Ancient Greek Vocabulary: Aristotle

(The words written in this font in the beginning of each line represent the translation(s) used most often by your text.)

Nicomachean Ethics

Book One

'serious,''setting high standards for oneself, 'of high moral standard' spoudaios (1)  - the translation your text uses most is 'serious,' but the question arises, 'serious' in what sense? A clue comes from another sense of the word, 'earnest,' 'energetic.' That is, the spoudaios person is one who, as your text says, " has a sense of the importance of living life well and of fulfilling one's ergon in society in accordance with the highest standards." Such a person is (or tries to be) aware of what he/she should do in order to live well and to play a role in making the kind of society that is worth living in; and he/she does not drag his/her feet in performing these actions. Instead, this person is energetic and earnest in doing what needs to be done, as opposed to the person who does what is necessary only reluctantly and not in a timely way (this second person would not be spoudaios). This is not to say that the spoudaios person is all work and no play; as we'll see, part of living well is enjoying things and spending time with friends and family.

Another way to see what is meant by spoudaios is that it is often used in opposition to phaulos:

'base' phaulos - generally translated as 'low,' 'base' (generally your text's translation); or 'slight,' 'inefficient.' The word first appears in the NE at 1100b35. In colloquial English the phaulos person or action might be called 'trifling' (unserious, unreliable) or else 'low.'

Book Two

'moral,' 'ethical' - êthikos (fem. êthikê). Derived from êthos, 'character' (especially what we would call moral character), 'disposition.' Aristotle will use this word in the Poetics to refer to a real or dramatic person's "character" (i.e. what we would call 'moral character'). Êthos has an earlier sense of 'custom,' 'usage,' so that Aristotle is accurate when he says in Chapter 1 that the word is related to:

'habit' - ethos - habit, custom. This word comes from the verb ethô, 'to be accustomed,' 'to be wont.'

'intellectual' - dianoêtikos (fem. dianoêtikê) - 'of thinking,' 'for thinking,' 'having to do with thinking,' 'intellectual.' It may be helpful to note that the word dianoeô does not have exactly the same range of meanings as the English 'think.' We sometimes use 'think' to mean 'believe' ("I think the bus leaves at 8:20, but I don't know for sure"); dianoeô would not be used here. In other ways, dianoeô is pretty close to 'think,' especially when 'think' refers to engaging in a process of reasoning or considering or having ideas.
        When Aristotle distinguishes 'intellectual virtues/excellences' (aretai  that are dianoêtikai) from 'moral virtues/excellences' (aretai that are êthikai) he does NOT mean to suggest that the 'moral virtues/excellences' require no thinking, or that they have nothing to do with thought. Recall that he is discussing human excellences that have to do with the part of us that reasons and thinks and chooses (our "rational" - with logos - aspect). Some of these are excellences of understanding and knowing that do not necessarily have to do with choosing actions well or developing a "good character": examples would be skill at geometry or at a craft, understanding of sciences or grammar, etc. These would be "intellectual virtues/excellences"; there will be much more on them in Book Six. In contrast, the "moral virtues/excellences" certainly involve engaging in some reasoning process, but they also involve choosing actions well, doing those actions well once chosen, and developing and maintaining a "good character." And in many cases, the kind of understanding involved is not the same as for the "intellectual virtues/excellences."

Book Three

'voluntary' - hekousios - usually translated, as in your text, as 'voluntary.' As your translator also notes, an action described as hekousios can range from something the agent simply "goes along with" without protest or acquiesces to, all the way to something that the agent does deliberately and intentionally.

hekôn - used as a noun this would refer to someone who performs an action readily, wittingly, or on purpose.

'non-voluntary' - ouch hekousios - this phrase appears at 1110b15-20. Literally it means 'not voluntary,' and is usually translated as 'non-voluntary.' It is the opposite or the negation of hekousios, and covers a wider variety of cases than akousios (a word usually translated as 'involuntary;' see below). Suppose that you were unaware of the fact that your cat was sleeping under an overturned box on the floor, and you stepped on the box, injuring the cat. Although you deliberately stepped on the box, you did not know you would thus be stepping on the cat. Therefore your stepping on the cat would be considered "non-voluntary" (ouch hekousios), under Aristotle's classification scheme. Would your stepping on the cat be "involuntary" (akousios)? According to Aristotle, it would be "involuntary" if it caused you sorrow and regret - for example, if you found out afterwards about the cat being there and had not wanted to hurt it. If it did not cause sorrow and regret (either because you don't care about the cat, or because you never found out about the cat), your stepping on the cat would be "non-voluntary" but not "involuntary."

What is the point; what is the relevance of feeling sorrow and regret here? The word translated as 'involuntary' connotes 'against one's will,' which is not exactly the same as the English 'involuntary.' This makes somewhat more sense, perhaps: If you felt sorrow and regret for having hurt the cat, then it would seem that you hurt the cat only against your will. Note too that for Aristotle, some kinds of ignorance (and attendant "involuntary" actions) are blameworthy. For example, if you knew that the cat liked to hide under boxes and you still did not check the box before stepping on it, Aristotle might say that your action was blameworthy (assuming he thought that injuring cats under such circumstances was wrong), just as one might say today that you "were not acting in a morally responsible way."

'involuntary' - akousios- usually translated as 'involuntary'; connotes something done against the agent's will, or something that was done under constraint; can also refer to consequences that were constrained to occur.

akôn - when used as a noun this would refer to someone who did something involuntarily, or against his/her will, or under constraint.

boulê - counsel, design; advice; deliberation (an act of deliberation); a council that deliberates.

boulêsis - wish, willing.

'deliberation' - bouleusis - deliberation (the process of deliberation in general)

bouleuomai - generally translated as 'deliberate' (verb); also take counsel with oneself, take counsel in general (with oneself or others). Aristotle's remarks on 'deliberation' cover both deliberation among several individuals (as in court deliberations) and thinking things over and coming to a decision by oneself.

'appetite' - epithumia - translated in your text as 'appetite,' this word fundamentally means 'desire' or 'yearning' - usually desire for some thing as opposed to desire for a person, but occasionally it refers to desire or lust for someone.

'passion' - thumos - often translated as 'passion.' Other and perhaps more basic meanings include 'soul,' 'spirit,' 'principle of life, thought, and strong feeling,' 'desire,' 'inclination,' 'will,' 'spirit' in the sense of 'courage,''seat of thought,' 'seat of wishing,' 'heart' as seat of strong emotions.

'characteristic' hexis - translated in your text as 'characteristic' and sometimes as 'habit,' this refers generally to having or being in possession of something, being in a certain state, condition, acquired habit.
        How does hexis differ from ethos, also translated as 'habit'? In some contexts, not much. But even when referring to a habit, hexis often refers to a habit of mind or a state of mind; or emphasizes the acquired or learned or mental aspects of a habit. Ethos does not emphasize a state of mind (though it does not imply that no particular state of mind is present).

orexis - often translated as 'desire'. Basically means 'longing' or 'yearning.' The Lexicon calls it a "general word for all kinds of appetency," a general rubric for epithumia, thumos, boulêsis, etc.

'choice'- proairesis (sometimes transliterated as prohairesis) - generally translated as 'choice,' but as your translator notes, in the sense of forechoice, preference.

Book Eight

'friendship' - philia - generally translated as 'friendship.' Includes what we would call friendship, but also includes any kind of affectionate regard, affection (as e.g. between family members), friendliness, or amiability. Members of a community (or even, as A. says, members of a species, 1155a15-20) can be said to have philia for one another even if they do not know one another well; in that case philia would refer to being on good terms with one another, or getting along with one another. Philia does not, however, refer to lust, physical attraction, or romantic infatuation; these would be considered erôs. As Aristotle points out (1157a5-15), couples whose attraction is erotic may or may not get along well together in other ways. A couple could be linked by both philia and erôs; it just does not always happen that way.

'friend' - philos (masc.), philê (fem.) - can mean 'friend,' but can also mean 'beloved,' 'dear,' 'object of affection.' Thus it refers to the people and the things one holds dear.

'in an unqualified sense,' 'without qualification' - haplôs - literally, 'simply,' 'singly.' Sometimes translated as 'absolutely,' but this is correct only in the sense of 'simply.' The term should not be taken to mean 'unqualified' in the sense of 'lacking in legitimacy,' 'without proper support.' Rather, it means something more like 'not merely under some conditions or in one way only, but in general or as such.'

'race' - genos - literally, 'kind' or 'birth.' As used at 1155a15-20, as in general throughout Aristotle, it clearly refers to the human 'race,' the dog 'race,' etc., i.e. to kinds of animals - not to what is known today as a race or ethnicity. The word genos is the root of the modern scientific term 'genus,' and can often be understood as 'genus' (or sometimes 'species'). The word can also refer to a 'kind' of thing, or to one's clan, family, or nationality; but most often in Aristotle, and certainly from the context here, it refers to a kind of animal: humankind, dog-kind, etc.

1. All adjectives in this list can also be used as nouns, depending on context. That is, spoudaios means 'serious' but can also mean 'a serious person' or 'a thing worthy of serious attention'; hekousios means 'voluntary' but can also mean 'a voluntary thing'; etc.
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Ancient Greek Vocabulary: Aristotle by Rose Cherubin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.