15 Sep Immoral people are always conflicted. [ARISTOTLE (EDITH HALL)]
Unlike most religions and other ethical systems, Aristotelian ethics are surprisingly non-judgemental about immoral people, for he sees that they are fundamentally miserable. Immoral people are always conflicted. They do what gives them pleasure, but at some level know that the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake is not conducive to happiness. Equally conflicted are people who know what the right thing to do is, but are prevented from going through with it ‘out of cowardice or laziness’.
Aristotle, who lived in his forties at close quarters with the tyrannical Macedonian royal family, the ruthless Philip II and his scheming wives, concubines and lieutenants, all jockeying for position at court, seems to have meticulously observed the misery of immoral people. He knew serial criminals who simply committed suicide. He watched bad men ‘who constantly seek the society of others and shun their own company, because when they are by themselves they recall much that was unpleasant in the past and anticipate the same in the future, whereas with other people they can forget’. These miserable reprobates, who can’t stand to be alone with themselves, can’t even fully experience ‘their own joys and sorrows, as there is civil war in their souls’. They feel as if they are physically being torn asunder. They enjoy indulging their cravings for a few minutes, but ‘they regret it a little later, and wish they had never developed the tastes they have, since the bad people are always changing their minds’. Leo Tolstoy, who was well read in ancient Greek literature and philosophy, sounds as though he had been reading Aristotle when he opened Anna Karenina (1877) with the observation, ‘All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ For Aristotle had asserted that ‘the good is simple, whereas the bad is multiform; and also the good man is always alike and does not change in character, whereas the wicked and the foolish are quite different in the evening from what they were in the morning’. No better dissection has ever been performed of the multiform psychological miseries which the immoral inflict upon themselves by their own inconsistent behaviour.