Is Temperance Ever Properly Painful?(1)
Damian G. Konkoly
ABSTRACT: Aristotle argues that temperance is the mean concerned with pleasure and pain (NE 1107b5-9 and 1117b25-27). Most commentators focus on the moderation of pleasures and hardly discuss how this virtue relates to pain. In what follows, I consider the place of pain in Aristotles discussion of temperance and resolve contradictory interpretations by turning to the following question: is temperance ever properly painful? In part one, I examine the textual evidence and conclude that Aristotle would answer no to our question. The temperate person does not feel pain at the absence of appropriately desired objects. In parts two and three, I reconstruct some reasons why Aristotle would hold such a view based. My discussion here is based upon Aristotles discussion of continence and the unity of the virtues.
While the accounts of temperance in the Eudemian Ethics and the Nichomachean Ethics share some similarities, the treatment of the topic in the latter is much more developed.(2) As Charles Young argues, Aristotle draws a distinction between common appetites and peculiar appetites. The appetite for food when one hasnt eaten for several hours is a common, natural appetite. The appetite for a particular food or a particular amount is peculiar. Temperance most properly concerns the peculiar appetites, because, Aristotle says, people dont tend to go wrong about common appetites since the appetite disappears with replenishment (NE 1118b15-19).(3) A further refinement in the Nicomachean account comes at 1119a16-20. Here Aristotle distinguishes between pleasures conducive to health (called healthful foods by Young) and pleasures that do not interfere with health (called treats by Young). On this more positive account of temperance, one has temperance just in case ones peculiar appetites for food, sex, and drink are determined by judgments about the contribution to or compatibility with healthfulness.(4) One nice result of this account is that temperance loses any connotations of austerity that it might have had. For a temperate person, on Aristotles account, enjoys treats to the extent that they are compatible with health.
This quick summary of the Nicomachean and Eudemian treatments of temperance, while showing some of the subtlety of Aristotles position, has selectively omitted a range of issues. The focus has been on pleasure rather than pain. Clearly the intemperate person enjoys consuming foods to an excess. However, it also surely is true that the intemperate person is pained by the absence of those peculiar things he desires. The temperate person, by contrast, is not pained upon being limited to one dessert or only a couple of drinks at a banquet. Thus, the virtue of temperance governs not only bodily pleasures but also associated pains. Aristotle broaches this topic in two places that are important for my purposes here. In his general account of virtue in Book II of NE he says,
Later when he introduces his account of temperance in Book III he says,
These passages do not definitively decide the relationship between temperance and pain.(5) Interpreters of Artistotles ethics have taken different sides in the discussion of the place of pain in the virtue of temperance.(6) However, their treatments have touched on the issue of pain only as an addendum to their general discussion of temperance. In what follows, I hope to shed direct light on this small corner of Aristotles ethics by answering the question: is temperance ever properly painful? In part I, I examine the direct textual evidence in Aristotles writings on ethics. This examination shows that Aristotle answered "no" to our guiding question. In parts II and III, I reconstruct some reasons why Aristotle would hold this view based on his discussions of continence and the unity of the virtues. The distinction between continence and temperance shows that the continent person, rather than the temperate one, feels pain over unsatisfied, appropriate appetites. Also, by examining the role of phronesis and correct reason (orthos logos) and by drawing out some implications of Aristotles commitment to the thesis of the unity of the virtues, we see that if a person is truly temperate, and hence fully virtuous, other virtues of character and phronesis will eliminate both the emotional response and the judgment that would give rise to pain over unsatisfied, appropriate appetites.(7)
The most important passage in NE for answering our guiding question runs from 1118b30-1119a15. To facilitate the discussion I will quote Howard Curzers citation of this passage with his parsing. It should be noted that he cites W. D. Rosss translation. I will accept this for all but a single clause, where I will point out an important difference in Irwins translation.
Clearly, [b] and [e] are direct evidence for the claim that Aristotle does not believe that the temperate person feels pain at the absence of an appropriately desired object.(9) However, Curzer believes he has direct evidence for his interpretation in [f]. For [f] and [e] seem to imply that the temperate person feels either no pain or moderate pain at the absence of pleasant things. That is, the qualifying clause articulated in [f] seems to apply both to the appetite and the pain a temperate person might feel. Contrast this with Irwins translation:
In this translation, the point made at [b] is reiterated. The modifying clause only applies to the appetite a temperate person might have.(10) Thus, an intemperate person might desire an entire chocolate cake and suffer if he doesnt get it, while a temperate person might desire a slice of cake and would not suffer if he could not have it. Overall, then, this extended passage offers more support for the no pain interpretation rather than the appropriate pain interpretation.(11)
The preceding section established an answer to the question guiding this paper. A temperate person does not feel pain due to the absence of appropriately pleasant things. By looking closely at the text on temperance, it is clear that Aristotle held this view. In this section and the next I look at some issues that help answer the question why this is Aristotles view. If one wants to determine Aristotles views on temperance, the discussion of continence in Book VII of NE is the next best place to look besides the section on temperance itself in Book III. By getting clear about why continence and temperance should be discussed together, by explaining the difference between a temperate person and a continent person, and by showing what Aristotle says about the pleasure a temperate person feels in acting temperately, it becomes clear that the person who is pained by the absence of properly pleasurable objects is better described as continent rather than temperate.
Temperance and continence, as well as their respective failures, belong together because they concern the same pleasures and pains (1148a13-16). Roughly put, the incontinent person is conflicted, and the conflict is between his knowledge of what is virtuous and his appetite for pleasure. The incontinent person knows what the appropriate estimation of bodily pleasures is. He also has made the right decision (prohairesis) about what to pursue relative to the appetite for such pleasures. However, those appetites overcome him, and he acts contrary to his decision (1148a15 and 1150a19-21). The details of how right decision is overcome by appetite or whether this is even possible are not important here. What matters is that the addition of continence and incontinence makes more subtle Aristotles discussion of the relation between bodily appetites and virtue.(12)
The refinements can be seen in the differences among the temperate, intemperate, continent, and incontinent. As mentioned above, the incontinent shares the same judgment as the temperate but allows the appetite to rule his action nevertheless. Correlatively, Aristotle tells us that the intemperate person is worse than the incontinent person (1150a27-32). This is because the intemperate person decides to follow the appetites. The incontinent person decides against these appetites but fails to follow through. Hence, he feels regret at failing to follow his decision, and he can be reformed. The intemperate person, Aristotle tells us, is incurable (1150a22). The condition of the continent person has not been spelled out in all of this. The continent person shares the same decision as the incontinent person (and the temperate person). The continent person also has the same struggle as the incontinent person. That is, the appetites threaten to override the right decision. The continent person, however, does not succumb and does the right thing. Helen North presents this point in an interesting way when she says that, "In Aristotelian terms, the charioteer of the Phaedrus who defeats the promptings of the bad horse after a sharp struggle is not sôphrôn but enkratęs."(13) Thus, there are four relations to the feelings of pleasure and pain in Aristotles ethics: the temperate (sôphrôn) who estimates their value correctly and acts accordingly without struggle, the continent (enkratęs) who also judges correctly and acts correctly but only with some struggle, the incontinent (akratęs) who judges correctly but fails to act accordingly, and the intemperate (akolastos) who fails both in judgment and action. In addition, both the temperate and the intemperate person act from habit while the continent and incontinent struggle.(14)
If we examine the subtleties won by the addition of the discussion of continence to the account of temperance, we discover the difference between the temperate person and the continent person. And by looking at this difference, a feature of the temperate person relevant for our concerns comes to light. For clearly the important difference between temperance and continence lies in habituation. They both share the right decision, and they both do the right thing. But the temperate person acts with the facility of habit, while the continent person must resist appetite in exercising better judgment. From this it follows that the temperate person does not struggle to be temperate. This result fits nicely with what Aristotle says in Book II.
Being temperate is pleasurable. Minimally this means that avoiding the excesses that so tempt the profligate is done without regret. Aristotle extends this, however, to include enjoying the abstinence itself. I dont want to go too far and say that the temperate person enjoys the absence of properly pleasurable objects. However, it seems clear that the temperate person wouldnt be pained by such circumstances. For clearly, one is temperate regarding the appropriate things even when circumstances conspire to make temperance (via abstinence) the only option. And we now have seen that the temperate person does not struggle to be temperate and enjoys being temperate. So, it would contradict both the feature of temperance that distinguishes it from continence and Aristotles statement about the pleasurableness of temperance to say temperance involves pain.(15)
The preceding discussion about continence has broadened the scope within which temperance is being considered. Several other considerations of Aristotles overall view of virtue and the unity of the virtues also shed light on why Aristotle held the view that temperance is not properly painful.
One of the first points to consider in this regard is the role of phronesis and correct reason (orthos logos). Someone who is virtuous acts as the person with phronesis would. This means that the non-rational part of the soul, specifically the appetitive part of it that can be persuaded by reason, follows the command of right reason (1102a30ff. ). Thus, full virtue involves not only the virtue of phronesis but also the moral virtue that governs the appetite. In the fully virtuous person, then, both phronesis and the appetite aim at the same thing, the fine (kalon) (1119b16-17). Moral virtue preserves phronesis.(16) As Aristotle says, "we cannot be fully good without intelligence [phronesis], or intelligent without virtue of character" (1145a31-2, cf. 1178a16-20). The strength of this relationship between the non-rational part of the soul capable of being persuaded and the part of the rational soul concerned with practical affairs is important to notice. "It is not merely the state expressing correct reason [kata ton orthon logon], but the state involving correct reason [meta tou orthou logou], that is virtue" (1145a27-9).(17) The state involving correct reason is what was just described, the condition where appetite and phronesis aim at the same thing. The weaker condition of being in a state expressing (or in accordance with) correct reason describes the continent person. Insofar as she does what is right, she acts in accordance with correct reason. But the full integration of the appetite and intelligence has not been achieved. The person whose actions simply express, but do not involve, correct reason, is in a certain sense lucky. Such a person might be acting as a virtuous person would but cant be counted on to do so reliably.(18)
This distinction makes more stark the contrast between the temperate and the continent persons. It is not simply that the temperate person acts according to habit, while the continent person struggles. The temperate, i.e. virtuous, person follows a habit and has the correct intellectual judgment. The appetite of such a person has been broken of its own base aims so that the temperate persons appetites have been reformed. She desires to eat in moderation. The continent person continuallyeven habituallymight reign in his appetite, but the appetite has not been broken of its own, non-rational aims. Thus, for the virtuous person generally, the appetites no longer conflict with correct reason.(19) While the continent person experiences a struggle between the rational and non-rational parts of the soul, the non-rational part of the virtuous persons soul harmonizes with and is integrated by phronesis. It is on this basis that Aristotle maintains the unity of the virtues. "For as soon as he [the virtuous person] has intelligence, which is a single state, he has all the virtues as well" (1145a1). And with intelligence (phronesis), all desires aim at the fine. Thus, one does not become temperate while at the same time being cowardly or irascible. The integration of the parts of the soul that leads to temperance implies the overall correct relation between phronesis and the non-rational soul. The continent person might appear to be temperate because he does what a temperate person would do, but he does not have the overall integration of the soul and hence is not virtuous in all areas. That is, the continent person might appear virtuous vis-ŕ-vis the concerns of temperance, but he will betray his lack of virtue in other areas. Conversely, due to the unity of the virtues, a truly temperate person also will exhibit the other virtues.(20)
So someone might get the right judgment about a peculiar appetite of taste and generally act upon it. That is, he might be acting in accordance with correct reason for the sphere of temperance. But any negative emotion and subsequent pain about the absence of appropriate but unnecessary objects of appetite reflects a soul that is not in a state involving correct reason. This would be revealed in failures of other relevant virtues, e.g. by being irascible or ungenerous. The fully virtuous person has appropriate peculiar appetites and will act upon them in appropriate circumstances, i.e. when conditions allow. But since the person is fully virtuous, she does not become angry or ungrateful, nor is her overall pleasure affected, when circumstances dont satisfy an unnecessary but appropriate appetite. If we say that a person is pained by the absence of appropriately pleasurable objects or by unsatisfied desire, we are really saying that he is not fully virtuous. Such a person is really only continent regarding such appetites, and his mere continence is revealed by his reactions to areas where other moral virtues are relevant. Thus, the negative answer to our guiding question also follows from the unity of the virtues and the role of phronesis in moral life.
Aristotles account of temperance makes clear the relation a temperate person has to pleasures. While he says that temperance concerns both pleasure and pain, it is not clear what the temperate persons response is to the pain of not satisfying appropriate appetites. The intemperate person certainly feels pain when his appetites are not satisfied, but does the temperate person also feel pain when her appetites, admittedly different than the intemperates, are not satisfied? I have argued that the answer is no. The direct textual evidence favors this answer, but it does not explain why Aristotle would have maintained that position. In order to justify this answer, other aspects of Aristotles account of virtue must be brought to bear. The contrast between a temperate person and a continent person shows that a person who has the appropriate appetites but is pained when they arent fulfilled is more like the continent who hasnt yet brought his appetites into order. Also, the thesis of the unity of the virtues suggests that if a person is truly temperate, and hence fully virtuous, other virtues of character and phronesis will eliminate both the emotional response and the judgment that would give rise to pain over unsatisfied, appropriate appetites. Beyond an answer to this narrowly proscribed question, this examination has shown that Aristotles account of temperance is much more subtle than a privative account praising moderation. It also has shown that an understanding of temperance is not complete without reference to the other particular virtues and the general account of virtue.
(1) There are only three treatments of Aristotle on temperance of significant length in English. Helen North, Sophrosyne: Self-Knowledge and Self-Restraint in Greek Literature, Ithaca: Cornell University Press (1966), 197-211. Charles Young, "Aristotle on Temperance," The Philosophical Review 47 (1988), 521-542. Howard Curzer, "Aristotles Account of Temperance in Nicomachean Ethics III.10-11," Journal of the History of Philosophy 35 (1997), 5-25.(2) While EE gives a negative account of temperance as not indulging too much in tactile pleasures, the NE account offers several relevant distinctions and nuances. Nonetheless, in both accounts Aristotle maintains that temperance concerns bodily pleasures in general and that it most properly concerns the one sense shared by all animals: touch. See also De Anima III.11, 433b31-343a2 and III.12, 434b18-25. Also in both cases, temperance is the mean between the excess of profligacy and the defect of insensibility, where the latter is quite rare so that intemperance is often associated with profligacy alone.
(3) References to Nicomachean Ethics will be inserted parenthetically in the text. Unless noted, any translation follows Terence Irwin trans., Nicomachean Ethics, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing (1985).(4) For these points distinguishing the Nicomachean from the Eudemian account, see Young esp. pp.528-31 and 534-5. (5) The relevant passages in Eudemian Ethics and Magna Moralia share similar vagueness. See EE 1230b9, 1230b21, 1231a29-34 and MM 1191a37, 1191b6, 1191b21. (6) Young maintains that pain is not properly included in the sphere of temperance (Young, pp. 523-4, n.9). Curzer argues that the passage from Book III above "does not take pains out of the sphere of temperance and that Aristotle does well to leave them in" (Curzer, p. 12, n.10).
Curzer is right to say that the above passage does not remove pain from the discussion of temperance, for it only says that temperance is less concerned with pains than pleasures. This misses Youngs point, however. When one looks at his arguments for the claim that pain is excluded from the sphere of temperance, one sees that temperance, in contrast to intemperance, excludes pain on Youngs account. That is, Youngs point isnt that a discussion of pain doesnt have a place in the account of temperance. Rather his point is that pain only pertains to the intemperate person. He gives two reasons in support of his position. First, insofar as temperance regulates appetite and appetite aims at pleasure, temperance does not have pain as its object. Second, the pain of the profligate who doesnt get to eat extra dessert is simply the pain that any vicious person feels when deprived of his vice, and hence the pain discussed by Aristotle isnt peculiar to the sphere of temperance (Young, p. 524, n.9). (See also North, p. 201, who simply reports that the pain discussed by Aristotle only refers to cases of pain at the absence of excessive pleasures. Her comments dont favor either Young or Curzer.) Thus, Young appears to be correct insofar as his claim is that the temperate person does not feel pain regarding the absence of properly pleasurable objects. However, he has not given a very full account of why this is so.
By refining the claim to which Young seems committed (again: that the sphere of temperance excludes pain only where that means the temperate person does not feel pain at the absence of otherwise healthily pleasant objects), the real dispute with Curzer becomes clearer. Curzer argues for the claim that temperate people feel the right degree of pain at the absence of appropriately pleasurable objects. (P.12: "Naturally, temperate people feel these pains [of unsatisfied desire] at the right times to the right degree about the right objects." P.13: ". . . they [temperate people] also feel the right amount of pain when these objects are absent because they feel the right amount of desire for these objects." P.14: "Aristotle is right to maintain that the pain of unsatisfied desire is experienced not only by the brutish and intemperate people, but also by the temperate people.") Thus, the real issue is whether the temperate person feels an appropriate amount of pain when a healthy, peculiar appetite is unsatisfied or feels no pain under those circumstances. Curzer argues for the former. Young seems committed to the latter. I will argue for the latter but offer reasons different and more developed than Youngs. To state my position in this dispute another way, I believe that Young is right but not for the best reasons.
Curzer also argues that although Aristotle does not say the temperate person is pained by the presence of some food, drink, or sex objects, he ought to. Thus, Curzer argues for an appropriate amount of pain at both the absence and presence of particular things on particular occasions. The issue of absence will be discussed for the remainder of this paper. As for presence, Curzer relies on an example. He says that, "a second hot fudge sundae is enjoyable for the self-indulgent, but unenjoyable or even nauseating for the temperate." (p. 15) I have two points against this. First, if the mere presence of the sundae is at issue, the temperate person will not feel pain due to its presence. If eating the second sundae is the issue, certainly the temperate person might become nauseous, but the point is that she would not have eaten the second sundae in the first place.(7) Paula Gottlieb is especially helpful here. See, "Aristotle on Dividing the Soul and Uniting the Virtues," Phronesis 39 (1994), 275-290. Her interpretation of the distinction between virtue in accordance with right reason (kata ton orthon logon) and virtue involving right reason (meta tou orthou logou) helps me develop the argument in part III of the paper. (8) Curzer, p. 13. (9) Curzer acknowledges that [b] and [e] stand as direct evidence against his position. They both state that the temperate person feels no pain as a result of the absence of what is pleasant. Thus, he must finds ways to qualify these statements. His first attempt hinges on indirect evidence from [a]. He infers that since the intemperate person "is pained more than he ought," there exists a right amount of pain to feel over unsatisfied, appropriate appetites. What warrants this inference, according to Curzer, is the fact that Aristotle criticizes intemperate people for feeling too much pain rather than for feeling pain at all. It is not clear, however, that this is what warrants the blameworthiness of the intemperate person for Aristotle. They are blameworthy insofar as they desire bodily pleasures too much, not for feeling too much pain. The fact that they feel too much pain is a consequence of having placed such importance on those bodily pleasures in the first place, a point Aristotle makes in the parenthesis at the end of [a] when he says the pain is caused by the pleasure. The pleasure, or estimation of the worth of that pleasure, is the cause for assigning blame. Irwins translation makes this clearer: "someone is intemperate because he feels more pain than is right at failing to get pleasant things; and even this pain is produced by the pleasure [he takes in them]." (1118b30, Irwin p.83) (This is not yet the key difference in the translations.) Thus, [a] does not give indirect evidence that there is a proper amount of pain to feel at the absence of appropriately pleasant things. (10) Thanks to Steven Strange for consultation and judgment on the Greek and for helpful comments on a draft from which this paper was drawn. The fact that Irwins translation coheres with what Aristotle says in [b] provides another reason for preferring it to Rosss translation. There is a relevant passage at EE 1231a29-34. (11) Before moving to less narrowly circumscribed issues, let me discuss a couple of examples that Curzer offers as a kind of common sense confirmation that Aristotle ought to say the temperate person experiences an appropriate amount of pain due to unsatisfied desire (Curzer, p.14). First, he mentions a case where a waiter fails to bring coffee. He says it is appropriate to feel some sorrow over this, while an intemperate person might throw a tantrum. I believe this case is analogous to the chocolate cake example I gave above. The temperate person might prefer the enjoyment of the cake or coffee but does not suffer in their absence. His second example highlights an important reason for this. He says, "temperate people feel sorrow when they cannot satisfy their temperate sexual desires" (Ibid). The content of the phrase "temperate sexual desires" needs to be specified. Recall that one refinement of the NE account of temperance over the EE account is the distinction between common and peculiar appetites. Aristotle only gives a positive, rather than privative, account of temperance when he limits it to peculiar appetites. With this in mind, Curzer cant be saying that a temperate person feels sorrow over having to abstain from satisfying the (common) desire for sex. For temperance governs only our peculiar appetites. Aristotle is no stoic, so he certainly would agree that it is bad even for a temperate person to be deprived the satisfaction of a common appetite. Rather he must be saying that a temperate person feels sorrow about not satisfying peculiar sexual desires. But common sense does not judge that a temperate person should feel pain about not having the particular kind of sex he wants at the moment. It also might be argued that the virtue of mildness (1125b26-1126a3), which governs anger, is appropriate for the example of the waiter. And if the sex example is describing a case in which even the common appetite is not satisfied, the appropriate virtue might be courage, which Aristotle says is the appropriate virtue for standing firm against pains (1118b28-9). The relevance of other virtues for the cases where appropriate appetites are left unsatisfied will be developed below in the discussion of the unity of the virtues. (12) When he classified virtues of character in Book II, some of the virtues, including temperance, dealt with feelings, others with external goods, and yet others with social life (1107bff). With the discussion of continence, he makes further refinements to the treatment of the subclass of virtues concerned with the feelings of pleasure and pain. (Recall that courage is the virtue concerned with the feelings of fear and confidence.) (13) North, p. 202. (14) North, p. 203. (15) Curzer, pp.13-14, argues that since there is a distinction between the "supervenient delight" of simply being temperate (described by Aristotle at 1140b3-6) and the tactile pleasure that a temperate person enjoys when satisfying appropriate appetites, the former is not inconsistent with feeling pain over an unsatisfied appetite. My claim is that the person who is "superveniently" pleased while at the same time pained over a particular unsatisfied desire is more appropriately classified as the torn, struggling continent rather than as temperate. (16) 1140b12-16. He even gives the example of temperance (sophrosune) preserving the true supposition of phronesis, apparently playing off the etymology of the two words. (17) Here I follow Gottlieb. She renders kata logon as "in accordance with correct reason." (18) See esp. Gottlieb pp. 286-7 and 290. (19) Gottlieb pp. 285. See also 1166a13: "The excellent person is of one mind with himself, and desires the same things in his whole soul." (20) Imagine a scenario in which external circumstances provide for the satisfaction of common appetites for the sake of nutrition and replenishment, perhaps while also satisfying ones peculiar appetites, while not allowing for all of the items conducive to health that one desires (treats). That is, imagine eating a good meal at a fine restaurant that serves your favorite entree but does not have your favorite wine in house and has run out of the dessert that you want. The merely continent person might be disappointed about not getting all the treats he wants, but the temperate person would not be disappointed. In addition, even if the continent person acted as would the temperate person vis-ŕ-vis the pleasures of the meal, his lack of virtue might be revealed in his iritablity toward the maitre d or his cheapness in the waiters tip. That is, while apparently temperate, the continent person fails regarding the virtues of mildness and generosity in our imagined scenario. A temperate person doesnt seek to maximize the amount of appropriate pleasure even when circumstances conspire to make things not as enjoyable as they might have been. Likewise, the virtuous person does not consider himself harmed, and hence become angry, when external circumstances dont allow what might be the fullest expression of virtue. This example shows that even the apparently temperate person, i.e. the one who is merely consistently continent, betrays either unruly appetites or lack of phronesis in some other area.