Book 3.5: The Several Moral Virtues and Vices.

Chapter 11

Now, of our desires or appetites some appear to be common to the race, others to be individual and acquired.

Thus the desire of food is natural [or common to the race]; every man when he is in want desires meat or drink, or sometimes both, and sexual intercourse, as Homer says, when he is young and vigorous.

But not all men desire to satisfy their wants in this or that particular way, nor do all desire the same things; and therefore such desire appears to be peculiar to ourselves, or individual.

Of course it is also partly natural: different people are pleased by different things, and yet there are some things which all men like better than others.

Firstly, then, in the matter of our natural or common desires but few err, and that only on one side, viz. on the side of excess; e.g. to eat or drink of whatever is set before you till you can hold no more is to exceed what is natural in point of quantity, for natural desire or appetite is for the filling of our want simply. And so such people are called “belly-mad,” implying that they fill their bellies too full.

It is only utterly slavish natures that acquire this vice.

Secondly, with regard to those pleasures that are individual [i.e. which attend the gratification of our individual desires] many people err in various ways.

Whereas people are called fond of this or that because they delight either in wrong things, or to an unusual degree, or in a wrong fashion, profligates exceed in all these ways. For they delight in some things in which they ought not to delight (since they are hateful things), and if it be right to delight in any of these things they delight in them more than is right and more than is usual.

It is plain, then, that excess in these pleasures is profligacy, and is a thing to be blamed.

But in respect of the corresponding pains the case is not the same here as it was with regard to courage: a man is not called temperate for bearing them, and profligate for not bearing them; but the profligate man is called profligate for being more pained than he ought at not getting certain pleasant things (his pain being caused by his pleasure), and the temperate man is called temperate because the absence of these pleasant things or the abstinence from them is not painful to him.

The profligate, then, desires all pleasant things or those that are most intensely pleasant, and is led by his desire so as to choose these in preference to all other things. And so he is constantly pained by failing to get them and by lusting after them: for all appetite involves pain; but it seems a strange thing to be pained for the sake of pleasure.

People who fall short in the matter of pleasure, and take less delight than they ought in these things, are hardly found at all; for this sort of insensibility is scarcely in human nature. And indeed even the lower animals discriminate kinds of food, and delight in some and not in others; and a being to whom nothing was pleasant, and who found no difference between one thing and another, would be very far removed from being a man. We have no name for such a being, because he does not exist.

But the temperate man observes the mean in these things. He takes no pleasure in those things that the profligate most delights in (but rather disdains them), nor generally in the wrong things, nor very much in any of these things, and when they are absent he is not pained, nor does he desire them, or desires them but moderately, not more than he ought, nor at the wrong time, etc.; but those things which, being pleasant, at the same time conduce to health and good condition, he will desire moderately and in the right manner, and other pleasant things also, provided they are not injurious, or incompatible with what is noble, or beyond his means; for he who cares for them then, cares for them more than is fitting, and the temperate man is not apt to do that, but rather to be guided by right reason.


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