Thinking Citizen Blog: Virtues (II) Temperance — aka Self-Control, aka Moderation

Thinking Citizen Blog: Saturday is Justice, Freedom, Law, and Values Day

Today’s Topic: Virtues (II) Temperance — aka self-control, aka moderation

Temperance is not fashionable these days. Certainly not in the public square. Let it out. Don’t suppress your feelings. Express yourself. But perhaps the ancients had a point when they made temperance one of the four cardinal virtues (the others being courage, prudence, and justice). In the words of Lao Tse, “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE ORACLE OF DELPHI — Three Bits of Advice (Temperance is #2)

1. “Know thyself.” (Gnosse se auton)

2. “Nothing in excess.” (Meden agan) aka moderation, temperance

3. “Make plans and the Gods laugh.” (This third may be apocryphal. A recent search traces the quote not to Delphi but to a Yiddish saying “Man Tracht und Gott Lacht.”)

NB — Temperance is associated with the concept of the “via media” or the middle way reminiscent of Buddhist teachings of finding the right path between self-denial and self-indulgence. For me, other associations are the idea of the “straight and narrow” path and the image of Ulysses navigating between the twin monsters of Scylla and Charybdis.


1. Restraining anger, envy, pride.

2. Holding back lust, avarice, gluttony.

3. Gandhi’s central concept of “ahimsa” (non-violence) is an avatar of temperance.

NB: Traditional western symbols of temperance include a woman mixing water and wine, and an angel standing with one foot on land and another on water. Then, of course, there is the eight-spoked Buddhist wheel.


1. “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

2. “You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.”

3. Echoes of St. Augustine — “Lord, make me chaste. But not yet.”

NB: Very Trumpian. Rumor has it that Trump had the Blake quotes framed and prominently displayed in his library overlooking Central Park.

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