NE 3.1-5: ACTION THEORY
 Aristotle devotes NE3.1–5 to issues of what nowadays is called “action theory”: the under-
lying distinctions, mechanics, and principles behind straightforward cases of (im)moral action.
These are surprisingly hard to get straight. Three topics are discussed here: (a) the voluntary,
involuntary, and non-voluntary; (b) rational choice, deliberation, and the relation of means to
ends; (c) commissions and omissions.
 An action is voluntary, according to Aristotle, if and only if two conditions are met:
[V1] The principle/origin of the action is within the agent
[V2] The agent is aware of the relevant particular circumstances of the action
Failures of [V1] may render an action involuntary, failures of [V2] may render it non-voluntary.
Each of these calls for some explanation.
An action is involuntary if its originating principle is not within the agent. This happens
in two ways: either the 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 action is chosen
in some particular circumstances but would not otherwise be chosen (e.g. throwing the cargo
overboard so the ship doesn’t sink). In the latter case, says Aristotle, the action is a mixture
of the voluntary and the involuntary. 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. This has
to do with the deep point that actions ﬂow from character, and character is reasonably stable
 An action is non-voluntary if the agent is ignorant in some way of the relevant circumstances.
We are given a list of these circumstances at 1111 3–15: who the agent is, what he is doing, who
is acted upon, the means employed, the end in view, and the manner of the action. (This list
becomes famous in its own right.) It 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. Now consequent ignorance is ignorance that is itself the product of voluntary
action, either direct or habitual; concomitant ignorance is ignorance that would not change the
action were it not present, that is, were the agent to have the r