On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
2 Peter 1:5-6
Today we begin Chapter Two of On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior. This week’s study of Temperance is drawn from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Temperance is a word rarely used today and its practice even rarer in our world of extravagance and excess.
As Karen said
Temperance is unique among the virtues. Unlike other virtues that are revealed under pressure, temperance is “an ordinary, humble virtue, to be practiced on a regular rather than an exceptional basis.” It “is a virtue for all times but is all the more necessary when times are good.” It is also unlike the other virtues in centering not on actions but on desires. Since we desire what is pleasurable, temperance is “the virtue that inclines us to desire and enjoy pleasures well.” It helps us to desire pleasures in a reasonable manner, desiring them neither too much nor too little, the virtuous mean between the vices of self-indulgence and insensibility.
Temperance is not simply resisting temptation. It is more than merely restraint. Aquinas uses the example of a miser who eschews extravagance because of its expense: such a man is not temperate, for the temperate man would not desire extravagance. One attains the virtue of temperance when one’s appetites have been shaped such that one’s very desires are in proper order and proportion.
How is temperance different from the other virtues?