Book 03
Chapter 11
How appetite relates to temperance and self-indulgence.

Since we are talking about temperance, let us also go over appetite. Let us see how appetites can be different, and then based on that, see what difference it makes as far as temperance goes.

First, let us note that while everyone has appetites, not everyone has the same appetites. Some appetites pretty much everyone has (e.g. the appetite for food). Other appetites only certain people have (e.g. an appetite for a certain kind of food, like olives). And other people will not have those appetites, because they crave other things. This does not mean that such appetites are totally unnatural; they can be natural to the extent that the food is nutritious. Different people prefer this or that different way of satisfying hunger and thirst, and no two people like everything exactly the same, but still, everyone has a natural appetite for food, in a general sense.

Now for the appetites that we have naturally, few of us go wrong, and if we do go wrong, then it is pretty much only to the excess (and not to deficiency). Going to excess means eating and drinking when you are already full. The point of having a natural appetite is so that we can eat enough to replenish ourselves and keep up our strength and health. But people that go beyond that are called belly-gods because they fill their bellies with more food than it is right to. That is not good, and the people that do this have a slave mentality (because food and drink are their masters).

For appetites that do not come from nature, but are rather individual (e.g. this person is madly in love with this other person), there are many people that go wrong, and there are many ways in which they go wrong. People are called 'obsessed with' this or that because the thing they are attracted to is not a good thing, or they go beyond the normal amount, or they will do wrong things in order to satisfy their craving. Here we may think of Paris of Troy, when he took away Helen, because his desire for her was great enough to make him betray the hospitality of Menelaus, his host and the lawful husband of Helen.

Also, when it comes to feeling pleasure, suppose the thing is something that most everyone takes pleasure in (e.g. a drink of wine at supper), if the person takes much more pleasure in that thing than what is normal, then that person is called self-indulgent.

Again, being self-indulgent means going too far when it comes to taking pleasure, and when someone does that then it is right to criticize them for it. When it comes to pains, on the other hand, people are not called temperate for facing them, nor are they called self-indulgent for not facing them; they are instead called brave or cowardly. However, we do call people self-indulgent if it gives that person a lot of pain to not get what they crave. Here the pain is caused by pleasure. Think of the crew of Odysseus and how they "wept bitterly" when they were forced to stop eating of the lotus plant, "which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home."

A temperate person does not feel pain just because pleasant things are not around, and it will not pain such a person to stop themselves from taking those things when they are around.

Again, the self-indulgent person craves things that give pleasure, and tries to get them no matter what the cost; and if they cannot get them, then they are pained at going without. It does seem a bit ridiculous to take so much pleasure in something to the extent that it is painful not to have it, but people can sometimes be like that.

Now, we have been talking about the virtue of temperance, and the vice of self-indulgence, which is an excess, but what about the vice of deficiency? Hard to say. When it comes to feeling pleasure, it is hard to find anyone that does not feel it. Even animals take pleasure in certain foods and not others, and they eat more of the foods that they like more. It is hard to believe that there can be a human being that gets no pleasure out of anything all, ever. How can it be that everything is all the same to a person, and there is nothing at all that is any more or less pleasing than anything else? I cannot even think of a name for that. Now, perhaps there may be people who feel nothing when it comes to specific things, such as wine. But even these people have no name.

In any case, this having no feelings at all is not what temperance is. The temperate person does take pleasure in things, but in a moderate way. Such a person does not have intense cravings for things and will not try to get at things that give pleasure no matter what the cost. Rather, the temperate person specifically takes more pleasure in nutritious things, things that make for good health. They may take pleasure in other things as well, but in a way that is not extreme and rather makes good sense.


« index »

« subscribe »

« home »