Nic. Eth. III- 5

Men beget their actions like their own children. (Nic Eth. II -5 III- 5)

– On the one hand, trying to talk your way out of your responsibility for begetting is the most obvious of pretensions. On the other hand, the impulsion and determination of nature is evident on both ends on the action in the intensity of the desire that moves to it and the actions that unfold of themselves after the part of the begetting that is in our power.

– Before committing the action, we might think anything about it; after repeating the same action for some time we come to love it whatever it is.

– Our actions are at once the same as billions upon billions that have come forth and at the same time uniquely our own.


  1. thenyssan said,

    July 26, 2011 at 4:29 am

    “Before committing the action, we might think anything about it.”

    But there has to be a love there of some kind from the beginning. It seems that the repetition strips away all the conflicting thoughts and feelings around that love. The love for the action grows by addition (more familiarity or unity with the action) and subtraction (the removal of all the competing things).

    • July 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm

      The phrasing there was to keep in mind the times when we act out of compulsion, vague curiosity, confusion, or just throwing caution to the wind. There are loves and goods involved here, but they seem more remote. I wouldn’t deny that we can only act for some good and some love, but the way this shows up in the concrete can be more or less remote from what we recognize as love or desire.

      • thenyssan said,

        July 27, 2011 at 4:19 am

        What I find interesting is how repetition purifies this ambiguous state of the first act. Somehow it brings the actor to the truth of the action and unites him to it, regardless of the action’s standing in relation to right reason. Why does repetition have this power to strip away the accidental and bring forth the essential (I’m afraid to say substantial there)?

  2. Peter said,

    July 26, 2011 at 5:42 am

    That passage is from Book 3, not Book 2.

    There is a passage somewhere in St. Albert’s commentary on the Nic. Eth. (I think Book 2) where he makes a similar comparison of actions to the generation and perfection of children by feeding, etc. He is speaking of intellectual virtue, but if taken in a more general way it can mean that at first the child [action] is weak and totally dependent upon you [your will], but after feeding it and bringing it to perfection (manhood) over time, it will be strong and independent.

  3. Dr. John L. Duffy, M.D. said,

    July 26, 2011 at 6:49 am

    This is a bizarre way to speak, and unnecessary.
    There is a lot more to begetting children on many
    more layers of meaning than there is to giving rise
    to ” brain children “. Regardless of what ancient text
    used this metaphor, the comparison is not particularly
    illuminating, and seems vulgar .

  4. July 26, 2011 at 10:23 am

    One imagines that Socrates got similar responses when laying out the principles of his maieutic.

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