published on February 2, 2019
Aristotle on Blaming Animals
Taking the Hardline Approach on Voluntary Action in the Nicomachean Ethics III.1–5
This essay offers a reconstruction of Aristotle’s account of the voluntary in the Nicomachean Ethics, arguing that the voluntary grounds one notion of responsibility with two levels, and therefore both rational and non-rational animals are responsible for voluntary actions. Aristotle makes no distinction between causal and moral responsibility in the NE; rather, voluntariness and prohairesis form different bases for responsibility and make possible different levels of responsibility, but both levels of responsibility fall within the ethical sphere and are aptly appraised. Important differences between the two levels remain. Animals and children are aptly appraised for direct voluntary actions. Conversely, only adults capable of prohairesis or rational choice are appraised for indirect voluntary actions—psychologically compelled actions that stem from character. Furthermore, while children and animals are responsible for actions, only adults casually contribute to the formation of their characters and thus are aptly appraised for character traits.