I am translating Aristotle' Nicomachean ethics into Vietnamese from the English translation done by J. A. Smith (Project Gutenberg). In Book VII of the work I came across a sentence which has proven incomprehensible to me. That is

Now a man may raise a question as to the nature of the right conception in violation of which a man fails of Self-Control.

I've refered to other interpretations as well and now I'm clear of what this line means. However, I still need to be sure about the structure of this sentence. Is this a relative clause with "of which"? If so, what does "which" here replace? Also, can somebody clarify the phrase "conception in violation"?

  • which <-- "conception". Read it as "the right conception, in violation of which a man fails ...." with a comma after the noun phrase to help parse. HTH.
    – Kris
    Sep 11, 2019 at 11:05
  • Not sure if the above technically qualifies as an answer, which is why it's a comment for now.
    – Kris
    Sep 11, 2019 at 11:06
  • the original at wikisource el.m.wikisource.org/wiki/…
    – vectory
    Sep 12, 2019 at 13:27
  • the antecedent of which is conception
    – Toothrot
    Oct 1, 2019 at 14:32
  • in violation of the conception
    – Toothrot
    Oct 1, 2019 at 14:33

4 Answers 4


There should undoubtedly be a comma after conception, which would make it clearer that the clause from then onwards is a definition or explanation of the right conception. (Expansion of Kris's comment).

I also feel constrained to point out that if you are translating Aristotle, who is a founder of Western philosophy but whose language is not straightforward, you really need to do it from the Greek. Working from a Gutenberg translation into English risks falling into English As She Is Spoke.

  • that this gets two downvotes, and presumably no upvotes, shows how hopelessly stupid this site is
    – Toothrot
    Oct 1, 2019 at 14:36
  • The 20th century follow-up (1988) to that was: The Cow Went to the Swamp.:)
    – Lambie
    Feb 28, 2020 at 13:11
  • I downvoted as by implying that a translation from the English is useless and then requiring the questioner to learn Ancient Greek is a bit much.
    – Greybeard
    Feb 28, 2020 at 14:02

Some words are used in unusual meanings and require clarification:


Conception: II 5 c c. Philosophy. The action or faculty of grasping or creating a general idea or concept.

1818 S. T. Coleridge Gen. Introd. or Treat. on Method 10 in Encycl. Metrop. I There are many marked differences between mathematical and physical studies; but in both a previous act and conception of the mind..is indispensably necessary.

1903 Mind 12 32 A diagram can only serve as an aid to mental conception; it does not directly show forth the real order.

2011 F. C. Beiser German Historicist Trad. iv. 189 He wields his powers of conception, which grasp all these details into a meaningful whole.

II. To fail of:To have a deficiency or want; to lack.

  1. b. to fail of: = 7. [See below]

1671 R. Bohun Disc. Wind 20 When the Atmosphere begins to thicken..wee seldom fail of a Wind.

1796 J. Morse Amer. Universal Geogr. (new ed.) I. 150 Whenever the continent shall come to fail of timber.

7. transitive. To be or become deficient in; to lack, want, be without. Now rare.

1869 E. A. Freeman Hist. Norman Conquest III. xi. 45 The Primate prayed that their chosen King might never fail the throne.

Now a man may raise a question as to the nature of the right conception in violation of which a man fails of Self-Control.

Of course, it is possible that someone might ask about the nature of “grasping the right concept”, and if they do not “grasping the right concept”, then they will lack self control.

  • Second "grasping" should perhaps be grasp
    – Dr Xorile
    Feb 28, 2020 at 15:06

Not knowing the source material or context, I'd interpret it as:

Now a man may raise a question

A person might ask...

as to the nature of the right conception

...about right conception's nature...

in violation of which a man fails of Self-Control.

...when a person lacks self-control.

Depending on context, there could be a few other ways to parse it.


Now a man may raise a question as to the nature of the right conception in violation of which a man fails of Self-Control.

An attempted rewording:

There exists some general principle (a "right conception"), which, if violated, means that one lacks Self-Control. One may raise a question about the nature of this principle.

I'm stretching a bit for a better wording for "right conception," but my guess is that it may have been translated somewhat over-literally from something like "correct idea."

  • The 'right conception' may well be 'accepted moral standards'. "What are the rules one lapses/sins [V intrans] if one doesn't adhere to?" But this is probably the best attempt. However, comprehension questions become off-topic when individual words / constructions are not specified by OP, singly. So mis-parsing (in the question) needs correcting (in the question) first. Oct 31, 2019 at 12:17

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