Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Lost Virtue of Temperance

A student asked in class today, "Is there such a thing as too much sex?"

We were discussing Plato's tripartite model of the soul. He proposed that there are three parts -- Reason (the rational mind), Spirit (the emotions), and Appetite (the basic physical desires). Plato's also likens the soul to a chariot, where the driver is Reason, and the two horses are Spirit and Appetite. Reason directs and restrains the two drives, keeping the soul in harmony.

I asked the class, "Does anyone know what temperance means?" Silence.

This may explain the question, I thought.

The idea of temperance, or the intentional moderation of some activity or indulgence, was foreign to them. They couldn't fathom how intemperance might affect the soul. They understood the concept in relation to physical health, but beyond that, they were at a loss. The metaphysical realm had no meaning to them, no significance. Eating too much was clearly a bad idea, but anything that didn't have immediate, visible, physical consequences seemed harmless.

One cannot offer empirical, "scientific" proof of such claims as, "Reading too many romance novels will corrupt your soul." The effects are insidious, protracted and invisible. The tradition of Wisdom is our authority in such matters, and this counts for little with today's youth. Only Bible-thumping Christians will submit to metaphysical prohibitions, but little is gained because little is understood. It ends up being simple, blind compliance.

My prayer is that my students will begin to see the value of ancient Wisdom.


Anonymous abe said...

i've heard of temperence, but personally i'm trying to cut back on it.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Jill Pole said...

I agree that a lack of temperance has consequences that are slow, insidious, and devastating. Without temperance, the road to hell is paved with tiny baby steps that seem like good ideas...
Good post. It's made me start thinking about areas in my life in which I need to be temperate. Areas that are perhaps not sins, but where Spirit and Appetite could could use some harmony.

11:28 AM  

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