Summary and Analysis Book III: Chapter IV



Choice (as determined by deliberation) is concerned with means to an end. Wish is concerned with the end. Some, including philosophers of the Platonic school, maintain that we always wish for the good (with good defined in an absolute sense), while others, including some Sophists, say that we wish only for what seems good to us. Both positions have difficulties. The first forces us to say that when a man makes a wrong choice he really does not wish what he wishes. The second implies that there are many different and even contradictory ideas of what is good.

Our position is that the object of wish (i.e., the end toward which men aspire) is always good in the absolute sense, though on the practical level it may be what seems good to an individual in given circumstances, according to the standards of a virtuous man. Two analogies may help to explain this: Men in good health consider wholesome things which are really wholesome, but invalids and sick people may find other things wholesome. In the same way people differ about definitions of bitter, sweet, heavy, and hot, but a man with the proper standards will judge these things correctly.

To sum up, what is good and pleasant varies under different conditions or in different situations. Ordinary men often choose the pleasant in the misguided belief that it is good, and avoid pain thinking it is evil. The chief distinction of the virtuous man is his ability to see the truth in any particular moral question, thus he sets the standards for judging such questions. Before general principles are applied in the evaluation of moral purpose, one must always consider the particular situation.