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Aristotle's Account of the Virtue

o f T e m p e r a n c e in Nicomachean
Ethics III. 1o - 11
H O W A R D J. C U R Z E R

1.

INTRODUCTION

maNY ONTEMPOX~RY SOCIALeROBL~S arise from inappropriate indulgence


in food, drink, and/or sex. Temperance (sophrosyne) is the Aristotelian virtue
which governs these three things, and Aristotle's account of temperance (and
related failure modes) contains important insights and useful distinctions. Yet
Aristotle's account of temperance has been surprisingly neglected, despite the
resurgence of virtue ethics. I shall remedy this neglect by providing a passageby-passage commentary on Aristotle's account of temperance in Nicomachean
Ethics III. lO-11. I shall describe the sphere of temperance and Aristotle's
distinctions among the character traits of temperance, self-indulgence, insensibility, continence, incontinence, and brutishness. I shall also describe the passions and parameters of temperance and argue that Aristotle's account of
temperance is compatible with his doctrine of the mean. My interpretation
includes several controversial claims. For example, I maintain that Aristotelian temperance governs not only the enjoyment of certain tactile pleasures,
but also the desire (and therefore the pain caused by unsatisfied desire) for
these pleasures.
Aristotle's account clashes with common sense and with his own architectonic at several points. For example, he maintains that a person is intemperate
only if he or she goes wrong with respect to all three of the temperance parameters. However, a few modifications will eliminate the tensions in Aristotle's
account. Once modified, his account can enhance our understanding of how
people relate and should relate to food, drink, sex, and other sensual pleasures.
For example, I argue that Aristotle's account includes important distinctions
which are absent from our contemporary understanding of alcohol abuse.

[5]

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2.

NARROWING THE SPHERE OF TEMPERANCE

Aristotle's account o f a virtue always begins with a lengthy, detailed description o f the s p h e r e (peri ho) o f the virtue. H e describes the aspects o f life
g o v e r n e d by the virtue, what the virtue is about. H e typically starts with a
b r o a d r a n g e o f objects o f passion a n d then gradually n a r r o w s the s p h e r e o f
the virtue. His account o f the virtue o f t e m p e r a n c e follows this pattern. H e
devotes the first h a l f o f his account to a description o f the s p h e r e o f t e m p e r ance. H e begins by observing that " t e m p e r a n c e is a m e a n with r e g a r d to
pleasures" (1117b24-~5), ~ a n d t h e n narrows the s p h e r e o f t e m p e r a n c e in
f o u r stages.
First, Aristotle restricts the s p h e r e o f t e m p e r a n c e to bodily pleasures. H e
says:
[A] Men who are concerned with [the pleasures of honor or learning] are called neither
temperate nor self-indulgent. Nor, again, are those who are concerned with other
pleasures that are not bodily; for those who are fond of hearing and telling stories and
who spend their days on anything that turns up are called gossips, but not selfindulgent, nor are those who are pained at the loss of money or of friends. (l 1 a7b311 t 18al)
W h y are these p e o p l e not called t e m p e r a t e or self-indulgent? W h y are the
n o n b o d i l y pleasures excluded f r o m the s p h e r e o f t e m p e r a n c e ? Notice that the
pleasures o f h o n o r , learning, money, a n d friends are g o v e r n e d respectively by
the virtues o f greatness o f soul (megalopsychia), wisdom, liberality, a n d the
q u a s i - v i r t u e o f friendship. ~ I suggest that Aristotle restricts the s p h e r e o f
t e m p e r a n c e to bodily pleasures in o r d e r to p r e v e n t overlap with o t h e r virtues.
H e wants his virtues to have disjoint spheres. Aristotle n e v e r explicitly prop o u n d s the d o c t r i n e that all virtues have disjoint spheres, but attributing this
doctrine to h i m explains passage [A]. It also explains the way in which Aristotle n a r r o w s the spheres o f c o u r a g e ( 1 1 1 5 a l o - 2 4 ) , liberality (11~2a3-7),
t r u t h f u l n e s s ( 11 ~ 7a3 3 - b 1), a n d justice ( 113oa 1 6 - 3 ~).3 Aristotle's n e x t m o v e
is to limit t e m p e r a n c e to the pleasures o f touch a n d taste. H e says:

' All quotations from Aristotle are taken from The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. J. Barnes
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, ~984), except that I translate arete as "virtue" rather than
"excellence."
Gossip is not governed by any virtue in Aristotle's list.
3See H. Curzer, "Aristotle's Account of the Virtue of Justice," Apeiron ~8 (1995). Unfortunately, Aristotle does say that the temperate person will not desire objects of temperance "beyond
his means" (1119a18). Does this mean that people who desire such things exhibit both intemperance and illiberality? One way to prevent the spheres of intemperance and illiberality from
overlapping is by attributing to Aristotle the plausible view that buying objects of temperance
beyond one's means is illiberal, but desiring or enjoying such objects is intemperate.

A R I S T O T L E ' S A C C O U N T OF T E M P E R A N C E

[B] Those who delight in objects of vision, such as colors and shapes and painting are
called neither temperate nor self-indulgent; yet it would seem possible to delight even
in these either as one should or to excess or to a deficient degree. And so too it is with
objects of hearing . . . . Nor do we apply these names to those who delight in odor,
unless it be incidentally. (1118a2-1 O)
In this passage Aristotle is saying that the pleasures o f sight, hearing, and
smell are not considered part o f the sphere o f t e m p e r a n c e in spite of the fact
that excess, deficiency, and m e a n are possible with respect to these pleasures.
Aristotle argues for limiting the sphere o f t e m p e r a n c e to the pleasures o f
touch and taste in the following passage.
[C] Nor is there in animals other than man any pleasure connected with these senses
except incidentally. For dogs do not delight in the scent of hares, but in the eating of
them, but the scent told them the hares were there . . . . Temperance and selfindulgence, however, are concerned with the kind of pleasures that the other animals
share in, which therefore appear slavish and brutish; these are touch and taste.

(1118a16-~6)
Aristotle's a r g u m e n t in passage [C] has the following structure. (a) Animals
do not delight in the objects o f sight, hearing, and smell. (b) T e m p e r a n c e is
c o n c e r n e d only with pleasures we share with animals. So (c) t e m p e r a n c e is not
c o n c e r n e d with the objects o f sight, hearing, and smell. Since (d) bodily pleasures arise f r o m the senses, and (e) the only o t h e r senses are touch and taste, it
follows that (f) t e m p e r a n c e is c o n c e r n e d with the pleasures o f touch or taste or
both. Aristotle plausibly assumes premises (d) and (e). H e argues for premise
(a) by showing how cases which seem to be animals taking pleasure in the
senses o f sight, hearing, or smell can be explained away. But I shall a r g u e that
premise (b) is false. Aristotle should not restrict the sphere o f t e m p e r a n c e
merely to pleasures shared with o t h e r animals. First, Aristotle is mistaken to
exclude the pleasures o f sight, hearing, and smell f r o m the sphere o f temperance. Many items acknowledged by Aristotle to be objects o f t e m p e r a n c e
involve complicated combinations o f senses. Perhaps "dogs do not delight in
the scent o f hares, but in the eating o f them," but for people the pleasure o f
food c a n n o t be separated f r o m its smell or a p p e a r a n c e or even the atmos p h e r e o f the restaurant. Similarly, the pleasure o f sex cannot be separated
f r o m the a p p e a r a n c e o f the participants, the m u r m u r e d terms o f e n d e a r m e n t ,
or even the p r e c e d i n g romantic concert and moonlight stroll.4 T h u s , the
objects o f t e m p e r a n c e are pleasing partially because o f how they look, sound,
and smell. T h e pleasures o f touch are intertwined with these o t h e r pleasures,
and Aristotle's a t t e m p t to separate them ignores the complexity o f the objects
o f temperance. Second, people are plausibly called t e m p e r a t e or i n t e m p e r a t e
4Pornography arguably involvessexual pleasure without involving touch at all.

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with respect to the pleasures o f gambling, video games, recreational drugs,


etc., although we d o not share these pleasures with animals. T h e way people
go w r o n g about such things (obsessive behavior, denial, rationalization, etc.) is
so similar to the way people go wrong about food, drink, and sex that both
classes o f objects must be g o v e r n e d by a single virtue.5
Aristotle also uses the a r g u m e n t o f passage [C] to exclude the objects o f
taste. H e says: "even o f taste [animals] a p p e a r to make little or no use"
( 1 1 1 8 a 2 6 - z 7 ) . T h i s thesis, t o g e t h e r with the premise that t e m p e r a n c e is conc e r n e d with the pleasures we share with animals, enables Aristotle to conclude
that t e m p e r a n c e does not govern taste. At first glance, the claim that animals
make little or no use o f taste seems implausible. But Aristotle is not vulnerable
to this objection because he is using "taste" in a technical sense to m e a n "the
discriminating o f flavors" (1118a27-32 ). It is quite plausible that animals take
no pleasure in distinguishing one flavor f r o m another.
W h a t about taste in its nontechnical sense? It would be uncharitable to
accuse Aristotle o f ignoring the sense o f taste. Moreover, Aristotle includes
taste (presumably in the nontechnical sense) in the s p h e r e of incontinence
p r o p e r (1148a 3 - t 1, 1147a~4-b5), which is the same as the s p h e r e o f t e m p e r ance ( 1 1 4 8 a 1 1 - 1 7 ; see also De Anima 422a8). T h u s , both charity and consistency require us to assume that in passage [C] Aristotle subsumes taste in the
nontechnical sense u n d e r touch.
Aristotle seems to n a r r o w the sphere o f t e m p e r a n c e even f u r t h e r at the
end o f I I I . l o . H e says:
[D] Even of the pleasures of touch the most liberal have been eliminated, e.g., those
produced in the gymnasium by rubbing and the consequent heat; for the contact
characteristic of the self-indulgent man does not affect the whole body but only certain
parts. (i 118b4-8 )
Which tactile pleasures remain after "the most liberal have been eliminated"?
Which parts o f the body does Aristotle have in mind? Passage [El below
indicates that the pleasures Aristotle has in mind here, the pleasures that
remain to be g o v e r n e d by t e m p e r a n c e after the "liberal" pleasures are eliminated, are simply the pleasures o f food, drink, and sex. I suggest, however,
that we should not attribute to Aristotle the view that t e m p e r a n c e involves
only these three pleasures. Aristotle approaches each virtue not only f r o m the
perspective o f his architectonic, but also with p a r a d i g m cases o f virtuous and
vicious action in mind. Sometimes he talks as if the virtue is displayed only in
5Aristotle may have restricted temperance to animal pleasures because of the way in which
the term sophrosyne was used in his day, or because of the fact that self-indulgence often involves
overvaluing sensual pleasures as animals do. See M. Homiak, "Virtue and Self-Lovein Aristotle's
Ethics," Canadian Journal of Philosophy 11 (1980: 645-46.

ARISTOTLE'S

ACCOUNT

OF T E M P E R A N C E

its paradigm cases. For example, Aristotle seems to limit the sphere of courage
to death in battle (1115a28-3o ). But at other times Aristotle recognizes that
virtues can be displayed in nonparadigm cases. Thus, he later acknowledges
that the sphere of courage involves pain and wounds as well as death
(l 117a32-33, 1117b7-9). Similarly, I suggest that Aristotle's point in passage
[D] is that paradigm cases of self-indulgence involve food, drink, and sex,
rather than back rubs. First of all, limiting the sphere of temperance to paradigm cases would be a serious error. Just as people can display courage and
cowardice with respect to wounds, so temperance and self-indulgence can be
displayed with respect to back rubs. Second, in VII. 4 he says that incontinence, like temperance and self-indulgence, is concerned with the pleasures
of "hunger and thirst and heat and cold and all the objects of touch and taste"
(1148a8 ). He explicitly includes heat which causes the pleasure of back rubs in
passage [D]. Thus, charity and consistency prohibit us from attributing to
Aristotle the view that all cases of self-indulgence involve the pleasures of
food, drink, and sex.
To summarize, III. lo consists solely of Aristotle's progressive specification
of the sphere of temperance. He moves from the preliminary claim that the
objects of temperance are bodily pleasures to the claim that temperance only
ranges over tactile pleasures. Aristotle ends with the observation that the
pleasures of food, drink, and sex are the paradigm objects of temperance. He
devotes substantial effort to the specification of the sphere because the sphere
does important philosophical work. As Martha Nussbaum writes: "What he
does, in each case, is to isolate a sphere of human experience that figures in
more or less any human life, and in which more or less any human being will
have to make some choices rather than others, and act in some way rather than
some other . . . . The 'thin account' of each virtue is that it is whatever it is to be
stably disposed to act appropriately in that sphere. ''6 Thus, correctly delineating the spheres of the virtues is the first step in defining the virtues. In III. 11
Aristotle goes on to develop the thick account of temperance, after first separating temperance and intemperance from brutishness.

3. BRUTISHNESS
AS we will see below, some people are intemperate because they immoderately
desire the same objects temperate people moderately desire, while others are
intemperate because they desire different objects from those desired by temperate people (11 x8b25-27). In VII. 5 Aristotle makes a parallel observation
about brutishness (a pathological condition, a mental illness).7 People with
6 M. N u s s b a u m , "Non-Relative Virtues," Midwest Studies in Philosophy 13 (1988): 35.
7T o each virtue there c o r r e s p o n d s a different sort of brutishness as well as a different sort of

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very e x t r e m e desires for the objects which t e m p e r a t e a n d i n t e m p e r a t e p e o p l e


desire a r e brutish (theriodes) r a t h e r than i n t e m p e r a t e . T h e y are " b e y o n d the
limits o f vice" ( 1 1 4 8 b 3 4 - 1 1 4 9 a l ). People who desire d i f f e r e n t objects f r o m
those desired by t e m p e r a t e a n d i n t e m p e r a t e people are also brutish. Aristotle
illustrates this second sort o f brutishness with the desire to eat fetuses, raw
meat, h u m a n flesh, children, m o t h e r s , coal, or earth, a n d the desire to have
sex with children (1148b 19-30). T e m p e r a n c e , i n t e m p e r a n c e , a n d brutishness
d i f f e r s o m e t i m e s in d e g r e e , a n d s o m e t i m e s in kind. T h u s , the objects desired
by the t e m p e r a t e are a p r o p e r subset o f the objects desired by the i n t e m p e r ate, which are in t u r n a p r o p e r subset o f the objects desired by the brutes.
W h e n Aristotle describes the highest g o o d as a target ( l o 9 4 a 2 3 - 2 4 , 1 1 3 8 b 2 1 23) he m a y be suggesting not only that we should aim at the highest good, but
also that the highest g o o d is contained within increasingly larger sets within
the s p h e r e o f t e m p e r a n c e .
I shall a r g u e that at the b e g i n n i n g o f I I I . 11 Aristotle is p r e s e n t i n g a n o t h e r
illustration o f brutish desires f o r objects which both t e m p e r a t e a n d i n t e m p e r ate p e o p l e find r e p u g n a n t .
[E] Of the appetites some seem to be common, others to be peculiar to individuals and
acquired; e.g., the appetite for food is natural, since every one who is without it craves
for food or drink, and sometimes for both, and for love also (as Homer says) if he is
young and lusty; but not every one craves for this or that kind of nourishment or
love . . . . Now in the natural appetites few go wrong, and only in one direction, that of
excess; for to eat or drink whatever offers itself till one is surfeited is to exceed the
natural amount, since natural appetite is the replenishment of one's deficiency. Hence,
these people are called belly-gods, this implying that they fill their belly beyond what is
right. It is people of entirely slavish character that become like this. (1118b8-~ a)
H e r e Aristotle distinguishes between tactile desires which are natural a n d
c o m m o n to all p e o p l e (and animals), on the o n e hand, a n d desires which are
a c q u i r e d a n d vary f r o m p e r s o n to p e r s o n on the other. T h e natural, c o m m o n
desires are simply h u n g e r , thirst, a n d lust, desires we all have for the pleasures
o f food, drink, a n d sex, in general. T h e acquired, particular desires are the
various individual p r e f e r e n c e s for d i f f e r e n t types o f food, drink, a n d sex.
Aristotle does not specify what the particular types o f food are. T h e y m a y
include chicken a n d chocolate, or b a r b e c u e d chicken a n d chocolate candy, o r
two-day-old chicken a n d s o m e o n e else's chocolate. Similarly, the types o f sex
object m a y include short fat p e o p l e a n d Francis, or French kissing a n d
missionary-position intercourse, or r a p e a n d s o m e o n e else's spouse.
incontinence. For example: "The man who is by nature apt to fear everything, even the squeak of
a mouse, is cowardly with a brutish cowardice" (1149a7-8). In this paper I shall use the word
"brutishness" to stand for the brutishness corresponding to temperance just as Aristotle uses the
term "incontinence" to stand for the incontinence corresponding to temperance.

ARISTOTLE'S ACCOUNT OF TEMPERANCE

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Aristotle calls people who go w r o n g with respect to the c o m m o n , natural


pleasures belly-gods (gastrimargoi, "mad bellies"). T h e fact that the belly-gods
"fill their belly b e y o n d what is right" implies that they are not temperate.
Aristotle does not say how far b e y o n d what is right the belly-gods go. We
cannot infer that they are brutish because they go "beyond the limits o f vice."
But the fact that the belly-gods "eat or drink whatever offers itself" suggests
that they are brutish r a t h e r than merely self-indulgent. T h e s e people indiscriminately desire food, drink, or sex. T h e y d o not care w h e t h e r they eat
chocolate mousse or moldy cheese. T h e y do not care w h e t h e r they d r i n k
C a b e r n e t Sauvignon or grain alcohol. T h e y do not care w h e t h e r they have sex
with their spouse o r with a sheep. This indifference, this willingness to satisfy
one's h u n g e r , thirst, o r lust with objects that revolt both t e m p e r a t e and intemperate people, is brutish. T h e belly-gods who desire the natural, c o m m o n
pleasures o f food, drink, or sex are brutish not because they have e x t r e m e
desires, but because they desire every sort o f food, drink, or sex. T h u s , Aristotle restricts i n t e m p e r a n c e to the particular, acquired desires.
Aristotle's claim that the indiscriminate, natural, c o m m o n desires for food,
drink, or sex are pathological conditions r a t h e r than moral failings seems
clearly to accord with c o n t e m p o r a r y c o m m o n sense. We too think that pity and
t r e a t m e n t r a t h e r than blame and p u n i s h m e n t are the a p p r o p r i a t e responses to
such desires. O n the o t h e r hand, Aristotle is mistaken to say that "in the natural
appetites few go wrong, and only in one direction, that o f excess." At least in o u r
society, a fair n u m b e r go to excess with respect to indiscriminate desire for food
(compulsive eating), drink (psychotic fluid drinking), and sex (satyrism and
n y m p h o m a n i a ) . Moreover, some are deficient with respect to food (anorexia),
d r i n k (impaired thirst mechanism), and sex (libido deficiency). 8
4-

PARAMETERS

AND

PASSIONS

O n e central c o m p o n e n t o f Aristotle's architectonic is that each virtue is a


disposition to get several p a r a m e t e r s right. In his general remarks about
virtue Aristotle mentions right occasions, objects, people, goals, and m a n n e r
(11o6b21-~3), but d i f f e r e n t virtues involve different parameters. Courageous people correctly feel and exhibit fear and confidence with respect to
the p a r a m e t e r s o f occasions, objects, goals, and amount, but not people
(1115b15-19). G o o d - t e m p e r e d people correctly feel and exhibit a n g e r with
respect to the p a r a m e t e r s o f occasions, objects, people, duration, and
s Note that drink (hugros)refers not just to alcohol, but to fluids in general. So alcoholics are
not indiscriminately excessive with respect to drink, although they are excessivewith respect to
alcohol. Similarly, teetotalers who drink enough water to avoid thirst are not deficient with
respect to drink. Indeed, teetotalers who desire and enjoy enough other sorts of fluids may not
even be insensible.

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a m o u n t , but not goals (i 125b26 - 11 ~6a27). Liberal people correctly give a n d


take m o n e y with respect to the p a r a m e t e r s o f occasions, objects, people,
goals, a n d a m o u n t , but since liberality's only object is wealth, liberality's
object p a r a m e t e r is trivial ( 1 1 2 o a 2 4 - 2 5 , 112ob27-29). As for t e m p e r a n c e ,
Aristotle says:
[F] The temperate man craves for the things he ought, as he ought, and when he
ought. (1119b16-17)
T h a t is, the p a r a m e t e r s o f t e m p e r a n c e are objects, occasions, a n d a m o u n t s .
T e m p e r a t e p e o p l e desire the right objects on the right occasions to the right
degree, while the i n t e m p e r a t e go w r o n g with respect to these p a r a m e t e r s .
A r e any o f the p a r a m e t e r s r e d u n d a n t ? T h e a m o u n t p a r a m e t e r is clearly
i n d e p e n d e n t o f the o t h e r two.9 Both the occasion p a r a m e t e r a n d the object
p a r a m e t e r are necessary because it is possible (even c o m m o n ) to go w r o n g
with respect to either o n e without the other. People who desire wine which is
b e y o n d their m e a n s at a b a n q u e t have the w r o n g object on a right occasion;
p e o p l e w h o desire healthy, a f f o r d a b l e wine while driving have the right object
on a w r o n g occasion. T h u s , no p a r a m e t e r is r e d u n d a n t .
T h e fact that t e m p e r a n c e governs desire is i m p o r t a n t because unsatisfied
desire is painful. '~ L o n g i n g for a hot f u d g e sundae, a cup o f coffee, or a
certain p e r s o n is definitely unpleasant. Moreover, each p e r s o n feels the pain
o f unsatisfied desire with respect to exactly the objects desired, on exactly the
occasions the objects are desired (and unavailable), a n d exactly to the d e g r e e
o f desire for the objects. For each p e r s o n the aspects o f desire m a t c h the
aspects o f the p a i n o f unsatisfied desire. Naturally, t e m p e r a t e p e o p l e feel
these pains at the right times to the right d e g r e e a b o u t the right objects. G o i n g
w r o n g with respect to these pains is i n t e m p e r a n c e . Absence o f a hot f u d g e
s u n d a e a f t e r a movie m a y p r o d u c e the pain o f unsatisfied desire in the t e m p e r ate a n d no pain in the insensible. Absence o f a second hot f u d g e s u n d a e m a y
oThe amount parameter measures the amount of desire felt by the agent, not the number of
particular food or drink or sex objects the agent desires. The person who goes to excess with
respect to the amount parameter desires some object too much. The person who desires too many
objects goes to excess with respect to the object parameter.
~~
Young says: "II.7 [l 1o7b4-6 ] includes pains within the sphere of temperance,
while III.lo [l x17b24-26 ] takes them out . . . . [T]he statement of II. 7 is an error, and III.lo
does well to correct it" ("Aristotle on Temperance," The Philosophical Review 47 [x989]: 523 n.9).
Aquinas, on the other hand, believes that Aristotle includes pains within the sphere of temperance (Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, trans, C. Litzinger [Notre Dame: Dumb Ox
Books, 1993], 196). Young's claim that "III.lo takes them out" is not supported by 1117b24-26,
for the passage says that temperance is less concerned with pains than with pleasures. It does not
say that temperance is not concerned with pains. I shall argue that III. lO does not take pains out
of the sphere of temperance and that Aristotle does well to leave them in.

A R I S T O T L E ' S A C C O U N T OF T E M P E R A N C E

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p r o d u c e the pain o f unsatisfied desire in the self-indulgent and no pain in the


temperate. A n d so on. Thus, t e m p e r a n c e governs the pain o f unsatisfied
desire because t e m p e r a n c e governs desire. Aristotle confirms that t e m p e r a n c e
governs this pain in the following passage.
[G] [a] The self-indulgent man is so called because he is pained more than he ought at
not getting pleasant things (even his pain being caused by pleasure), and [b] the
temperate man is so called because he is not pained at the absence of what is pleasant
and at his abstinence from it. [c] The self-indulgent man, then, craves for all pleasant
things or those that are most pleasant.., hence he is pained both when he fails to get
them and when he is craving for them (for appetite involves pain) . . . . [d] The temperate m a n . . , neither enjoys the things that the self-indulgent man enjoys most--but
rather dislikes them . . . [el nor does he feel pain or craving when they are absent, [f] or
does so only to a moderate degree. (l 118b3o-1119a14)
I take this passage to show that Aristotle includes the pain o f unsatisfied desire
in the s p h e r e o f temperance. Although [b] and [el say that the t e m p e r a t e
person feels no pain at the absence o f certain pleasures, [a] suggests, m o r e
plausibly, that t h e r e is a right a m o u n t o f pain to feel in such cases. Aristotle
does not criticize self-indulgent people for feeling pain at the absence o f
certain pleasures, but r a t h e r for feeling m o r e pain than they o u g h t to feel.
Similarly, [f] implies that there is a right a m o u n t o f pain to feel in the absence
o f a p p r o p r i a t e objects o f temperance. Thus, according to Aristotle, t e m p e r a t e
people not only e x p e r i e n c e the right a m o u n t o f e n j o y m e n t over the right
objects, o n a p p r o p r i a t e occasions, but they also feel the right a m o u n t o f pain
when these objects are absent because they feel the right a m o u n t o f desire for
these objects.
It is easy to b e c o m e confused about the role o f e n j o y m e n t and pain in
Aristotle's account o f t e m p e r a n c e because in NE II. 3 Aristotle makes a statem e n t which is superficially similar to passage [G], but which actually uses completely d i f f e r e n t sorts o f e n j o y m e n t and pain to distinguish t e m p e r a t e and
self-indulgent people. H e says:
[H] We must take as a sign of states the pleasure or pain that supervenes on acts; for
the man who abstains from bodily pleasures and delights in this very fact is temperate,
while the man who is annoyed at it is self-indulgent. (1 lo4b3-8)
Passages [G] and [H] concern d i f f e r e n t sorts o f e n j o y m e n t and pain. In
passage [G] there are no acts mentioned, but in passage [H] Aristotle is speaking o f a type o f "pleasure or pain that supervenes on acts." T h e t e m p e r a t e
person o f passage [G] does not delight in anything he or she does, but is
instead merely "not pained" or "moderately pained" at the lack o f something.
T h e t e m p e r a t e p e r s o n o f passage [H], on the o t h e r hand, delights in p e r f o r m ing t e m p e r a t e acts o f abstaining f r o m (presumably intemperate) bodily plea-

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sures. Naturally, this person's delight is not the tactile enjoyment peculiar to
temperance, since this person touches nothing, but is instead delight at the
realization that he or she is performing a virtuous act. This supervenient
delight is common to all virtuous people performing virtuous acts. The courageous person performing a courageous act feels a similar sort of delight, as
does the liberal person performing a liberal act, and so on. Since vicious
people think that they are virtuous (11o8b23-26), they gain similar, supervenient delight from performing vicious acts. Self-indulgent people, for
example, are delighted when they perform self-indulgent acts because they
think they are acting rightly. Now virtuous people are correspondingly pained
when they perform vicious acts. Aristotle says, for example, that if the liberal
person "happens to spend in a manner contrary to what is right and noble, he
will be pained, but moderately and as he ought" (1121al-4). Presumably,
vicious people are superveniently pained when they perform virtuous acts
(because they think that they are virtuous people performing vicious acts). For
example, self-indulgent people feel exactly this sort of annoyance when they
perform temperate acts such as abstaining from an intemperate bodily pleasure because they think that they are acting wrongly. I think Aristotle is
making this point in passage [H]. In general, passage [H] concerns the supervenient delight or annoyance common to all of the virtues, resulting from
the belief that one has acted rightly or wrongly. Passage [G], on the other
hand, concerns the pain peculiar to temperance, resulting from unfulfilled
desire for particular food, drink, and sex objects) ~
Aristotle is right to maintain that the pain of unsatisfied desire is experienced not only by brutish and intemperate people, but also by temperate
people. When the waiter fails to deliver coffee, it is inappropriate to throw a
tantrum, but quite appropriate to feel a twinge of sorrow. Indeed, a person
who failed to feel that twinge would be a bit on the insensible side. Similarly,
temperate people feel sorrow when they cannot satisfy their temperate sexual
desires. And so on. Since there are appropriate and inappropriate ways of
dealing with the pain of unsatisfied desire for the objects of temperance,
Aristotle is right to include the pain of unsatisfied desire in the sphere of
temperance.
Indeed, Aristotle does not go far enough. The presence as well as the
absence of food, drink, and sex can produce pain. The food might be spoiled

l, The temperate person does not experience one sort of enjoyment plus the other sort of
pain. The continent person, however, experiences the pain of unsatisfied desire together with
supervenient enjoyment upon refusing a second hot fudge sundae. Similarly,the incontinent
person experiences tactile enjoymenttogether with supervenientpain upon eating a second hot
fudge sundae.

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15

or badly prepared, for example. The drink may be poisoned or bitter. The sex
may be disgusting or unwelcome. Unfortunately, Aristotle says:
[I] With regard to pains one is not, as in the case of courage, called temperate for
facing them or self-indulgent for not doing so, but the self-indulgent man is so called
because he is pained more than he ought at not getting pleasant things. (1118b28- 31)
So on Aristotle's account temperance is concerned with the pains produced by
the absence of food, drink, and sex objects, but not with the pains produced by
their presence. However, since there are appropriate and inappropriate ways
of coping with the pains occasionally produced by food, drink, and sex, these
pains should fall into the sphere of temperance. Aristotle should say, for
example, that a hot fudge sundae is enjoyable for the temperate and unenjoyable or even nauseating for the insensible. A second hot fudge sundae is
enjoyable for the self-indulgent, but unenjoyable or even nauseating for the
temperate. In general, right objects produce enjoyment in the temperate and
pains for the intemperate, while wrong objects produce pains in the temperate
and enjoyment in the intemperate.
Aristotle is sometimes accused of failing to provide a principle specifying
the right way to act and feel, a right rule (orthos logos) for the virtues. Aristotle's
account of the virtues is said to be empty because his account does not specify
the right objects, right amounts, and right occasions. His account might also
be criticized for being too restrictive, for he says that the desires for particular
food, drink, and sex objects "should be moderate and few" (1119bl 1). The
following passage rebuts both criticisms.
[J] The things that, being pleasant, make for health or good condition, the temperate
person will desire moderately and as he should, and also other pleasant things if they
are not hindrances to these ends, or contrary to what is noble, or beyond his means.
(l 119a16-9o )
Here Aristotle gives temperance a positive and wide content. Aristotle does
not say merely that temperate people desire the right objects; he goes on to
specify what the right objects are. And they turn out to be numerous. Temperate people desire not only all particular, acquired, tactile pleasures conducive
to health and/or good condition, but also all other such pleasures except those
which are unhealthy, deconditioning, unaffordable, or ignoble.
In the following passage Aristotle confirms that the parameters of temperance are objects, amounts, and occasions, and indicates that temperance governs enjoyment as well as desire of food, drink, and sex. To be temperate one
must not only be medial with respect to the objects, amounts, and occasions of
desire; one must also enjoy the right objects in the right amounts on the right
occasions. So temperance is not simply a matter of hitting one target. Rather
one must hit both a desire target and an enjoyment target.

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[K] [The self-indulgent] delight in some things that they ought not to delight in (since
they are hateful), and if one ought to delight in some of the things they delight in, they
do so more than one ought and than most men do. (l l ~8ba5-27)
People can fail to be temperate by going wrong with respect to enjoyment or
desire or both. Enjoyment and desire are independent. For example, one can
enjoy too m a n y foods, but desire too few. One can enjoy alcohol too seldom,
but desire it too often. One can enjoy sex too little, but desire it too much.
(Indeed, one can desire sex too much because one enjoys it too little.) Thus,
although the objects of enjoyment and desire are the same, it is not r e d u n d a n t
to describe temperance in terms of both enjoyment and desire. Aristotle must
include both in his account of temperance.
Clearly, desire for particular food, drink, or sex objects can be excessive.
Desiring these things too m u c h can squeeze other important items out of one's
life and can drive people to act quite wrongly. Excessive enjoyment seems to
be an o d d notion, however. People who feel too much fear or anger are,
indeed, lacking in virtue, but what is wrong with enormously enjoying appropriate food, drink, or sex objects? If someone accused you of enjoying d i n n e r
or sex too much, and urged you to try to get less enjoyment out of your m e a l s
or your sexual activity, wouldn't you find that to be strange? And yet I think
Aristotle is right to maintain that enjoyment can be excessive. Sensual pleasure
is excessive if it tends to lead to excessive desire and/or action. Moreover,
people can become too absorbed in the enjoyment of sensual pleasure. T h e
pleasure can distract people from what they should do. As Aristotle says,
temperance preserves practical wisdom while "pleasant and painful objects
destroy and p e r v e r t . . , beliefs about what is to be done" (114obl 1-x6). Finally, to enjoy any wrong object at all is to enjoy it too much. Thus, Aristotle is
right to maintain that enjoyment can be excessive.
Aristotle, however, errs when he specifies what counts as an excessive
a m o u n t o f enjoyment. According to Aristotle's architectonic, the good person
sets the standard for right action and feeling (1113a31-33 ). If Aristotle is
going to maintain that enjoyment can be excessive, he should say that an
a m o u n t of e n j o y m e n t is excessive if it is greater than the a m o u n t felt by the
good person. Passage [J] says that the good person does not desire unhealthy,
deconditioning, unaffordable, or ignoble objects. Presumably, good people do
not enjoy such objects, either. Thus, an a m o u n t of enjoyment is excessive if it
is an unhealthy, deconditioning, unaffordable, or ignoble a m o u n t of enjoyment. Unfortunately, Aristotle does not define excessive enjoyment in this
way. Instead, he defines excess with respect to the a m o u n t parameter, as
feeling e n j o y m e n t "more than most people do" ( l l l 8 b 2 1 ; cf. l15oa9--15).
Using the majority as a standard clashes with Aristotle's architectonic, with his

ARISTOTLE'S ACCOUNT OF TEMPERANCE

17

t r e a t m e n t o f the o t h e r virtues, with his general low opinion o f the m a n y , a n d


with passage [j].,2 It is a mistake.
Technically, excessive e n j o y m e n t o f particular, acquired, tactile pleasures
is called self-indulgence (akolasia), while excessive desire for such pleasures
(and, t h e r e f o r e , excessive pain at their absence) is softness (malakia) (x 15oa9 15).'3 Deficient e n j o y m e n t o f particular, a c q u i r e d , tactile pleasures is called
insensibility (anaisthesia). Aristotle does not attach a label to the trait o f deficient desire for such pleasures (and, therefore, deficient pain at their absence). I shall call it 'hardness'. Speaking m o r e generally, Aristotle combines
self-indulgence a n d softness a n d combines insensibility a n d h a r d n e s s so that
he can maintain that t h e r e are only two vices c o r r e s p o n d i n g to temperance.~4
T h e p e o p l e with the simplest e r r o r m o d e s are excessive with respect to all
p a r a m e t e r s o f b o t h the desire target a n d the e n j o y m e n t target. H o w e v e r ,
p e o p l e can also go to excess with respect to the p a r a m e t e r s on o n e target while
b e i n g medial or even deficient with respect to the p a r a m e t e r s on the other.
For e x a m p l e , Aristotle m e n t i o n s rash cowards, people who are b o t h overconfid e n t a n d fearful ( 1 1 1 5 b 3 1 - 3 2 ) , a n d m e a n prodigals, p e o p l e who b o t h give
a n d take excessively ( 1 1 2 1 a 3 o - 3 2 ). P r e s u m a b l y Aristotle would a c k n o w l e d g e
the existence o f p e o p l e who are insensible but soft a n d p e o p l e who are selfi n d u l g e n t b u t hard. T h a t is, Aristotle would allow for people who excessively
desire, b u t insufficiently enjoy (or excessively enjoy, but insufficiently desire)
the objects o f t e m p e r a n c e . M o r e o v e r , Aristotle's architectonic allows a p e r s o n
who goes to excess with respect to o n e or several o f the p a r a m e t e r s o f a single
target to be medial o r even deficient with respect to the o t h e r p a r a m e t e r s o f
that target. For e x a m p l e , in his account o f good t e m p e r Aristotle says:
[L] The excess can be manifested in all the p o i n t s . . , yet all are not found in the same
person . . . . Now hot-tempered people get angry quickly and with the wrong persons and
at the wrong things and more than is right, but their anger ceases quickly . . . . Choleric
people are quick-tempered and ready to be angry with everything on every occasion . . . . Sulky people are hard to appease, and retain their anger long . . . . We call badtempered those who are angry at the wrong things, more than is right, and longer, and
cannot be appeased until they inflict vengeance or punishment. (1126a8-28)
P r e s u m a b l y , it is likewise possible to go w r o n g with respect to any o n e p a r a m e ter o f t e m p e r a n c e without going w r o n g with respect to others. Aristotle is
'~ For a detailed description of Aristotle's view of the many, see J. Garrett, "The Moral Status
of 'the Many' in Aristotle,"Journal of the History of Philosophy31 (1993).
,3 Aristotle also uses the term 'soft' to refer to people who are incontinent because they are
mastered by pain at the absence of the objects of temperance. 1 shall call this character trait

softness/incontinence.

~4Aristotle does this with other virtues, too. For example, Aristotle combines rashness and
insensitive fearlessness and combines cowardice and o,~ercaution (t t 15b~4- a 116a7).

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famous for focusing on the good person, for describing the ideal, but Aristotle
creates a taxonomy of failure modes as well. A n d the n u m b e r of failure modes
is striking. Aristotle says that " m e n are good in but one way, but bad in many"
(1 lo6b35), but this remark does not adequately prepare the reader for the
sheer n u m b e r of possible character flaws specifiable in terms of Aristotle's
architectonic of parameters and targets. Since each of the three parameters on
the two targets can vary independently, and since people can be medial, excessive, deficient, brutishly excessive, or brutishly deficient with respect to each
parameter, Aristotle's account so far allows for 56 - 1 = 15,624 ways of going
wrong with respect to temperance. (And I shall introduce two more targets
below.) Many of these error modes are rare and odd such as minimally enjoying while maximally desiring certain objects. Nevertheless, Aristotle's account
of temperance allows for a n u a n c e d categorization of intemperance and brutishness, an important preliminary to the tasks of moral improvement and
therapy.
T h e r e is an important difference between Aristotle's account of temperance and his account of the other virtues. A person lacks one of the other
virtues if and only if he or she goes wrong with respect to any parameter.
However, according to Aristotle, a person is intemperate only if he or she goes
wrong with respect to all three of the temperance parameters.
[M] But with regard to the pleasures peculiar to individuals many people go wrong in
many ways. For while the people who are fond of so and so are so called because they
delight either in the wrong things, or more than most people do, or in the wrong way,
the self-indulgent exceed in all three ways. (1118b21-25)
This is an error on Aristotle's part. Aristotle should say that people are intemperate if and only if they go wrong with respect to any one of the three
temperance parameters. He should say this not only to bring his account of
temperance into h a r m o n y with his architectonic and his accounts of the other
virtues, but also because it is true. After all, consider Betty who hourly eats
e n o r m o u s amounts of broccoli because she is on some fad diet, but who
desires and enjoys each bite exactly as much as most people do. Betty is clearly
intemperate, but Aristotle must classify her as merely "fond of broccoli," for
she goes wrong with respect to the objects and occasions parameters, but not
the a m o u n t o f enjoyment parameter. Consider Bob, the binge drinker, who
excessively desires and enjoys too much liquor, but only on occasions when
drinking some liquor is appropriate. Bob is clearly intemperate, but Aristotle
must classify him as merely "fond of drunkenness," for he goes wrong only
with respect to the objects and a m o u n t parameter, but not the occasions parameter. Consider Bill who indulges in sex moderately often and desires and
enjoys sex a moderate amount, but only has sex with unwilling partners. Bill is

ARISTOTLE'S ACCOUNT OF TEMPERANCE

19

clearly intemperate, but Aristotle must classify him as merely " f o n d o f rape,"
for he goes w r o n g with respect to the objects p a r a m e t e r , but not the a m o u n t
or occasions parameters. Clearly, the thesis that i n t e m p e r a n c e requires e r r o r
with respect to all t h r e e p a r a m e t e r s has n u m e r o u s counterexamples.
T o summarize, according to Aristotle the parameters o f t e m p e r a n c e are
objects, amounts, and occasions. Unfortunately, Aristotle maintains that a
person is i n t e m p e r a t e only if he or she goes w r o n g with respect to all t h r e e o f
the t e m p e r a n c e parameters. Aristotelian t e m p e r a n c e governs desire (and
t h e r e f o r e pain caused by unsatisfied desire), as well as e n j o y m e n t o f tactile
pleasures, particularly the pleasures o f food, drink, and sex. This is quite
broad, but Aristotle's account would have been better if Aristotle had also
allowed t e m p e r a n c e to govern the pains caused by the presence o f certain
sorts o f food, drink, or sex. T h e right rule for t e m p e r a n c e specifies that
people desire and enjoy all tactile pleasures except those which are unhealthy,
deconditioning, unaffordable, or ignoble. But Aristotle errs by claiming that it
is i n t e m p e r a t e to enjoy the objects o f t e m p e r a n c e m o r e than most people do.
5"

TEMPERANCE

AND

THE

DOCTRINE

OF THE

MEAN

T e m p e r a n c e has a u n i q u e relationship to the doctrine o f the mean. A l t h o u g h


c o m m o n sense says that the right a m o u n t o f food or drink is a mean a m o u n t , it
does not say that the right a m o u n t o f m o n e y or h o n o r to give or take is a m e a n
amount. Similarly, it is obvious that sensual desire and e n j o y m e n t should be
m o d e r a t e , but it is not obvious that a n g e r or fear should be moderate. A n d so
on. Aristotle uses an example o f t e m p e r a n c e r a t h e r than some o t h e r virtue to
introduce the doctrine o f the m e a n (1 l o 6 a 3 6 - b 4 ) because the doctrine o f the
m e a n is a generalization and codification o f the c o m m o n sense conception o f
temperance. As N o r t h says: " T h e fact that Aristotle uses the Mean to arrive at
his own definition ofsophrosyne should not blind us to the presence ofsophrosyne,
in a larger sense, as the very f o u n d a t i o n o f the Mean."'5 It is, therefore, ironic
that Aristotle's account o f t e m p e r a n c e does not seem to fit his doctrine o f the
mean.
Aristotle expresses both parts o f the doctrine o f the m e a n as follows:
[N] [Virtue] is a mean between two vices, that which depends upon excess and that
which depends on defect; and again it is a mean because the vices respectively fall short
of or exceed what is right in both passions and actions, while virtue both finds and
chooses that which is intermediate. (1 lo7a2-6 )
T h e first sentence o f passage [N] states that (a) each virtue is associated with
two vices. H e r e Aristotle is disagreeing with the c o m m o n view that each virtue
's H. North,

Sophrosyne(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1966), 200.

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has only a single opposite: T h e second sentence says that (b) the right quantity
for each p a r a m e t e r is a mean, so for each p a r a m e t e r there are two ways to go
wrong. T h u s , each virtuous action and passion is medial with respect to all
relevant parameters. Finally, the passage asserts that principle (b) explains
principle (a). T h e r e are exactly two vices per virtue because one can deviate
f r o m a m e a n in exactly two directions. Going to excess with respect to any
parameter(s) is o n e vice; being deficient with respect to any parameter(s) is the
opposite vice. Principles (a) and (b) constitute Aristotle's doctrine o f the mean.
Aristotle's account o f t e m p e r a n c e seems to clash with both o f these principles.
T h e two vices c o r r e s p o n d i n g to t e m p e r a n c e are, o f course, self-indulgence
a n d insensibility. Aristotle says that:
[O] People who fall short with regard to pleasures and delight in them less than they
should are hardly found; for such insensibility is not human . . . . If there is any one
who finds nothing pleasant and nothing more attractive than anything else, he must be
something quite different from a man. (1119a6-1o)
T h e claim that insensible people are "hardly f o u n d " poses no threat to the
doctrine o f the mean. '6 For most virtues, one o f the vices turns out to be
c o m m o n , while the o t h e r is rare. This is part o f Aristotle's explanation for why
people believe that virtues have only one opposite. However, Aristode's suggestion that "such insensibility is not h u m a n " threatens to conflict with the
principle that (a) each virtue is associated with two vices. I f insensible people
are i n h u m a n or brutish r a t h e r than vicious, then t e m p e r a n c e is left with only
one associated vice.'7 Aristotle's suggestion threatens to conflict with the facts,
too. R e m e m b e r that insensible people are deficient with respect to particular,
acquired, tactile pleasures. T h e y desire or enjoy too little, too seldom, and too
few things. For example, Ed enjoys desserts, but few o t h e r foods, and Sally
enjoys only o n e sexual position once a month. But Ed and Sally are not
i n h u m a n or brutish, but merely insufficiently appreciative o f the pleasures o f
food and sex. So, in o r d e r to bring his account o f t e m p e r a n c e into h a r m o n y
with his doctrine o f the mean, into line with his accounts o f the o t h e r virtues,
a n d into c o n f o r m i t y with the facts, Aristotle should not maintain that insensible p e o p l e are i n h u m a n .
Luckily, we n e e d not attribute this thesis to Aristotle. Although the first
sentence o f passage [O] suggests that insensible people are i n h u m a n , the
second sentence states that it is people who delight in nothing who are inhuman. T h e claim that people who d e l i g h t in nothing are b e y o n d vice is perfectly compatible with the doctrine o f the mean as well as being a perfectly
16Contra W. D. Ross, Aristotle (London: Methuen, ~923), 207.

17See Young, "Aristotle on Temperance," 525.

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reasonable claim. It is also parallel to Aristotle's t r e a t m e n t o f the o t h e r virtues.


For example, he remarks that a person "would be a sort o f m a d m a n or insensible p e r s o n if he f e a r e d nothing" (1115b96-27). Thus, a charitable interpretation o f passage [O] will take Aristotle's second sentence as a clarification o f his
first sentence, and acquit Aristotle o f the e r r o r o f maintaining that insensible
people are i n h u m a n .
H u r s t h o u s e disagrees with Aristotle about the application to t e m p e r a n c e
o f the second c o m p o n e n t o f the doctrine o f the mean. She denies (b), that
t e m p e r a n c e is a m e a n for each p a r a m e t e r and i n t e m p e r a n c e is an extreme.
On her view, some forms o f i n t e m p e r a n c e do not involve quantity at all. Some
self-indulgence is not too m u c h o f anything, and some insensibility is not too
little o f anything. She presents as counterexamples to thesis (b) people whose
desires are not unnaturally high, but who care nothing for what is h o n o r a b l e
and are, t h e r e f o r e , p r o n e to food filching and adultery. T h e first is a slim,
healthy, wicked p e r s o n who takes food f r o m the starving and cheats fellow
soldiers out o f their rations in pursuit o f enjoyment, but does not eat m o r e
than is healthy. T h e second is an a d u l t e r e r with a normal sex d r i v e ? s Both
desire and enjoy the w r o n g objects, but not too many or too few objects,
according to Hursthouse.
H u r s t h o u s e ' s criticism fails. T h e slim, healthy, wicked person and the adult e r e r may be c o u n t e r e x a m p l e s to the thesis that (b') if a person goes w r o n g
with respect to the object p a r a m e t e r then he or she goes to excess or defect
with respect to that p a r a m e t e r . However, Aristotle is not committed to and
n e e d not hold thesis (b'). H e only maintains and needs the weaker thesis (b),
that if a p e r s o n goes w r o n g with respect to the object p a r a m e t e r then he or she
goes to excess or defect with respect to some p a r a m e t e r (but not necessarily the
object parameter). A n d neither the slim, healthy, wicked person n o r the adult e r e r is a c o u n t e r e x a m p l e to (b). Both can be described as people who desire
and enjoy certain objects too much. As we saw above, it is self-indulgent to
desire and enjoy objects which are ignoble (l 119a16-2o). A person who desires and enjoys such objects at all is desiring and enjoying them too much.
T h u s , the slim, healthy, wicked p e r s o n and the a d u l t e r e r may not be excessive
with respect to the object p a r a m e t e r , but they are certainly excessive with
respect to the a m o u n t p a r a m e t e r . T h e y may not desire and enjoy too m a n y
objects, but they do desire and enjoy certain objects too much.'9

,8 R. Hursthouse, "A False Doctrine of the Mean," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 81
(a980--1981): 63--65.
'9 For a more detailed reply to Hursthouse, see H. Curzer, "A Defense of Aristotle's Doctrine
of the Mean," Ancient Philosophy 16 0996).

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T h u s , Aristotle's account o f t e m p e r a n c e is compatible with both components o f Aristotle's doctrine o f the mean: (a) t e m p e r a n c e is associated with
two vices, and (b) the right quantity for each t e m p e r a n c e p a r a m e t e r is a
mean.
6. CHOICE, ACTION, AND GOALS
O f course, t e m p e r a n c e concerns not only what people desire and enjoy but
also what they choose and do. It is i m p o r t a n t to choose and act temperately as
well as to desire and enjoy temperately. And although o u r choices a n d actions
usually reflect o u r desires, it is possible to desire rightly and yet choose or act
wrongly (or vice verse). Since we sometimes desire to do what we believe we
should not do, choice and desire may differ. I f reason prevails, we do what we
choose, but if desire prevails, we d o what we desire. I n d e e d , o u r action could
d i f f e r f r o m both o u r reason and o u r desire. For example, reason may tell us to
eat one pint o f ice cream, desire may tell us to eat f o u r pints, and we may
c o m p r o m i s e by eating two pints. Thus, the architectonic o f t e m p e r a n c e requires a choice target and an action target in addition to the desire and
e n j o y m e n t targets.
What are the p a r a m e t e r s o f these new targets? T e m p e r a t e people not only
rightly desire and enjoy the pleasures o f particular food, drink, and sex objects, they also choose and indulge in the right objects on the right occasions. It
does not make sense to say that t e m p e r a t e people choose and act to the right
amount. H o w e v e r , a new p a r a m e t e r is relevant to choosing and acting. T e m perate people choose and act for the right reasons or goals, while i n t e m p e r a t e
people choose and act for the wrong reasons or goals. Thus, the p a r a m e t e r s
on the choice and action targets are objects, occasions, and goals.
Pears contrasts t e m p e r a n c e and courage in two ways, both o f which involve
the goals p a r a m e t e r . H e says that courageous acts are always p e r f o r m e d not
only for their own sake, but also for the sake o f some external goal, such as
saving a city. But " t e m p e r a n c e . . . could be practiced entirely for its own
sake. ''2~ T h a t is, acts o f t e m p e r a n c e need not have external goals. Pears also
claims that "in the structure o f courage there is a place which must be occupied by a counter-goal, but there is no such place in the structure o f t e m p e r ance. T M T h a t is, acts o f c o u r a g e involve the avoidance o f death, wounds, pain,
but acts o f t e m p e r a n c e need not have counter-goals. Pears maintains that in all
c o u r a g e o u s acts, but only in some t e m p e r a t e acts, the agent weighs the likelih o o d and value o f the external goal (plus the intrinsic value o f the act itself)
2oD. Pears, "Aristotle's Analysis of Courage," MidwestStudies in Philosophy3 ( 1987): 273.
" Ibid., 279.

ARISTOTLE'S

ACCOUNT

OF TEMPERANCE

23

against the likelihood and disvalue of the counter-goal in order to determine


whether the act is worth the risk.
I shall argue that courage and temperance do not differ in this way. There
are two sorts of temperate acts: acts of temperate indulgence where the agent
indulges in an appropriate amount of an appropriate type of tactile pleasure,
and acts of omission of intemperate objects where the agent refrains from indulging in an inappropriate amount or an inappropriate type of tactile pleasure.
Temperate acts of indulgence obviously aim at the external goal of enjoyment,
but temperate acts of omission do not have external goals. However, this does
not distinguish courage and temperance, for some courageous acts also lack
external goals. For example, if Sarah courageously defends herself from attack, then her act has counter-goals (death, wounds, pain), but no external
goals. So courage and temperance do not differ with respect to external goals.
Some courageous acts and some temperate acts have external goals.
Temperate acts of omission have counter-goals. By not indulging, the
temperate person risks the pain of unsatisfied desire. If the pain of indulgence is added to the sphere of temperance, as I suggested earlier, then
temperate acts of indulgence will also have counter-goals. Any act of indulgence risks the pain of indulgence. So courage and temperance do not differ
with respect to counter-goals. Temperate acts, like courageous acts, always
have counter-goals. Pears's attempt to contrast the goal parameters of courage
and temperance fails.
7"

CONTINENCE

AND INCONTINENCE

Aristotle's discussion of incontinence (akrateia) may be read as a continuation


of his treatment of temperance, because the focal meaning of incontinence is
incontinence with respect to the "bodily enjoyments, with which we say the
temperate and the self-indulgent man are concerned" (i148a4-6). Other
sorts of incontinence (e.g., incontinence with respect to anger) are called incontinence because they resemble the incontinence corresponding to temperance
(1147b24-1148all ). Virtuous people desire and enjoy rightly, while continent, incontinent, and vicious people have wrong desires and pleasures. Virtuous and continent people perform virtuous acts while vicious and incontinent
people perform vicious acts. Finally, vicious people make the wrong choices
while the other three make the right choices (1151a6--10, 1 x51b34-1152a6).
Brutishness can be analogous to vice, continence, or incontinence. Some
brutish people do not realize that there is anything wrong with them. Like
vicious people, they are mistaken about what actions and passions are right.
Other brutish people realize what actions and passions are right, and they
manage to act rightly even though they have wrong desires. Finally, yet other

24

JOURNAL

OF T H E

HISTORY

OF P H I L O S O P H Y

3 5 : 1 JANUARY 1 9 9 7

b r u t i s h p e o p l e realize w h a t a c t i o n s a n d p a s s i o n s a r e right, b u t t h e y c a n n o t
m a n a g e to act r i g h t l y b e c a u s e t h e i r w r o n g d e s i r e s p r e v a i l (1 x4 8 b 3 4 - 1 1 4 9 a 4 ) Y 2
A r i s t o t l e ' s s c h e m e o f v i r t u e , vice, c o n t i n e n c e , i n c o n t i n e n c e , a n d t h r e e varieties o f b r u t i s h n e s s m a y s e e m a w k w a r d , b u t it i n c l u d e s d i s t i n c t i o n s w h i c h
e n h a n c e o u r c o n t e m p o r a r y u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f p r o b l e m s such as a l c o h o l a b u s e .
C o n t e m p o r a r y t h o u g h t a n d A r i s t o t l e a g r e e t h a t d r i n k i n g alcohol way too
m u c h is t h e b r u t i s h n e s s o r m e n t a l illness w h i c h we call alcoholism.~3 T h e y
a g r e e t h a t a l c o h o l i s m c o m e s i n t h r e e varieties: v i c e - b r u t i s h n e s s , c o n t i n e n c e b r u t i s h n e s s , a n d i n c o n t i n e n c e - b r u t i s h n e s s . S o m e alcoholics d e n y t h a t t h e y
h a v e a p r o b l e m ; o t h e r s a c k n o w l e d g e t h e p r o b l e m a n d c o n t r o l it; still o t h e r s
a c k n o w l e d g e t h e p r o b l e m b u t fail to c o n t r o l it. H o w e v e r , the c o n t e m p o r a r y
view a n d A r i s t o t l e p a r t c o m p a n y h e r e . T h e c o n t e m p o r a r y view s e e m s to b e
t h a t all p r o b l e m d r i n k e r s a r e alcoholics, b u t Aristotle's a c c o u n t c a n a c c o m m o ,2 Aristotle discusses other character traits, too. For example, continence and incontinence
involve conflicts between wrong desires and right choices. Neoptolemus experienced a conflict
between right desires and wrong choices, "for telling the truth was noble to him, but he had been
persuaded by Odysseus to tell the lie" (1151b19-21). He acts on his desires, though one can easily
imagine an anti-Neoptolemus who acts on his choices. When speaking precisely, Aristotle defines
continence, incontinence, and self-indulgence as involving excessive desires to gain enjoyment,
and endurance, softness/incontinence, and softness as involving excessive desires to avoid pain
(115oa9 - 15). Thus, Aristotle distinguishes the following twelve character traits.

I.
2.
3.
4.
56.
78.
9.
o.
1.
2.

temperance
continence
endurance
incontinence
softness/incontinence
self-indulgence
softness
Neoptolemus
anti-Neoptolemus
continence+ endurance
incontinence+ softness
self-indulgence+ softness
impossible
impossible
impossible
impossible

enjoyment

desire

choice

action

medial
excessive
medial
excessive
medial
excessive
medial
medial
medial
excessive
excessive
excessive
medial
excessive
medial
excessive

medial
medial
excessive
medial
excessive
medial
excessive
medial
medial
excessive
excessive
excessive
medial
excessive
excessive
medial

medial
medial
medial
medial
medial
excessive
excessive
excessive
excessive
medial
medial
excessive
medial
excessive
excessive
excessive

medial
medial
medial
excessive
excessive
excessive
excessive
medial
excessive
medial
excessive
excessive
excessive
medial
medial
medial

Since people can go wrong with respect to each parameter not only by going to excess, but also by
being deficient, Aristotle could add eleven more flawed character traits to this chart, although of
these he actually mentions only insensibility (1151b23-32). And since people can combine error
modes in one direction on one parameter with error modes in the other direction on another
parameter, the numl3er of character flaws increases exponentially.
~3Carlson takes alcoholism to be self-indulgencein "Aristotle and Alcoholism: Understanding
the Nicomachean Ethics," Teaching Philosophy 9 (t 986): 97-lo2. However, if alcoholism is a disease
then Aristotle would classify it as brutishness, rather than self-indulgence.

ARISTOTLE'S ACCOUNT OF TEMPERANCE

25

date other sorts of problem drinkers. Alcoholics drink way too much; but
intemperate people drink too much and deny it; incontinent people drink too
much and regret it; and continent people drink moderately, resisting the
temptation to drink too much. On Aristotle's view these four types of problem
drinkers should be treated differently. Alcoholics should be regarded as sick,
pitied, and offered therapy; the intemperate should be deemed incorrigible,
blamed, and not treated; the incontinent should be harangued, shamed, and
given willpower-strengthening self-help books; and finally the continent
should be supported, congratulated, and urged to keep up the good work.
Aristotle's account of alcohol abuse is richer, more nuanced, than the contemporary understanding. We can learn much from Aristotle about alcohol
abuse.
8. CONCLUSION
I began by describing the way in which Aristotle narrows the sphere of temperance from simply "pleasures" to "tactile pleasures, paradigmatically the pleasures of food, drink, and sex." I went on to explain the way in which Aristotle
distinguishes among the character traits of temperance, intemperance, continence, incontinence, and three varieties of brutishness. I proposed a fourtarget, twelve-parameter account of temperance, and argued that Aristotle's
account of temperance is compatible with his doctrine of the mean.
While describing Aristotle's account of temperance, I raised several objections to Aristotle's account and proposed modifications which would avoid
these objections. In particular, I argued that Aristotle should not have made
the following assertions: (1) The sphere of temperance does not include the
pleasures of sight, hearing, and smell. (2) With respect to the natural, common, tactile pleasures, excess is rare and deficiency is nonexistent. (3) Temperance does not govern the pains caused by the presence of food, drink, or sex.
(4) Excessive enjoyment is enjoying pleasures more than most people do. (5) A
person is intemperate only if he or she goes wrong with respect to all three of
the temperance parameters. None of these errors are fatal. With a few modifications, Aristotle's account can enhance our understanding of temperance
and its associated failure modes. ~4
Texas Tech University

241 would like to thank A. Ben-Zeev,L. Gerson,and a referee for the Journal of the Historyof
Philosophyfor helpful commentson earlier drafts of this paper.