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Our evaluation of a person's actions depends to some extent on whether those actions are voluntary, involuntary, or nonvoluntary. An action is involuntary when it is performed under compulsion and causes pain to the person acting. There are borderline cases, as when someone is compelled to do something dishonorable under threat, but we should generally consider such cases voluntary, since the person is still in control of his or her actions. Something done in ignorance may be called involuntary if the person later recognizes that ignorance, but it is nonvoluntary if the person does not recognize or suffer for such ignorance. However, ignorance can excuse only particular cases, and not general behavior, since general ignorance of what is good is precisely what makes a person bad.
It seems the best measure of moral goodness is choice, because unlike actions, choices are always made voluntarily. We make choices about the means we use to achieve a desired end. Deliberation, which precedes choice, is directed only toward those means over which we have some control and only when the correct manner of proceeding is not immediately obvious.
Deliberation proceeds according to the analytical method. We consider first what end we wish to achieve, and then reason backward to the means we might implement to bring about this end.
In choosing, those of good character will always aim for the good. However, those who are not of good character may understand things incorrectly and may wish for only the apparent good. Both virtue and vice, therefore, lie within human power, because they are related to choices that we make voluntarily and deliberately. This conclusion is borne out by the fact that rewards and punishments are only conferred on those actions that we are thought to have done voluntarily. People who behave badly form bad habits that are difficult to change, but their lack of self-control is hardly an excuse for their badness.
06/07/09 NICHOMACHEAN ETHICS BOOK THREE COURAGE AND TEMPERANCE