Aristotle Voluntary Vs. Involuntary Essay, Research Paper
Where Does Voluntary Begin?
Nichomachean Ethics by Aristotle attempts to define the meaning of ethics and to create the perfect society as did Plato in The Republic. In Aristotle s attempt at definition he discusses the difference and significance of voluntary and involuntary action. Beginning by defining, Aristotle soon realizes many situations are too complex for just black vs. white terms and he introduces another term; non-voluntary. This leads to discussion of choice and deliberation, bringing his viewpoints into applicable terms, out of philosophy and into everyday life.
Before beginning to understand how Aristotle is applicable, his viewpoint must be examined, such as his version of voluntary action. As he says in Book III of Nichomachean Ethics the terms voluntary and involuntary are used with reference to the moment of action because the initiative in moving the parts of the body which act as instruments rests with the agent himself (p.53). So, a voluntary action is one about which we have power. Such as, what to eat in the morning, brushing teeth or even life altering decisions about jobs and marriage. Most of our everyday actions are voluntary, since we do not often act outside our realm of power.
Aristotle tends to agree that most actions are voluntary and from this fact comes much of the praise we receive for our actions, sometimes people are even praised for doing them [voluntary actions], for example, if they endured shameful or painful treatment in return (p.53). If others feel that an action is worthy or noble they will acknowledge the person s conscious choice of the action and see they receive due reward. In general, Aristotle feels that people are in control of their actions, whether a thoughtful choice is made or not.
Here Aristotle makes a distinction, a voluntary action is not necessarily a choice. A choice is a thoughtful decision, as he points out For choice is not shared by irrational creatures (p.58). Children and animals are capable of voluntary action, such as eating, running, communicating, but they are not capable of choice, for choice begins to enter into the moral realm. Choice is an action of a creature that can reason because logic is a necessary ingredient for choice.
Only when logical creatures lack knowledge or are under duress do they move away from choice and voluntary action to involuntary action. Aristotle states his point quite clearly when he says, actions done under constraint or due to ignorance are involuntary (p.52). An action is involuntary when the source of initiative comes from outside, Aristotle use the example of a person carried away by the wind, he is obviously not responsible for his action of moving, this would be an example of involuntary action due to constraint.
However, when involuntary actions begin to involve ignorance, Aristotle states the only type of valid ignorance is that in which the agent is unaware of the affect of his action on the thing or person affected. Aristotle would say a drunken man is acting in ignorance, while a man unaware of social customs is acting due to ignorance. Here is also where the distinction between involuntary and non- voluntary action is drawn.
The distinction is found in a man s reaction to his involuntary action. Aristotle feels that an involuntary action due to ignorance is only when the action brings regret or sadness in is aftermath. As he says of the man who feels no remorse, nor yet was he an involuntary agent inasmuch as he feels no sorrow (p.55), this man would be called a non- voluntary agent.
Non-voluntary action is when the action causes no regret or pain from its consequences. Actions could range from throwing cargo off a ship in a storm to a serial killer s rampage of murder. These are actions performed under constraint but constraint in such a way that voluntary action is still possible. Aristotle uses the example of a man asked to commit a heinous crime and so saves his family from death. This is not involuntary as the man has a choice on whether to commit the crime or not but he makes his decision under distress and most likely will not regret his decision, thus making it a non-voluntary action.
At this point one begins to relate to Aristotle s statements on the concepts of voluntary, involuntary and non-voluntary actions. In fact one recent political issue begins to surface. The sex scandal involving President Clinton and his intern Monica Lewinsky. When looked at from the standpoint of a voluntary action it seems obvious that the sexual relations between Clinton and Lewinsky were voluntary. As Aristotle defines voluntary or involuntary actions as occurring at the moment of action, both parties were making the relations happen, in fact both probably made a choice to continue. So, at this point in the relationship the actions were voluntary. Here, I would like to digress and discuss my views on voluntary action. For me I would identify voluntary action more closely with what Aristotle identifies as choice. As I think of voluntary action I think of a moral choice, while I understand that spontaneous action and routine action is voluntary I would argue that even the simplest action requires an amount of choice. I would say voluntary action is that action which we choose to do, it is the action we are aware of and make the decision to continue with. So, especially, by my personal definition Clinton and Lewinsky were at a voluntary action stage.
As for involuntary action, using Clinton as an example I would say his confession to the American public was involuntary or at least non-voluntary. However, much closer to involuntary as the circumstances that caused him to confess, Kenneth Star s investigation and Lewinsky s testimony, were completely out of his control, but he still had an option making it non-voluntary. I would say that a non-voluntary action is when a person has no plausible option due to circumstances, such as a kill or be killed situation. Whereas a involuntary action is completely out of one s personal range of power. So, it seems I see involuntary and non-voluntary actions in the same light as Aristotle.
I would, however, like to add one distinction in the case of involuntary actions. To me an involuntary action implies the primitive in a person, bodily functions and perhaps appetites and passions for none of these can really be controlled, although the case of appetites and passions begin to get vague because we as logical creatures can choose how to respond. Involuntary seems to refer to animals and children, both are rules completely by their passions, while they can choose what to respond to it is extremely limited. Limited to such a sense that referring to a chosen action, as chosen seems untrue.
Perhaps here is where the dilemma lies, which action is voluntary and which is involuntary. Where is the distinction and how does one recognize it. If Clinton and Lewinsky s relations were voluntary and his confession involuntary, what about his first denial of relations, was that voluntary, or was he in such fear of the consequences that it became a non-voluntary action? The truth could be one or the other or in fact all of the above.
Distinction becomes even more difficult when defining involuntary and voluntary, when is the line drawn in the case of passion and irrationality. This could be what Aristotle was deliberating when he wrote, but the irrational emotions are considered no less a part of human beings than reasoning is, and hence, the actions of a man which spring from passion and appetite are equally a part of him. It would be absurd, then, to count them as involuntary (p.57). Irrationality as a part of the logical and decision making process, how is this possible and how does one define it. The key maybe just that impossibility, that each action and thought process are irrevocably tied together. Though each is separate and distinct, easily defined at first glance, a deeper evaluation cause a realization of the interwoven nature of each thing. The only answer that seems to give a glimpse of definition or clarification to the whole matter is said by Aristotle, and where the source of motion is within oneself, it is in one s power to act or not to act. (p.53). Our source in within ourselves, inside is where we respond to our emotions, passions and logic, through this comes our power and with this power we can move forward as creatures or respond only to the most elemental part of our being. There is always a choice, not often does the wind come to sweep a person away and if it does they can grab on to a tree. And so again, the question is where does voluntary begin and involuntary end and visa versa.