Book 03
Chapter 12
The difference between self-indulgence and cowardice, as far as choice goes.

Now let us compare self-indulgence and cowardice. They are both vices, and they are both bad, but they are so in different ways.

First, we can say that self-indulgence is more voluntary than cowardice. People are self-indulgent because they want to be that way moreso than people want to be cowards. And how is that? Well, first, people are self-indulgent because they want to have pleasure, and so they make bad choices for the sake of pleasure. Second, people are cowardly because they want to avoid pain. When fear has got ahold of someone, it takes them out of their right mind. But when someone anticipates getting something that they want, the same thing does not happen; rather instead they often become more clever in thinking how they can get what they want. So, self-indulgence is more voluntary, and that is why self-indulgent people get criticized more harshly.

Self-indulgent people are also more criticized because it is easier for them to change their ways. Why? Because they are often exposed to what tempts them, so they have plenty of chances to start practicing self-restraint, and to make new habits. But when it comes to cowardice, people are not often exposed to dangerous things, and so it is hard for them to change their ways.

Self-indulgence and cowardice are opposites in other ways also when it comes to how much doing something is a matter of choice versus being forced to. With cowardice, people are more likely to consider a person to be a coward as something that they choose to be. But if we look at specific instances of cowardly acts, they rarely seem to be acts of choice, but rather people's bodies seem to be possessed by fright as they try to get away from the danger. With self-indulgence, on the other hand, people do not seem to be possessed, but rather they are saying 'yes' when someone offers another drink, or they ask for more food, and other similar, specific things.

But then when it comes to overall character (and not just specific actions), people who are self-indulgent are thought to be so less by choice than the coward is (which is the opposite of what we said about specific actions). This is because the cowards seem to benefit from being that way, because they escape from pain and leave others to deal with things. But self-indulgent people pay a cost for being how they are (i.e. they lose their health), and it is hard to see such people as choosing to make themselves worse off when it is not at all worth it.

Also, we associate with the term 'self-indulgence' childish faults. The appetite of a child, moves it to do this or that, to things which are not right, and for which the child must be corrected. And if the appetite does not get brought under the rule of reason, then it can and will think of anything to get what it wants. In irrational beings the desire for pleasure never ends; even if it gets everything it wants, it still wants more. The more it gets, the more it wants, and the stronger it gets. When the force of appetite gets strong enough, it can kick out reason and take over. This is why we should have few appetites, and make sure we keep them moderate, and not let them go against our reason. The relation between appetite and reason should be like that between pupil and teacher, appetite should seek for things as reason directs. This is how it is with a temperate person: their appetites and their reason are in harmony, and so the temperate person craves for the right things, in the right way, and at the right time, which are just the things that right reason will direct.

With that said, we are now finished with temperance. We will continue on in the next book with liberality.


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