Abstinence, Moderation & Excess – with Solon & Plato

“…And that might be applied to him which is recorded of Socrates, that he was able both to abstain from, and to enjoy, those things which many are too weak to abstain from, and cannot enjoy without excess. But to be strong enough both to bear the one and to be sober in the other is the mark of a man who has a perfect and invincible soul, such as he showed in the illness of Maximus.

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Marcus Aurelius

Put more faith in nobility of character than in an oath.” Solon – Ancient Greek Statesman, Lawmaker and Poet.

When pleasure is being discussed, the usual suspects: alcohol, sex and addictive substances (cigarettes and hard drugs); comes to mind. Beyond these however is a long list of both tangible and intangible things: glory, wealth, power, praise, liberty, food, and many more are amongst those things which in themselves are not bad, but the excess of them lead to all kinds of problems.

Some will advice total abstinence from some of these things. Some will advise moderation. Others still have no qualms with excess of some or all the above.


To those who preach abstinence, what is the basis of the argument if they themselves have never tasted these? They are left with making examples from the lives of others, but can never really speak from true experience. They forget that for every negative example, there can be a positive counter.


For those in this category, the biggest challenge has been to define moderation. What is moderate for whom and in what circumstance?


Although it seems obvious that this should be discouraged, the gaps in the first two categories make this impossible, as what is moderate for one may be considered excessive. To abstain from seeking for glory is to say people should not aspire to excel, and takes away even healthy competition.

Will these questions ever be answered? Or is it a useless enquiry? Let us hear some thoughts from the ancients; and hope to have you share your thoughts as well.

Let us then discourse a little more at length about intoxication, which is a very important subject, and will seriously task the discrimination of the legislator. I am not speaking of drinking, or not drinking, wine at all, but of intoxication. Are we to follow the custom of the Scythians, and Persians, and Carthaginians, and Celts, and Iberians, and Thracians, who are all warlike nations, or that of your countrymen, for they, as you say, altogether abstain? But the Scythians and Thracians, both men and women, drink unmixed wine, which they pour on their garments, and this they think a happy and glorious institution. The Persians, again, are much given to other practices of luxury which you reject, but they have more moderation in them than the Thracians and Scythians.”

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For, in the first place, moderation is the appointment of nature, and deters men from all frenzy and madness of love, and from all adulteries and immoderate use of meats and drinks, and makes them good friends to their own wives. And innumerable other benefits would result if such a law could only be enforced. I can imagine some lusty youth who is standing by, and who, on hearing this enactment, declares in scurrilous terms that we are making foolish and impossible laws, and fills the world with his outcry.”

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ATHENIAN: And since we have reached this point in our legislation, and have fallen into a difficulty by reason of the vices of mankind, I affirm that our ordinance should simply run in the following terms: Our citizens ought not to fall below the nature of birds and beasts in general, who are born in great multitudes, and yet remain until the age for procreation virgin and unmarried, but when they have reached the proper time of life are coupled, male and female, and lovingly pair together, and live the rest of their lives in holiness and innocence, abiding firmly in their original compact: surely, we will say to them, you should be better than the animals.”

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If you were given the power to legislate on these issues, what would you propose?

Dr Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher