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PHL lecture, nov. 1.doc

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Peter King

NE 3.1-3.5: Action Theory  Aristotle devotes NE 3.1-5 to issues of what nowadays is called “action theory” o The underlying distinctions, mechanics and principles behind straightforward cases of (im) moral action o Surprisingly hard to get straight o Three topics are discussed here  The voluntary, involuntary and non-voluntary  Rational choice, deliberation and the relation of means to ends  Commissions and omissions  An action is voluntary, according to Aristotle, if and only if two conditions are met: o [V1] The principle/origin of action is within the agent o [V2] The agent is aware of the relevant particular circumstances of the action o Failures of [V1] may render an action involuntary, failures of [V2] may render it non-voluntary  An action is involuntary if its originating principle is not within the agent o Happens in two ways  Either action originates outside of the agent, who “contributes nothing at all to the action” (e.g. hypnotism, mere reflex actions, the imperius curse)  Or the actions is chosen in some particular circumstances but would not otherwise be chosen (e.g. throwing the cargo overboard so the ship doesn’t sink) o In the latter case, the actions is a mixture of the voluntary and involuntary o NOTE: the key role of the counterfactual, that the action would not be done were the circumstances otherwise-if the action is one that would have been done even in different circumstances, Aristotle is reluctant to say that it is involuntary  Has to do with the deep point that actions flow from character and character is reasonably stable across circumstances  An action is non-voluntary if the agent is ignorant in some way of the relevant circumstances at 1111a3-15: who the agent is, what he is doing, who is acted upon, the means employed, the end in view, and the manner of action o Turns out that only certain kinds of ignorance may excuse, that is, may affect the agent’s culpability, which is therefore not simply a matter of an action’s voluntariness o Consequent ignorance is ignorance that is itself the product of voluntary action, either direct or habitual o Concomitant ignorance is ignorance that would not change the action were it not present, that is, were the agent to have the relevant knowledge o Neith
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