When we do things we do not want to.
Virtue, has to do with feeling passions and taking actions. We said before that a person is not virtuous unless they want to do virtuous things. So we have to next figure out the differences between when people want to do something, and when they do not want to. This matters as far as Politics and the Law goes. We praise or blame people when they do things because they wanted to. But when people do bad things, and it is obvious that they did not want to do it, then we let it go or sometimes even feel sorry for them. Likewise, when someone does something good, but they only did it for the money or they complained while doing it, then we do not give them praise.
Now, we do things involuntarily when either (1) something forced us to or (2) we did not know what we were doing, and did not mean to do it.
When we say that something forced us, that means something outside of us, and we did not say "Oh, alright" and just go along with it. It is more like a boat being blown off-course by the wind or being carried away by a gang of men. These are the types of things where there is not really anything that anyone can do to stop them. We say force was put on the person, and it is not like they wanted the thing to happen; and if they had no force put on them, they would not have done it.
But what about times when people do things because they are being threatened? Does that count as being forced? When someone tells a person they had better do such-and-such a thing or else, and the person then does it, did they do it because they were forced to by the threat or because they wanted to? For instance, suppose someone were to give an order to someone to do something that was not right, and if they did not do it then their parents and wife and children would be slaughtered, but if they did do it then they would be let go safe. Or what about the case where a boat has to carry cargo, but there is a storm and high waves, and there is a danger the boat will be sunk unless the cargo is thrown into the ocean? Do we say the crew is forced to throw the cargo overboard and save themselves? Well, this is up for debate. It is something they choose to do, so it seems voluntary. Yet it is something that pretty everyone would do, and feel like they have to, so it does not really seem voluntary. So, is a person to be blamed in situations like these? We want to blame people that voluntarily do bad things, and we do not want to blame people when there is nothing that they can do to help it.
Well, in a sense, a person is the cause of what happens with them (even if it is in response to a threat). After all, it is that person that makes their own body move and do the thing. That person might also have not done the thing. So, in a way, we have to say they wanted to do it. But that is not the whole story. The only reason why they wanted to was because of circumstances that they were forced into. But outside those circumstances, they would never do the thing, because there is nothing to make them want to do it. So, if we take care about the senses in which we are talking, we can see how it can be said that the person did not want to do the thing. Or perhaps, to say it more exactly, when they are in the circumstances they both do want to do it, but at the same time they do not want to have to do it, and they were forced into the bad position, and they really could not help it.
Now for the things that no one wants to have to do, and also to do them means enduring pain, then people can be either praised or blamed, depending on for what reason they did the thing. If it is for something noble then the person is noble and we praise them for their self-sacrifice. Here we may think of how Priam kisses the hands of Achilles and begs Achilles, who killed the son of Priam, in order that he make get back his son's body and give it a decent burial. But if, on the other hand, what they do is not for anything good, then we wonder why someone would put up with so much for nothing, and we might well think they are a slavish or inferior sort of person to do what they do.
In cases where the pain that one would have to endure is so great that it is too much for a human being to handle, then we obviously give the person a pardon. But then again, for some acts one ought rather to suffer and die than do them. Take the case of Alcmeaon in the play by Euripides. The father of Alcmeaon tells him had better kill his mother, or else the father will put curses on him. Alcmaeon then kills his mother, and that is hardly something we can pardon on account of Alcmaeon fearing the curses from his father.
It is hard to know how much we can endure, and whether it is worth it to endure or if we should give in and go along with doing something bad. Sometimes it may be that it would be a very bad thing, and yet we can definitely stand against the pain we get from refusing. But other times it may be the opposite: it may be not that bad a thing, and yet the pain would really be too much for us. Also, as hard as it is to decide what to do, it is even harder to follow through and make ourselves do painful things. In the end, we are praised or blamed based on how much we are willing and able to suffer for what is right.
So, let us sum up what we have gone over so far. Someone is really forced to do something when the cause of them doing the thing is totally outside of that person, and that person does not willingly go along with it. In cases where no one would want to have to do a thing, but they had better do it or else, and then they say "OK" -- well, there we are going to say they do do it voluntarily. Maybe they do it against their will, but still they do it voluntarily. Why do we say that? Because they still have to choose it as the better thing (though it be as the lesser of two evils) and they still have to make use of their body to carry out the actions. Now whether or not we agree that they made the only choice anyone could expect, and whether they should be pardoned or not -- that is a another matter. That depends on the facts of the case, and it is the type of thing decided in court. Sometimes we pardon and sometimes not.
Now, what about things that are outside of us that tempt us? We said before people are forced to do things when the cause is outside themselves. So, does something that is tempting count as being one of those things? Do those things force us to do bad things? Well, no, it does not make sense to think that. If that were the case, for every thing that people do to get what they want, they would have been forced to do it by those things. People would be forced to eat and drink, as it were, by the power the food has over them. Further, we could not blame anyone who makes bad choices and say they really ought to resist the temptation. With this way of thinking, there is not really any temptation because people are totally forced by the power of the objects. Yet further still, how silly is it to make excuses, and say for cases where bad things happen, that we were forced to from the outside and so should get no blame, but in cases where we do something noble and then win something nice and fitting for our efforts, then we should still get praise for doing the good thing (and not be angry if someone were to suggest we only did for the money, for instance)? These ways of thinking do not work because they go against our basic feeling that a person is responsible for themselves. The cause of them doing what they do comes from inside of them. The only exception is in the rare cases where there is nothing within them that helps towards what they do.
We cannot say that someone did something on purpose (intentionally) if they did not know what they were doing when they did it. OK, but does that mean that they did the thing unwillingly also? No, not necessarily: unwillingly and unintentionally are not the same thing. And what is the difference? If the person did wrong, and they are not bothered by it and do not feel bad about it, then they may have done it unintentionally, but it did not go against their will. If it did go against their will, then it would have made them feel distressed at having ended up as having done something they thought was bad. And we would think and hope that having felt bad about it, they would be less likely to do it again; but someone who does not feel bad about it may not take any extra care next time, and is one who is more likely to do it again.
Doing something unwittingly seems also different from not having your wits about you. A person that is drunk or in a rage is not thought to act unwittingly, yet they do not have their wits about them when they act. Think here also about the term "crimes of passion" versus "in cold blood". In neither case would we say the person acts unwittingly, yet for "crimes of passion" we would often say that the person is "not in their right mind", which is like saying they had lost their wits.
Now every wicked person does not know right from wrong, and it is because they kept doing wrong things again and again, and each time they got a good feeling from doing wrong, as if it were really right to do; so it is in this way that they became wicked and bad. But we do not say wicked people do wicked things without knowing at all the things that they are doing. They know what they do will get them what they want. They think that it will be good for them. We only say people did not know what they were doing when they did not know some specific details, and because they did something without knowing it was going to end up as it did. For example, think of when Theseus (famous for killing the Minotaur in the middle of the Labyrinth) sails into Athens and forgets the signal is supposed to give to show his made it out alive, which causes his father to think he is dead, and his father then dies of despair. It is the specific detail left out which causes the bad action (or inaction) which leads to the death of Theseus's father. Here we would tend to say that Theseus did not voluntarily forget something and did not knowingly do the wrong thing, rather we say he acted (or failed to act) involuntarily.
Now, since a person does not do something willingly when they are forced to do it or when they do not know what they are doing, it seems like that should mean that a person does do something willingly when they knew what they were doing and thought it best to do it. Say again, a person does something willingly when they see the end they would get to, and they think they should take action to get there, and then they will themselves to move towards the thing they want.
So, with this in mind, we can see that when people do things because they are angry or hungry, it is not right to say they do not want to do what they did. If that were so, then when animals find food, and eat it, when they are hungry, we would say they did not want to do what they did either. Yet obviously, we think of animals as wanting to get at some piece of food, and so then they find a clever way to get it. Likewise, if a child is angry and makes a mess of things, we say they wanted to do what they did, but also it is not right to want that. Or would we agree to say that for all the good and noble things we do, we want do them and should get credit, but for anything bad then it was the devil that made us do it? Or suppose there was a game and a prize for winning. One year the person that won played fair, and got the prize they were after. The next year another person won the same prize, but it was by cheating. Does it make sense to say the person that did the right thing wanted to and the person that did not, did not want to?
Next, we should see how ridiculous it would be to say that we only wanted to do the things that turned out right and we never wanted to do anything that turned out wrong. Specifically, it would be odd to say that we do not want to do any of the things that we might do when angry; it would be odd because sometimes it is right to be angry and to not tolerate certain things, and to step up and do something about them. So obviously, we cannot say that anger is the thing that makes us do things we did not really want to do, because it there are times when it does make us do things that we want to do. But what about when it makes us do things and then we wish we had not done them? Well, there we get carried away by it, and really want to do the things at the time, but later realize those things were not good, and that is why we later wish we had not done them. Also, it is commonly agreed that to do things one does not want to causes one a bit of pain to have to do them, but to do things one does want to do, and from doing them get the things one wants, well, that is thought to be pleasing.
And what is the difference between doing something that we did not want to, but it happened anyways because we made a mistake in our thinking versus the case where we did something because we were angry, but would not otherwise have done it? If we made a mistake in our thinking, then at least we were trying to use reason. But then again, emotions are just as much a part of being human as reason is. So therefore, things that are done from emotion are done from the person that has the emotion. So, if the emotions are in the person, and are part of the person, how can anyone say they still did not want to do what they did at the time they did it, as if their emotions are separate from them? It is as if they, the person, is not the cause of what they do.
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