The Golden Mean: Temperance
It's early evening. You sit down to snatch a few seconds on Facebook. Ten minutes pass, then half an hour. Soon it's time for bed. You're still on the internet, and the time you had to spend on your family and other duties is gone.
We're all guilty of letting pleasures get the best of us, especially entertainment-related pleasures. However, we often shrug it off, convincing ourselves that we deserve some pleasure and relaxation.
Yet, in doing this, we're ignoring the fact that we might have a serious problem: a lack of temperance.
Temperance, according to the Western classical tradition of Aristotle, is "moderation or observance of the mean with regard to pleasures." In other words, a temperate person maintains an average, balanced approach to the natural appetites or pleasures of life, instead of embracing them too much or too little.
Those who embrace life's pleasures too much - such as those who overeat or spend money recklessly - eventually bring harm to themselves. According to Aristotle, indulging natural appetites to an excess is childish, and therefore needs to be "chastened" in order to be brought in harmony with a rational way of thinking and acting.
Temperance is also known as self-control, a quality described as "the master of all the virtues," since it helps with instilling other character traits in our lives. Indeed, how would a person who has no control over his own passions have the ability to make prudent decisions, perform courageous acts, or discern what is just and fair?
Today in our society, self-control is lacking in more instances than simply looking at social media for too long on a certain evening. Excessive spending (both on an individual and national level), a preoccupation with sexual activities, and overindulgence in food leading to growing waistlines all demonstrate a lack of ability to exercise moderation and self-restraint in some of life's key areas.
A lack of temperance or self-control brings negative effects not only to the person who struggles with it, but also to those around him. For example, the next generation has not spent the billions of dollars that make up our national debt, yet they are the ones stuck with the bill. Children born out of wedlock were not involved in the act, yet they live with the poverty and abuse that often result. Those who don't control their eating habits hurt themselves the most, but the health problems and medical bills which result from obesity also put a strain on their loved ones.
If we are to have a prosperous and flourishing society once again, some of our appetites need to be curbed. Yes, it is painful, and yes, it is hard, but something clearly needs to happen to get our society back on track. Might not a greater emphasis on self-control in our own lives and the lives of our children be a step in the right direction?
- What is Temperance?
- Video: Self-Control, Akrasia, and Brutality (Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, bk. 7)
- Return to Aristotle: Virtue, Self-Control and Even Some Greek Vocabulary
- The Six Secrets of Self-Control
- The Virtue of Self-Control
- Consequences of Poor Self-Control
- American Founding and 19th Century Quotes on Temperance
- Don't!: The Secret of Self-Control
- Temperance and the Profession of Arms
- Teaching Values: Self–Control