Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


The worse of two acts of wrong done to others is that which is prompted by the worse disposition. Hence the most trifling acts may be the worst ones; as when Callistratus charged Melanopus with having cheated the temple-builders of three consecrated half-obols. The converse is true of just acts. This is because the greater is here potentially contained in the less: there is no crime that a man who has stolen three consecrated half-obols would shrink from committing. Sometimes, however, the worse act is reckoned not in this way but by the greater harm that it does. Or it may be because no punishment for it is severe enough to be adequate; or the harm done may be incurable-a difficult and even hopeless crime to defend; or the sufferer may not be able to get his injurer legally punished, a fact that makes the harm incurable, since legal punishment and chastisement are the proper cure. Or again, the man who has suffered wrong may have inflicted some fearful punishment on himself; then the doer of the wrong ought in justice to receive a still more fearful punishment. Thus Sophocles, when pleading for retribution to Euctemon, who had cut his own throat because of the outrage done to him, said he would not fix a penalty less than the victim had fixed for himself. Again, a man’s crime is worse if he has been the first man, or the only man, or almost the only man, to commit it: or if it is by no means the first time he has gone seriously wrong in the same way: or if his crime has led to the thinking-out and invention of measures to prevent and punish similar crimes-thus in Argos a penalty is inflicted on a man on whose account a law is passed, and also on those on whose account the prison was built: or if a crime is specially brutal, or specially deliberate: or if the report of it awakes more terror than pity. There are also such rhetorically effective ways of putting it as the following: That the accused has disregarded and broken not one but many solemn obligations like oaths, promises, pledges, or rights of intermarriage between states-here the crime is worse because it consists of many crimes; and that the crime was committed in the very place where criminals are punished, as for example perjurers do-it is argued that a man who will commit a crime in a law-court would commit it anywhere. Further, the worse deed is that which involves the doer in special shame; that whereby a man wrongs his benefactors-for he does more than one wrong, by not merely doing them harm but failing to do them good; that which breaks the unwritten laws of justice-the better sort of man will be just without being forced to be so, and the written laws depend on force while the unwritten ones do not. It may however be argued otherwise, that the crime is worse which breaks the written laws: for the man who commits crimes for which terrible penalties are provided will not hesitate over crimes for which no penalty is provided at all.-So much, then, for the comparative badness of criminal actions.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "14," Rhetoric, trans. W. Rhys Roberts Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LHQ8CWQ9YXSSAYM.

MLA: Aristotle. "14." Rhetoric, translted by W. Rhys Roberts, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LHQ8CWQ9YXSSAYM.

Harvard: Aristotle, '14' in Rhetoric, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LHQ8CWQ9YXSSAYM.