Positive account of temperance (1)

Although addiction gives us a particularly clear view of what a non-human concupiscence is, and though concupiscence (and therefore temperance) most of all deals with the addictive, this is nevertheless an accidental description of it. No one has ever sought after something because it was addictive. Concupiscence is a love of sensible things, and so the questions of what a human or inhuman concupiscence is fundamentally a question of what human love is.

At first glance this seems to be a baffling claim. If, for example, temperance most of all deals with things like food, how is this to be properly human? Minimally, we should be mindful of health when we eat, but we share this  good even with non-human animals. But a closer look shows that concupiscence for food must also be humanized in more important and fundamental ways, and unless we humanize it in these ways, it is very difficult to eat for health. Animals feed but they don’t feast; they might eat in packs but they don’t eat dinner. Eating around tables so as to cement human relations belongs to temperance because it is essential to a humanizing concupiscence with respect to food. Many of the difficulties we have with moderation arise because we are not having meals but simply feeding ourselves like animals in a solitary, transient, get-it-and-go manner (would you eat the whole feedbag of chips if you had to do it in front of people at a dinner table?). Preparing food also has a role to play in temperance. If this is right, it helps to explain one element in why moderation is so difficult for us: moderation is human, but mere solitary, get-it-cuz-it’s-there feeding is not human. Our love of food is not a mere gut-level desire for caloric intake but for the whole web of love for relations, rituals, and restrictions which help us be moderate – they are even intrinsic to moderation.

Many of the elements we see here give us light to understand what it would mean to humanize sexuality as well. We here can’t enter into all the details of sexual ethics, but we can point out that, at minimum, sexuality can never be understood as a mere desire for a pleasant feeling located in the sex organs. Most persons – irrespective of what they thought about sex – would agree to this, but not always to the consequences. If we cannot restrict the proper sphere of sexuality to our own person then it seems that we need to expand its sphere to include another person, and if this is the case, it becomes difficult to see how the solitary exercise of sexuality could ever be human. In our own tradition, we have tended to stress that sexuality is procreative, but this is the same as to say that sexuality is essentially familial: those who engage in it are the heads of a family (even when that family happens to only include them) and one cannot procreate in this sense without giving rise to a family member. Though we cannot deal with all the elements in the modern question of gay marriage, everyone can certainly admit that the argument for the institution is most persuasive when it is cast as a way of establishing and promoting familial love.

A recurrent and constant element we find in human concupiscence is freedom. This is clearest, again, when we contrast temperance with addiction. This contrast illuminates in a particularly clear manner the opposed senses of freedom. Some articulate these senses as “freedom from” and “freedom for“. We here want to articulate the distinction from a different point of view, and distinguish between an extrinsic and not-properly-human sense of freedom and a properly human sense of freedom. One sense of freedom is simply that there are no impediments to getting something you want. In this sense, you are free to eat whatever is in the pantry because no one locked it or made a rule against going into it. This is a real sense of freedom, but it is a sense you share with non-human animals: in the absence of a rule or a locked door, your dog is just as free as you are to rifle the pantry. But the freedom of a properly human self means that the self experiences no impediments to executing its desires, and since the self in this sense is something interior in opposition to the mere environment, then the impediments we are talking about are also interior impediments. Properly human freedom is minimally freedom from addiction and ultimately the complete integrity of the will.


%d bloggers like this: