I got here early to do some preliminary work as part of
Administrative Committee. While the last meeting was contentious, with the
controversial issue of a possible Peace Tax Fund endorsement on the agenda,
this meeting looks to be comparatively placid.
First, Aristotle plans to examine self-control. Self-control is associated with
endurance and manliness; its contrary, incontinence, is associated with
softness and effeminacy. With any luck, we’ll find that this gendered
characterization is not essential to Aristotle’s formulation but is just an
artifact of the sexist assumptions of his culture.
Aristotle’s method here, as it has been elsewhere, has been to start by looking
at the particulars of how people use words and concepts and then try to
describe and make consistent the models implicit in these usages — rather than
starting with a theoretical model of what the words and concepts
should mean and then trying to cram it down onto the vulgate.
So he reviews a set of common opinions about self-control:
Self-control (and endurance) are thought to be good and praiseworthy;
incontinence (and softness) bad and blameworthy.
A person with self-control resolves to do something and then does it, while
an incontinent person makes resolutions but lacks sticktoitiveness.
The incontinent person is aware that what he or she is doing is bad, but is
unable to resist his or her appetites. The person with self control is
aware that appetites are tempting but is able to keep his or her rational
mind in charge rather than letting appetite take the reins.
People say that temperate people also have self-control and endurance.
However, not everyone with self-control is thought of as also temperate.
The words “self-indulgent” and “incontinent” are sometimes used
interchangeably, other times to mean somewhat different things. There is
disagreement as to whether self-control comes in degrees or is something
you either have or you don’t.
Some people believe that if you have practical wisdom, you cannot be
incontinent; other people think that it’s possible to be practically wise
and yet fail to practice self-control.
People are sometimes said to lack self control in regard to things like
anger, honor, or gain (not merely in regard to pleasure, as was the case
for Temperance/Self-Indulgence, which Aristotle covered
in book three).