The Virtue of Temperance

Going further into each of Benjamin Franklin’s list of 13 virtues to live by, by way of the people at The Art of Manliness.  Today I’m exploring “temperance.”  The original post (written by Brett & Kate McKay on 3/2/08) may be found here.

“Is there a less sexy idea today than temperance? Yet when Benjamin Franklin began his pursuit of the virtuous life, it was this virtue he chose to concentrate on first. The way in which Ben ordered his 13 virtues was deliberate. He selected temperance to kick off his self-improvement program because:

…it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head, which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up, and guard maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits, and the force of perpetual temptations.

In other words, first attaining self-discipline in the area of food and drink would make adherence to all of the other virtues easier.

Why is this? Hunger and thirst are some of the most primal of urges, and thus are some of the hardest to control. Therefore, when seeking to gain self-discipline, one must start with the most basic appetites and work up from there. A man must first harness his inward urges, before tackling the more external virtues. A clear mind and a healthy body are prerequisites to the pursuit of the virtuous life.

* * * * *

> I’d like to add that it’s unwise to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.  Sometimes it cannot be helped, I know.  If you’re hungry and decide to shop for food, it becomes increasingly difficult to refrain from purchasing food that’s bad for you, isn’t going to last more than one serving or one meal, and sometimes you end up buying more than you intended.  “Man, I’m really hungry…oh, this looks good.  And this…and this…and this…”

Then you get to the checkout and wonder how you spent so much money so quickly.

* * * * *

Eat Not to Dullness

The glutton is much more than an animal and much less than a man. ~ Honore de Balzac

Have you ever noticed that the first few bites of a delicious food are the best? After chowing down on something for awhile, the vibrant tastes become significantly dulled.

Today many people shovel food into their mouths so fast that their palate never has a chance to register this transition. Yet the shift is one of the ways your stomach tries to tell you that it is full and to stop eating. Unfortunately, people ignore this signal and continue to eat far past it. The consequence is not only a far less enjoyable eating experience, but an ever expanding gut.

Many people have noticed the paradox that gourmet cooks who spend their whole day around food are often in good shape. But it is really no mystery at all. These chefs eat only the best, most delicious foods, and when they dine, they really savor each bite.

There are a million diet books out there, but the only thing a person needs to know to maintain a decent waistline is this: eat when hungry, stop when full. Don’t eat in front of the TV or on the go. Sit down for a proper meal. Savor each mouthful, and think about the flavors you are experiencing. Put your fork down in between bites. When the flavors become less vibrant, and your stomach starts to feel full, stop eating.

* * * * *

> Eat when hungry, stop when full.  For me (more often that not), by the time I feel full, I’ve already had too much.  I don’t take the time to savor each bite as the above section suggests, to be honest.  Chinese food is a particular weakness of mine in that area.  When I go to order, I tend to forget that my eyes are bigger than my stomach and I usually leave with more than I can comfortably eat in one sitting.

* * * * *

Drink Not to Elevation

Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with, that it’s compounding a felony. ~ Robert Benchley

Many a manly man in history has enjoyed a drink or two. Yet somewhere along the way men began to think it was manly to guzzle their spirits through a funnel attached to their mouth. Yet there are truly few things less virtuous than getting tanked and passing out.

Men should not seek to numb themselves in the pursuit of a good time. For surely there is something to be said about being fully present in every moment. At the heart of manliness is the belief in personal responsibility. But excess drinking and personal responsibility are at odds. When drunk, a person cannot be said to be 100% in control of their choices. So if something goes wrong, they often blame the alcohol. A true man is in control of himself in every situation

Men should also seek to rid themselves of any kind of dependencies. Alcohol can cause several, the most obvious one being outright alcoholism. But frequent boozing can also make a man dependent on liquor for confidence and for a good time. It becomes a crutch. True men will be confident enough to not need liquid courage and dynamic enough to create their own good time through their personality and charm.

* * * * *

> There are many times when I’ve gone down to the local pub (a real pub, not just your average bar) and enjoyed a pint or two.  There’s been a couple of occasions when I’ve had much more to drink than I should have.  The first time was Saint Patrick’s Day 2010 and the second was late spring/early summer that same year, after a very rough night at work.

* * * * *


Men often try to numb themselves with food and alcohol to avoid dealing with their real problems. But manning up involves facing one’s issues head on. Gaining the self-discipline to moderate your intake of food and alcohol will give you the confidence to start making other improvements in your life.”

* * * * *

> There have been a number of times when I wanted to eat or drink a lot in order to avoid a problem I had.  I don’t remember ever giving in to those desires – I usually talked myself out of doing whatever it was I thought I wanted to do.  Moderating my food intake is going to be more difficult than moderating my alcohol intake, I believe, because in my experience, I tend to eat more than I should more OFTEN than I should.  Drinking, well…I’ve been really hammered twice and both times I felt bad afterwards for drinking as much as I did.

It’s fine to enjoy a drink or two, whether you’re alone or not.  Learn what your limits are, for both food and alcohol.  Consuming one or the other or both to the point of sluggishness or dullness is going too far.


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