“So-called pleasures, when they go beyond a certain limit, are but punishments.”
Embracing the virtue of temperance is like finding the perfect balance on a tightrope, a harmony in the midst of life's cacophony.
At its core, temperance is the art of navigating the turbulent seas of desire and aversion with a steady hand, refusing to be swept away by the storms of excess or deficiency. As Aristotle put it, "To enjoy the things we ought and to hate the things we ought has the greatest bearing on excellence of character."
Picture a person riding a horse on an unpredictable terrain. Being too aggressive might make the horse anxious or rebellious, while being too passive might make the horse lazy or unresponsive. Temperance means finding the right balance in guiding and controlling the horse. It's about finding the sweet spot and using just enough force and guidance to keep things steady and harmonious. The Stoics believed that in embracing temperance, one achieves inner tranquility—a state not easily disturbed by the unpredictable whims of fate.
In Discourses, Epictetus emphasizes the importance of self-discipline in these words: “Since habit is such a powerful influence, and we’re used to pursuing our impulses to gain and avoid outside our own choice, we should set a contrary habit against that, and where appearances are really slippery, use the counterforce of our training.”
In a world that often glorifies excess and indulgence, the Stoic virtue of temperance serves as a counterbalance. It teaches us to savor life's pleasures without becoming enslaved by them and to endure hardships without succumbing to despair. It's the difference between enjoying a delicious meal and gluttony, between pursuing success and being consumed by ambition.
Temperance is a potent antidote to the forces, both within and without, that rob us of our precious resources. For instance, by practicing moderation, we learn to appreciate the fleeting nature of time and focus on what truly matters. As Seneca wisely remarked, "It's not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it."
In a world bombarding us with stimuli and pushing us towards extremes, temperance is a refuge. It's a sanctuary where one can retreat, finding solace in the simplicity of measured living. Epictetus reminds us, "He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." One must appreciate the abundance within our grasp rather than lamenting the scarcity beyond. Temperance, thus, is the key to unlocking the inner citadel of contentment—a contentment not contingent on external circumstances but rooted in the disciplined mastery of one's own reactions.