Being Good: Action Trumps Intent

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1105

“Knowledge has little or no impact on [acquiring virtues] while the other conditions are not of limited importance but are critical since virtue emerges from doing just and wise things. So, acts are called just and wise when there are the sorts of thing which a just or wise person might do but the just and wise person is not the one who does these things but who does them as wise and just people do.

So, it is well said that a person becomes just and wise from doing just and wise acts and that no one could become good without doing them. But the majority of people don’t do these things, instead they take refuge in talk, thinking that this is philosophy and that they will become good people in this way. They act like injured people who listen carefully to doctors but then do nothing of what they’re told to do.”

πρὸς δὲ τὸ τὰς ἀρετὰς τὸ μὲν εἰδέναι μικρὸν ἢ οὐδὲν ἰσχύει, τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα οὐ μικρὸν ἀλλὰ τὸ πᾶν δύναται, εἴπερ ἐκ τοῦ πολλάκις πράττειν τὰ δίκαια καὶ σώφρονα περιγίνεται. τὰ μὲν οὖν πράγματα δίκαια καὶ σώφρονα λέγεται, ὅταν ᾖ τοιαῦτα οἷα ἂν ὁ δίκαιος ἢ ὁ σώφρων πράξειεν· δίκαιος δὲ καὶ σώφρων ἐστὶν οὐχ ὁ ταῦτα πράττων, ἀλλὰ καὶ [ὁ]1 οὕτω πράττων ὡς οἱ δίκαιοι καὶ οἱ σώφρονες πράττουσιν. εὖ οὖν λέγεται ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ τὰ δίκαια πράττειν ὁ δίκαιος γίνεται καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τὰ σώφρονα ὁ σώφρων· ἐκ δὲ τοῦ μὴ πράττειν ταῦτα 6οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ μελλήσειε γίνεσθαι ἀγαθός. ἀλλ᾿ οἱ πολλοὶ ταῦτα μὲν οὐ πράττουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τὸν λόγον καταφεύγοντες οἴονται φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οὕτως ἔσεσθαι σπουδαῖοι, ὅμοιόν τι ποιοῦντες τοῖς κάμνουσιν, οἳ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἀκούουσι μὲν ἐπιμελῶς, ποιοῦσι δ᾿ οὐθὲν τῶν προσταττομένων.

From wikimedia commons

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