In human life are vice, incontinence and bestiality most to be avoided?

NASMUCH as of all the diseases by which the mind fails, that one called incontinence is reckoned to be far the greatest, Aristotle thought it worthwhile to dispense some wholesome drug against such a plaguy bane on the human race. So now (with the other virtues now adumbrated, both mental and moral) he undertakes a treatise on continence that is quite long but full of fruit. So that its force might shine forth the more, the monstrosities of the vices (which are opposed to such a useful disposition) are also described in detail in this Book. But lest I wander further afield, I have decided to make the contents of these ensuing Books a kind of epitome or summary, but in such a way that the individual points in the Philosopher’s work may be understood.
2. In chapter i there are four conclusions. The first is that in this life there are three things most to be shunned, viciousness (to which is opposed virtue), incontinence (to which is opposed continence), and bestial savagery (to which is opposed virtue’s heroic and divine excellence). The second that that these two things, namely savagery and that lofty virtue of mind which renders men divine, rarely occur among mortals. But some men are conspicuously barbaric. There are also some who (to speak with the Philosopher) are gods among men, in accordance with what Homer says about Homer, “He is born of divine seed, not mortal.” The third that virtue belongs neither to God nor to a beast, since in God there is no passion and nothing accidental, and morals and the virtues do not accrue to beasts. The forth is that in the following precepts he shall only strive to seek for and hunt out probability. By heroic and divine virtue (the opposites of bestiality), the Philosopher means that rare and admirable excellence most employed in the bridling of pleasure and concupiscence, such as was that Xenocrates who so often dismissed the noble Athenian courtesan Phryne from his presence untouched and ungreeted, that when some people sneered at her the slut was compelled to say “though I am beautiful, I was not able to move that statue of a man.”


Divine virtue is said to be such either:

Simply, such as it is in the separate mind, which wholly transcends human powers.
Partially, such as it is in the mind conjunct with the body, but rarely, when the vices, affections and bestiality are subdued and we contemplate the theoretic life and attain to the highest grade in any virtue.


In this life we should particularly shun:

Viciousness of both natural disposition and habitual malice.


Of mind, in thoughts:
Of word, in sayings:
Of works, in deeds:

That are obscene.

Bestiality, which occurs in four ways, either:

Because of custom among barbarians and savages, for example cannibals and Garamantes.
Because of disease and injury of the brain, hence madmen.
From black and adust bile, hence melancholics.
From great malice, hence men are called tyrants.


OBJECTION Divine virtue surpasses human powers, and therefore is unsuitable for Man. The antecedent is in the text.
RESPONSE It is said to surpass human powers since there are very few who are distinguished by such a virtue.
OBJECTION Divine virtue either has the same object as do the others, or a different one. If it has the same, it does not differ from them. If different, there is need for this to be explained, which is not done in the text.
RESPONSE It is distinct from the others in degree rather than in habit, in excellence of dignity rather than in essence.


OBJECTION Bestial savagery is concerned with that which is not natural to Man. Therefore it is not delightful, and so this bestiality of manners does not befit Man.
RESPONSE Use has altered nature, and often the worst custom changes a man into a beast.
OBJECTION Bestiality and incontinence are subsumed under vice. It is therefore superfluous to present them as distinct entities.
RESPONSE Vice as understood as a habit of malice, but incontinence as a passion of a depraved mind.

Chapter ii

EST this work grow into a larger tome than I had in mind, it is needful that, my sails furled, I pursue great brevity. This does not seem to be done inconsiderately then, when I must dispute about things already understood or less than wholly necessary. In what follows, therefore, my plan is to dam the streams and seek out their sources, i. e. to do away with rather lengthy prefaces and only open questions with a distinction. Yet this will not occur in everything, but only when demanded by the self-evident nature of things or the small advantage to be gained, for example in the present chapter, where in six doubtful points or scruples are raised, whose line of thought is resolved briefly and point by point, in this way.


In the incontinent man, two things should be considered:

The power of mind, and thus he knows that that which he sometimes does is evil. For he has knowledge in habit but not in usage.
The onslaught of passion, and thus the power of mind and reason grow seek, and the incontinent man himself is more furiously swept on to criminal designs.

OBJECTION As Socrates says in the text, nobody is attracted contrary to knowledge. Therefore the same man cannot be knowing and incontinent.
RESPONSE He knowingly rushes onward, not simply knowing, but rather a-boil with passion.
OBJECTION We all sin out of ignorance. Therefore so does the incontinent man. The antecedent is stated in Book III, chapter i.
RESPONSE That is true from the standpoint of passion, but not of mind.


Prudence does not exist in the incontinent man, because of:

Defect of right reason, which should direct him.
Defect of virtue, which should render his life juster.

OBJECTION Prudence is a mental virtue discerned in the true. Therefore it is not absurd to locate it in a man who has lost self-control. For there are many incontinent men who counsel others aright, which is the work of prudence.


Mental virtue is considered:

Perfectly, and as such it does not exist in bad men.
Imperfectly, and as such it does.


The continent man is not the same as the temperate man:

Since the continent man perceives and overcomes vehement and evil desires, but the temperate man does not suffer from them.
Since the continent man has a broader scope than does the temperate man.

OBJECTION The temperate man also resists vehement passions concerning taste and touch, as is said in Book III of the Ethics. Therefore this distinction is wrongly posited.
RESPONSE This is true for those two senses, but the temperate man is earnestly occupied with overcoming all desires of all the senses both internal and external.


The continent man is always prudent, because of:

His constancy in virtue.
His observation of circumstances in his activities.


The incontinent man is worse than the intemperate man, since

The incontinent man acts knowingly, but not the intemperate.
The incontinent man act more voluntarily and by persuasion than the intemperate.
The incontinent man sins in more ways than does the intemperate.
The incontinent man is recalled to honorable life with more difficulty than the intemperate

Burleus says that in this chapter Aristotle is proceeding by way of inquiry, not demonstration. For he says that the Philosopher teaches the contrary to this in chapter viii of this Book, namely that the intemperate man is worse than the incontinent. But, pace so great a man, I am of the opinion that Aristotle is speaking in one sense there but in another here, as will be pointed out below.


Continence and incontinence are considered either:

Simply or per se, and as such they have their proper material.
Compositely and per accidens, and as such they are said to be concerned with the objects of other virtues, as with anger, glory and gain. But this occurs improperly.

Chapter iii

Does the habit of knowledge exist in the incontinent man?

T seemed most absurd to Socrates, as Aristotle says in the previous chapter, that a man would knowingly rush into the morass of base incontinence. In this passage the Philosopher denies that this is absurd. But the better to prove it, first he makes some introductory remarks by way of preface, namely that it must be shown what the material of incontinence is, and whether continence has the same material as incontinence. Next, it must be asked whether the continent man and the temperate man have a share in the same object. Finally, whether the knowing sometimes act basely in despite of their knowledge. With these things proposed, he comes to a refutation of Socrates and teaches that the knowing man can be taken in two ways, either for the man who possesses knowledge or for the man who employs it. The incontinent man, indeed, has a knowledge of evil, in which he sometimes he suffers a headlong slip, demented by the storm and, as it were, the frenzy of perturbation. For just as sleepers, madmen and drunkards recite the poems of Empedocles with little or no understanding of what they say, so men who have lost self-control and the perturbed retain an idle habit of knowledge, but little if at all understand its use as long as they are in their madness. But sleepers have knowledge when awakened, so, freed from their passion, they regain once more the use and act of knowledge. Furthermore, just as many men correctly demonstrate and understand a universal who carelessly go wrong in a particular, so, for example, incontinent men know that drunkenness and lechery are harmful, but, a-boil with perturbation, pursue this cup, because it is sweet, this Laias, because she is a dainty little thing. So he who either ignores or fails to weigh a particular manifestation, although he may understand the universal, is nevertheless capable of sinning in his action. Therefore it is no wonder if a knowing man sometime lives incontinently.


Knowledge is considered either in:

Habit, which concerns either:

Universals, and thus the incontinent man is called knowing.
Particulars, and thus the incontinent man does not act knowingly.

Act, which is either:

Free and immune, as in chaste livers.
Bound to perturbation, as is the case in ne'er-do-wells.

OBJECTION Knowledge is a virtue. Therefore it does not exist in the incontinent man.
RESPONSE Your reasoning is not valid, since it is a mental virtue.
OBJECTION The incontinent man is compared to the sleeper, the drunkard and the madmen. But those men do not possess knowledge, therefore neither does the incontinent man.
RESPONSE They do not possess its use, but they can retain its habit.
OBJECTION The incontinent man knows this cup will make him drunk and this lechery will harm him. Therefore in the text it is wrongly said that he knows universals but is ignorant of particulars.
RESPONSE He knows them confusedly, not distinctly. For he mutters to himself “this cup can make me drunk,” but, perturbed all the more vehemently, he only reflects how sweet the cup is, and reflects on naught else as long as the perturbation continues.


It is not necessary that the will always comply with concluding intellect, because of:

The freedom it has for saying yes and no.
The dignity which it possesses in attracting the intellect itself to its own object.

Chapter iv

Is a man absolutely continent?
Are the patient man, the continent man, the soft man and the incontinent man concerned with the same objects?

IOBE loved her children to excess, as the Philosopher says here, since she went mad after they were killed by the goddess. Satyrus loved his father foolishly, who went mad out of excessive love of his father. Excess makes men incontinent, moderation makes them morally earnest. The continent man and the soft and effeminate man both heed their wills, as Aristotle teaches in this chapter, but the former, checked by reason’s bridle, avoids the scorpion’s strike, but latter, employing pleasure’s loosened reins, feels the death-dealing darts and woundings of his concupiscence, so much does heavidly gape and swallow the poison and the hook hidden beneath the bait, to his ruin. Hence arises the first conclusion of this treatment, that soft and incontinent men yield to pleasure and pain, and that the patient and continent man resist them. After this conclusion, there follows in the text a hard-and-fast distinction of those things which beget pleasure, namely that some are necessary, for example for life, such as food, and for the species, such as sex, and some are unnecessary, such as honor, wealth, power and victory. According to the latter, we are simply and absolutely said to be soft and incontinent, but those of us concerned with the former are said to be soft and incontinent metaphorically rather than absolutely, and with a proviso, i. e. comparatively. Finally, another partition of those things which purvey delight is posited, namely that some are to be sought by their very nature, such as gain for wealth; others are to be shunned by their very nature, such the eating of human flesh, murder, and many unmentionable crimes by which only barbarians and savages are captivated; yet others are intermediate, the use of which is deemed praiseworthy everywhere and at all times.


A continent man is called either:

Simple, who is concerned simply with the bodily and mental pleasures, and as such a man is called absolutely continent in the text.
Composite, who, in addition to the simple pleasures, moderates others in external things (such as honor and wealth), and as such he is called continent by an adjunct and comparatively.

The material of continence, patience, softness and incontinence is pleasure, which is either

Per se, and necessary either for.

The maintenance of life, such as that which arises from food.
The preservation of the species, such as that arising from the appetite for intercourse.

Per accidens, and that either:

Unnecessary, such as that which is had from gain.
Outlandish, such as that which is had from the murder of another.


OBJECTION That man is absolutely continent who contains himself in every good of reason against passion’s onslaught. But he holds this position in other passions of mind and body besides those which are subdued by temperance. Therefore the absolutely continent man is not only concerned with the material of temperance. The major premise comes from the definition of the continent man. The minor is Cicero’s in Book II of his Rhetoric, where he teaches that continence is an affection thanks to which cupidity is ruled by reason, but cupidity mainly concerns wrath, aiming at revenge, and ambition, aiming at honor.
RESPONSE The Philosopher does not deny that continence is concerned with wrath and the other passions of the mind, but he means this, that it properly and per se operates within the confines of reason, when unbridled lust is setting siege to the citadel of the mind.
3. OBJECTION Temperance and continence have the same object. Therefore they do not differ.
RESPONSE They differ in means but in not in fact (so Borrhaus). They possess the same object, but not in the same way (so Aquinas).


OBJECTION Continence and patience are distinct affections. Therefore they ought not to have the same material.
RESPONSE They have the same common material, but not the same proper material. Or it can be said that they have the same one, but not understood in the same way. For pleasure is the object of temperance in relation to sensation, and the object of continence in relation to the will.

Chapter v

Is incontinence concerned with things which are vexatious by nature?

IGERS, vultures and lions on occasion restrain themselves from bestiality more than do certain tyrants, barbarians and cruel men. In this context the Philosopher tells the story of a certain Circe who used to devour the fetuses aborted from her womb like a rabid dog. He tells of a people near the Pontus who feast on their parents’ blood. He tells of Phalaris, who roasted Perillus in a heated brazen bull so that he could listen to his victim’s screams. Finally, he speaks of the horrendous and unnatural intercourse of male with male. But what’s the point of these things, perhaps you will ask. Certainly so that you may understand that sometimes the pleasures wherewith the incontinent man is concerned sometimes flow and derive from naturally pleasant things, but sometimes from things that are vexatious in their own right. The pleasant ones, as the Philosopher says, are those by which all living things are captivated, such as food and sex, or which are regarded as pleasurable only by some men in accordance with the diversity of their nature and custom. So now vexatious things are those from which the mind of a soundly and liberally educated man shrinks, but that are pleasurable to twisted and monstrous characters, and these occur particularly in four ways: either from corrupted nature, disease, insanity, or depraved custom (which is said to be a second nature). Men depraved according to these considerations are defined as not absolutely incontinent but only partially so. I say partially, not because they are not conspicuously evil, but because the properly incontinent are stricken by the stings of those pleasures which are usually deemed naturally pleasurable and delightful. There is therefore one normal continence which is discerned in naturally pleasant things, and another monstrous one, which is perceived in things that are in their own right vexatious.


The incontinent man is:

Simple, who is concerned with the same pleasures as is the intemperate man.

Composite, who comes about either because of:

Corrupt nature and in sin against nature, which occurs either:

Against genus, if a man is delighted by a stone.
Against species, if a man copulates with a beast.
Against natural order, if moderation is not observed.
Against himself, if a man becomes enamored of his own beauty.

Disease, as in pleurisy.
Insanity, as in frenzy.
Custom, as in barbarity.

OBJECTION There is no delight in vexatious things. Therefore the incontinent man who only hunts after pleasure in vexatious things is not seen.


Vexatiousness is understood either:

Simply, and such it does not engender delight.
With respect to corrupt nature, and as such it has a certain pleasure.

OBJECTION Incontinence has the same object as does intemperance, as is proven above. Therefore it is not concerned with other objects, as it is defined here.
RESPONSE Incontinence, properly spoken, has the same object as does intemperance, but the extreme form of that vice called monstrous incontinence has other objects.

Chapter vi

Is incontinence concerned with lust worse than incontinence concerned with wrath?
Is bestiality of manners less evil than vice?

ENUS, about whom Aristotle speaks here, is feigned by the poets once to have been the daughter of heaven, goddess of amours, mother of Cupid, wife of Vulcan, and notorious whore of Mars. In this context her name is employed to represent that sweet, insidious pleasure which renders the incontinent man much worse than the wrathful one. But that I may deal with the thing itself, circumstantial details set aside, two conclusions are developed in this chapter: the first that incontinence concerned with lust is far worse than incontinence concerned with wrath; the second is that bestiality of manners is less evil than vice. The first conclusion is proved by a proportion, a property, a result and a sign. From a proportion since, just as slaves carelessly heeding what their masters have said go flying quickly off to do their business, and as dogs immediately bark when there’s a knocking at the door, not paying any attention to whether it is a friend or foe who is doing the knocking, so men incontinent of wrath heed reason’s precept in part, but out of a sudden brain fever and emotion go rushing off unreflectingly towards their punishment and suffer vengeance. But those incontinent of lust nether heed reason as it issues its precepts, nor obey it as it recalls them. From a property, since wrath is a more natural passion than is immoderate lust. From a result, since the man incontinent of wrath attacks you openly, but he who indulges his lust is a sophist and a deceiver. From a sign, since we loathe those a-boil with lust more than we do the wrathful. A second conclusion, namely that bestiality is more horrible but less evil than vice, is proved by this argument. That which lacks reason is less vexatious than that which compels reason to assist in the ruination of other men. Bestiality lacks reason, but vice possesses it, and employs it in a corrupt form for its every crime. Therefore bestiality is less evil than vice. The Philosopher adds this too, that an animate evil such as vice is far more harmful than that which lacks a soul, such as is bestial savagery and a lunatic-like brainsickness.


Incontinence concerning lust is worse than that that concerning wrath, since:

The wrathful man is suddenly provoked, but the incontinent with a certain deliberation.
The wrathful man is like a careless slave, but the incontinent is like an insidious beast.
The wrathful man is simple and open, but the incontinent is a dissimulator.
The wrathful man usually suffers repentance, but the incontinent rarely.
The wrathful man inflicts less harm than does the incontinent.
The wrathful man deserves less loathing than does the incontinent.


Bestiality occurs in two ways, either:

From a defect or injury of reason, as in lunatics and certain pregnant women, with which savagery a comparison is made in this context.
From very bad custom, as in tyrants and forest-dwelling savages, but the conclusion is not intended about this. For this savagery surpasses every vice, as it is more than bestial

OBJECTION The harder it is to resist a passion, the less base it is to be bested by it. It is more difficult to resist concupiscence than wrath. Therefore incontinence of lust is less evil than incontinence of wrath.
RESPONSE Your major premise is denied, since the harder it is to resist, the fairer it is to conquer and overcome.
3. OBJECTION Incontinence of wrath infects a nobler part of the soul than does incontinence of desires, and therefore is baser. The antecedent is clear, since the irascible part is superior to the concupiscible part.
RESPONSE Incontinence of desires frequently depraves both parts of the soul, for love incites and kindles many a man to bile.
OBJECTION That incontinence is worth which is conjoined with the greater employment of reason. The incontinence of wrath, as is said in the text, is conjoined with the greater employment of reason. Therefore it is more harmful.
RESPONSE He does not say that it has a greater employment because it is employed, because the irate man is sooner swayed to the Mean by counsel.
OBJECTION Everybody fears and shuns a man incontinent of wrath, but not likewise the man incontinent of lusts. Therefore this a greater evil than incontinence of wrath.
RESPONSE It indeed is a more terrible evil with respect to punishment, but not more detestable with respect to guilt.
OBJECTION Concupiscence is more natural than wrath, therefore it is more excusable. The major premise is Aristotle’s in Book III of the Ethics.
RESPONSE Wrath is said to be more natural since it is born of the heart and of life’s very first principle. But concupiscence is called less natural here, since it frequently arises from an external object.


OBJECTION Savagery departs from the Mean further than does vice. Therefore it is worse. The antecedent is proven, since savagery is naught else than the very excess and superabundance of vice.
RESPONSE This argument is resolved in the distinction of the question, for that kind of savagery is not meant here.
OBJECTION The example in text of a certain son who dragged his father to the door by his hair clearly goes to show that this monstrous savagery is meant here. Therefore your answer is bad.
RESPONSE An example teaches well but does not always serve as proof. But mark you that this example of an ungrateful son is provided so the Philosopher may teach that boorish manners often descend from parents to their offspring.

 Chapter vii

Are the continent man, the soft man, the temperate man and the intemperate man defined aright?
Is the intemperate man worse than the incontinent man?

do not call you incontinent, Philoctetes, nor you, Xenophantes, soft and intemperate. For a viper drove you to to howl, Philocletes, and nature drove you to laughter, Xenophantus. For I know a man is not made of stone, I know that he is often moved by tortures, often by delights. But if you yield to every pleasure you will be incontinent, and soft and delicate if you shun every pain. For he is incontinent who is captivated by every desire, he is soft who is conquered by the lightest pain. I ask of you, you dainty and soft little fellow, why are you dragging your garment? Why are you losing your cloak? Is it too much trouble to don your garment? Is it vexatious to pick up your cloak when it has fallen on the ground? You snore until broad daylight so the cold won’t seize you, you don’t go outdoors lest a snake bite you, you don’t say one little world lest the shouting harm you. O sweet life, if this is what it is to suffer? That more than effeminate softness is to be banished which begets youthful gray hears in the midst of delights, which not only brought destruction down on the Persian kings the Philosopher describes, but also the sons of the Muses of our time. To these two, namely the soft man and the incontinent, are opposed the continent and the patient. The former is he who conquers and moderates seductions, the latter who feels the torches of pain and yet does not feel them, I mean who endures all things with a steady mind and turns them to virtue’s advantage and act. The Philosopher defines the temperate and the intemperate man in Book III, so I do not define them again here. Now follows a comparison between the intemperate man and the incontinent: which of them is worse? In chapter ii of this Book he concludes that the incontinent is worse, but here in another respect he regards the intemperate as such: there (as some commentators think) the Philosopher argues contrary to the truth of the matter, but here he confirms their sentiment. If you ask the reasoning of the comparison, you should carefully ponder the following distinction.


The intemperate man is considered with respect either to:

Passion, and as such he is no worse than the incontinent man for those reasons I have already rehearsed out of Aristotle.

Habit, and is such he is worse than the incontinent man, since:

Intemperance is a habit, but incontinence a passion.
Intemperance is always voluntary, but incontinence often unwilling.
Intemperance is conjoined malice and lack of repentance, but incontinence is not the same.

OBJECTION No vice is incurable, therefore it is wrongly said in the text that intemperance is an incurable evil.
RESPONSE It is called incurable since it is cured and quenched with the greatest difficulty.
OBJECTION Incontinence is a vice, and therefore is a habit. Which being conceded, that distinction based on habit is wrongly assigned.
RESPONSE It is vicious, but not a moral vice. It is a pernicious passion but not a habit, as Aristotle teaches.


OBJECTION Constancy perfects virtue, as is said in Book II of the Ethics. Therefore it is more to be sought.
RESPONSE There constancy is taken as perseverance, but here as patience, which is indeed not more to be sought, since it is more illustrious to conquer pleasure, which pertains to continence, than to tolerate and resist it, which pertains to constancy.

Chapter viii

Is intemperance rightly compared to dropsy, and incontinence to epilepsy?
Are impulsive incontinent men less evil than weak ones?

T the beginning of this chapter the Philosopher deals with the same thing he did at the end of the preceding one. For he proves that the intemperate man is worse than the incontinent once. For the former does not repent his deed, nor is he wounded by the memory of the crime he has committed: Aristotle teaches that the former suffers, as it were, from edema and a wasting-away, but this one is afflicted with something like epilepsy. For just as the dropsical and the phthisic always feel the presence of their malady, but epileptics experience intervals and ups and downs, so the intemperate are always breathing crime, but the incontinent are sometimes released from their impulsiveness, since, as weak people fall drunk after imbibing only a small amount of wine, and afterwards suffer a hangover and shudder at wine-bibbing, so many incontinent men, having impulsively lapsed in pleasure, subsequently curse Venus’ embrace, as if overwhelmed by nausea. From this follows a second conclusion, that the impulsively incontinent are less evil than those who sin out of weakness. The reason is that the former sin unadvisedly, but the latter do so with deliberation. For there exist weaklings who often make up their minds to live chastely and honestly, but as soon as pleasure is thrust under their noses are drawn to the contrary opinion, like leaves in the wind. The final conclusion is that incontinence is in part a vice, in part an affection. He proves this by an example. For just as the citizens of Miletus are not fools (as Demodocus says), but nevertheless live foolishly, so the incontinent are not vicious, if you consider habit, but live viciously, if you consider passion.


The impulsively incontinent are less evil than the weak, since:

They sin only out of passion, with no deliberation.
They are easier recalled to repentance for their deed.
They more rarely offend.

OBJECTION Impulsive incontinents often offend out of malice, therefore not only out of passion. The antecedent is evident in the case of Tarquin, who raped Lucretia.
RESPONSE Your argument is a non sequitur, since malice is defined among the passions.
OBJECTION The incontinent man sins in all the objects of all the senses. Therefore he is worse than the intemperate man, who is fettered by the pleasures of only two senses.
RESPONSE This comparison of excess is concerned with the magnitude rather than the multitude of objects

Chapter ix

Does the continent man always persist in right reason?
Does the stubborn man always remain firm in his bad intention?

HE continent man and the stubborn man agree in this one thing, that each clings to his opinion; but the former is said to be persistent in a good one, whereas the latter in an evil and perverse one. For the stubborn man is tenacious in his intention, and albeit he is not infrequently unschooled and boorish, he is drawn with difficulty from his sentiment and false opinion. Therefore, just as the headstrong man stands in relation to the brave one, and the spendthrift to the liberal man, so does the stubborn man in relation to the continent. Hence it is concluded that the stubborn are more related and akin to weaklings than to chaste and moderate men, whose characteristic is to yield and defer to a person offering good advice. For to cling to an opinion with made-up mind, so that you cannot be dissuaded even by Ulysses delivering a speech, argues stubbornness of manners, not continence. Now follows another conclusion, that he who seeks after pleasure is not to be called incontinent, small or intemperate forever, but only the man who is induced by base and obscene desire: for instance, you drink wine with a weak stomach, and drunkenness follows after a moderate intake, but you should not be called intemperate. The reason is that you did not imbibe the wine for its sweetness like a sot, but for health’s sake, being infirm.


The constant man and the stubborn man differ, because:

The continent man clings to a good opinion, the stubborn to a bad.
The continent man readily listens to reason, but the stubborn does not comply with someone urging good advice.
The continent man is steadfast in the Mean, but the stubborn in excess or defect.

OBJECTION Neoptolemus is praised in the text because he did not remain of the same mind because of pleasure, and an honest one at that. Therefore the continent man is ill-defined as he who always clings to an honest opinion.


Two things are considered in the continent man:

His intention, which always ought to be good, as was Noah’s, who was unable to know the wine’s strength before had drunk it, hence he was incontinent per accidens and not absolutely.
His action, which sometimes, born of inevitable ignorance, makes him incontinent per accidens and not absolutely. Hence Neoptolemus is not praised for having lied, but since in lying he thought he was telling the truth.

Chapter x

Is it possible for the same man to be prudent and incontinent?
Is the man incontinent by habituation more easily cured than the man incontinent by nature?

HE satiric poet Anaxandrides rightly compared the incontinent man to a commonwealth which establishes good laws but obeys none. For the man lacking in self-control has intelligence and choice, but does not heed the former nor obey the latter as he should, since, just as sleepers and madmen have the habit of reason but not its act and use, so incontinents are sleepers if you consider their use, and madmen if you consider their passion. Therefore the same man can never be both prudent and incontinent: for the prudent man is always a good man, and the soft man is a wicked reprobate. But enough has been said about this question in chapter ii. Another question, namely whether the man incontinent by habituation is healed more easily that the man incontinent by nature, can be discussed and examined in a wold. For Evenus, that grave and wise poet, sang “Custom is strong, destined to endure for many a year, and, if it has gathered strength, it is nature’s equal.” Indeed bad habituation is a heavy burden and weighs down the incontinent man’s mind more than heaven did the shoulder of Atlas. Nevertheless according to Aristotle the man weak by habituation is more readily healed than he who is such out of a depraved nature. He gives as reasons both because habituation has not struck its roots so deep, and because habituation is changed more quickly than nature. Hence he concludes that melancholics living too softly and dissolutely are more easily cured since they sin out of levity rather than depravity, and that because of the inconstancy of their character they rarely fall into enduring habituation.


The prudent man cannot be incontinent, since:

He is always a good man.
He understands the use of things.

See above in chapter ii.


A man becomes incontinent by habituation in two ways, either:

In accordance with his disposition, which arises from a couple of activities and is more easily altered than is his nature.
According to his habit and its lengthy confirmation, and as such, since it is grown to be second nature, it cannot easily be altered.


OBJECTION The function and sole office of the prudent man is to prescribe. An incontinent man can perform this, since (as the Philosopher says) he is often clever. Therefore the same man can be both prudent and incontinent.
RESPONSE In the nature of prudence, prescribing is not only like demonstrating with a finger or a pointer, but also to direct and do these same things.


OBJECTION No man is vicious by nature, and so no man is incontinent by nature. The antecedent is in Book II of the Ethics.
RESPONSE Incontinence is properly understood as a passion, not as a vice.


OBJECTION Melancholics cling most tenaciously to a depraved opinion, therefore they are not most readily cured.


Melancholics are either:

Naturally such, and a such are readily cured.
Violently such, as from a care, a disease, a pursuit &c., and as such are not easily budged from their opinion

Chapter xi

Does it pertain to the moral philosopher to dispute about pleasure and pain?
Is pleasure a good
per se?

N this chapter is a single conclusion of the Philosopher and a multiple opinion concerning pleasure and pain. The conclusion is that the duty of the civil philosopher is to give precepts concerning pleasure and pain. The reasons for this conclusion are three: first that the final end of the human race is conjoined with pleasure, the second, that all human virtue is concerned with pleasure and plain, and the last that it is by means of pleasure and pain, as by signs, we divine whether an action is good or bad. Three opinions are also enumerated: the first that of those who have thought that in good things there is no pleasure either for its own sake or for that of something else, second that of those who have thought there is some pleasure in bad things, and the third that of those who have thought that all pleasures are in good things. These things having been posited by the definition, he contends that pleasure is neither an end nor a good per se and in its own right, inasmuch as, if pleasure is nothing is nothing else than a delightful impulse wherewith nature is suffused, then, as in construction a house is not a builder’s activity, so in making progress to an end no impulse of pleasure is said to be an end or a good. For how can it be possible that concupiscence, which the temperate man shuns, which children and beasts thirst after and pursue, can assume the status of being an end or a good?


The moral philosopher’s office is to understand pleasures and pains, because of:

The assured direction of activity:
The moderation of appetite:
The preservation of nature and virtue:

Which cannot long be preserved without pleasure.

A good is either:

Per se, such as virtue.
Per accidens, such as pleasure at the service of virtue.


OBJECTION Pleasure and pain pertain to nature, and so should be treated by the natural philosopher. The antecedent is in Book VII of the Physics.


They are considered either:

Simply, with respect to nature, and as such are defined by the moral philosopher.
Comparatively, with respect to virtue, and as such are defined by the moral philosopher.

OBJECTION The Philosopher has sufficiently dealt with these things in Book II. Here, therefore, he is indulging in idle fantasies.
RESPONSE There he treats them as common objects, here as first principles.


OBJECTION Pleasure is comprehended under no genus of movement. Therefore it is not an impulse.
RESPONSE Here impulse as understood as a passion.

Chapter xii

Is there such a thing as absolute pleasure?

ERE the Philosopher is wholly bent on refuting the other opinions concerning pleasure and pain cited in the preceding chapter. But since he chooses to play with them, I chose to eliminate from this context those which are unnecessary. And so the gist of them all is that something is either absolutely or comparatively good or bad: virtue is an absolute good, repentance after a lapse is comparative good; bestiality is an absolute evil, pouring milk or wine for those in a fever is a comparative evil. Why mention these things? So that you may understand that pleasure is a good by accident and happenstance, not per se, and thus their opinion is refuted who think that there is no pleasure either per se or for the sake of anything else. Further distinctions follow, of which the first is that there is one good according to an act, another according to a habit, and that this is either moral (such as virtue) or natural (such as pleasure, which favors and preserves nature); second, that there is a certain simple pleasure, never wounded by the strike of pain, as in the truly contemplative, and a certain composite pleasure, which has an admixture of bitterness and pain: in this life, the former occurs rarely, the latter often and affects many. With these things conceded, a third opinion takes a fall, which locates all pleasures in good things.


We speak of absolute pleasure, either because:

It has no admixture of pain, as in contemplative felicity.
The pain which occurs is either scorned or converted into a good, as in active felicity.

OBJECTION He is brave who most patiently accepts torments and dire, bitter things. There is therefore no absolute pleasure in anything. The antecedent is in Book III of the Ethics.


Fortitude is called a dire thing:

With respect to nature, which abhors dangers.
Not with respect to virtue, which wisely submits.


Pleasure is twofold:

Good, which is either:

Necessary, and he does not shun these.

Foul, which he shuns:

Since it impedes counsel.
Since it undermines wit.
Since it creates disease.
Since it engenders infamy.

Chapter xiii

Is pleasure a supreme good?

HAT do you mean now, Philosopher? Do you think pleasure is a supreme good here, which you formerly defined as a root of evils? If it is a good, why call it an evil? If an evil, why call it a good, and indeed a supreme good?” Nature adjudges pain to be an evil. “What then?” So isn’t pleasure necessarily a good? “I admit it.” If you admit this, it is necessary for you to admit that it is a supreme good. “Why so?” Since there’s nothing better than a good. “Surely you’re playing the sophist.” You’re not paying attention. For when I define pleasure as a supreme good, I am in no way thinking of human happiness. “Then what else?” Assuredly of nothing else than the degree of pleasure. “But what’s this degree of pleasure?” The perpetual impulse and motion of the mind steadfast in the good. “So you mean that pleasure is a supreme good, that is, that among the good pleasures of the mind there is one best in its supreme degree, which perpetually attends upon a happy life?” You grasp the matter. “If you explain yourself thus, I see nothing absurd.” I mean this very thing. “But are you saying that pleasure is sought per se?” This too is true with respect to nature, which pain destroys. “But listen, in the text you teach that nobody is happy if he dies by the rack, by hunger, by the sword.” This is undeniable if he suffers those torments without patience.


Pleasure is said to be a supreme good in three ways, with respect to either:

Nature, which shuns all pain in men and beasts as a supreme evil.
Opinion, which seeks pleasure as a supreme good.
Degree, since, just as there is a good pleasure, so there will be best one.

OBJECTION Every good takes account of an end. Pleasure takes account of no end. therefore no pleasure is good, and in consequence none is a supreme good. The major premise is proven, since the end is the terminus ad quem itself, but pleasure, which is a movement is a terminus a quo, as they say.
RESPONSE Every good takes account of an end, if it is a good per se, otherwise per accidens it is said to be both a good and and end.
OBJECTION In the text Aristotle teaches that pleasure is an end. Therefore it can take account of an end.
RESPONSE He teaches that it is an end, not per se, but respectively and comparatively.
OBJECTION Pain is not an evil. Therefore that argument in the text from contraries does not hold, namely that pleasure is a good. The antecedent is proven, since the office of the just man is to visit pain on the wicked, the office of a friend is sometimes to suffer pain for the sake of his friend.


Pain is understood as:

An evil of guilt.
An evil of punishment, and as such it is conceded that a morally earnest man can and should experience pain upon occasion, and can even inflict it.

Chapter xiv

Are bodily pleasure more to be sought than mental ones?
Is it difficult to maintain reason and moderation in pleasure?
Is God to be enjoyed forever in a single, simple pleasure?

ODILY pleasure is indeed a many-headed beast, if in the company of a squadron of evil passions it should invade the mind’s citadel. We must therefore resist this evil in is very first onslaught and battle. If you allow yourself to dither any longer, then, as they say, you will sail out of the harbor onto a sandbank. Hear the Philosopher: “it is difficult to maintain moderation and reason in wine, in sex, in feasting.” All men, indeed, seek and hunt after pleasure, but very few are found who heed right reason amidst their delights. Some pleasures, Aristotle says, are chance goods of the body, some are necessary (he means those which protect and preserve life and the species). But to wallow in these with no moderation and order should be deemed fit for a beast, not for Man. The reasons why we seek after these bodily pleasures are three: first that, like medicines, they remove and reduce pain (which nature shuns); the second is that nature is kindled by the sparks of this passion more than of others; the third is that neither is the species increased nor life preserved in the absence of pleasure. Hence this conclusion is drawn, that the hardest of all things to maintain reason and moderation in pleasure. The reason is that pleasure, adopted by us from the womb and grown up along with us, holds nature, as it were, as its captive prisoner. And yet no man is held captive by a single simple pleasure. For there is a satiety in all things. There is disgust in one and the same pleasure. Read Aristotle in the text, where he says “No one thing always gives us the same pleasure, as our nature is not simple. For it contains within it an admixture of something disparate and unlike itself.” He therefore concludes that God alone enjoys and rejoices in one and the same most simple pleasure, since (as he says) His nature is simple, single and immutable, for which one simple and essential pleasure suffices. For just as heaven turns around a single point, so God delights in the circumference of His nature, i. e., in Himself. Outside of Himself there is nothing worthy enough, nothing lofty enough, nothing divine enough wherewith He might be captivated. Yet out of His immense goodness He chooses so to share Himself with us, dwelling, as it were, in a single point, that if we take our delight in Him alone, we may exchange earth for heaven, this dwelling on earth and misery for eternity.


Bodily delights are sought more, since:

They dispel pain.
They do more to soothe nature.
They preserve the species and life.


It is hard to maintain moderation in pleasure, since it is:

Subtle and insidious, Hence Homer sang of “Deceit, which as tricked the minds of the prudent.”


Simple pleasure is twofold, either:

Essential and absolute, which exists in God.
Accidental or happenstance, which is discerned in the happy contemplative who has his one simple and perpetual pleasure located in the summum bonum.

3. OBJECTION Any potential is most attracted to its proper object. The good of the mind is the will’s proper object. Therefore it is most attracted to the good of the mind. Which being conceded, it follows that it does not seek bodily pleasure more, which is only a good per accidens. The major premise is Aristotle’s in Book III of De Anima. The minor is Aristotle’s’ at Ethics III.iv.


Will is considered either:

Separately and absolutely, and as such it is most attracted to the good of the mind.
Conjoined with the body, and as such it most seeks nature and the pleasure of the body because of this union and harmony.


OBJECTION It is not hard for the continent and temperate man to rein in pleasure, therefore it is not hard to maintain moderation in delights.
RESPONSE Your reasoning is fallacious, for it proceeds from a secondary consideration to a simple one.


OBJECTION According to Aristotle in Book VII of the Physics, God is the primum mobile. The primum mobile takes delight not only in itself but also in the infinite motion of its sphere. Therefore God does not enjoy one simple and immutable pleasure.
RESPONSE God delights in reason, order, and the preservation of all things He has created. But from this it does not follow that He does not enjoy one simple and immutable pleasure, since these things derive from Him, and to Him they return, so that the Philosopher rightly concludes that God delights only in Himself and because of Himself. And if we imitate Him in our contemplation of the supreme and eternal good, there is no doubt that we too may enjoy one simple and immutable pleasure.


Go to Book VIII