In the Gorgias, Socrates and Callicles talk about whetherone should live a life of temperance or self-control. Temperance signifies acertain quality of self-control and discipline. Therefore, it brings order tothe communicable appetite of desire or satisfaction. Some of the greatestpleasures are found in the consumption of food and drink, as well as theengagement of sexual pleasures.
Callicles believesthat a brave man should allow his appetites to get as large as possible withoutlimitation, therefore saying, “the man who’ll live correctly ought to allow hisown appetites to get as large as possible, he ought to be competent to devotehimself to them by virtue of his bravery and intelligence, and to fill themwith whatever he may have an appetite for at the time” (Plato 64, 492a).Callicles sees temperance or self-control as a sign of weakness, “they becomedetractors of people like this because of the shame they feel, while theyconceal their own impotence” (64, 495a). Callicles states the “lack ofdiscipline is shameful”, therefore, men who are rulers lack the ability toprovide or fulfill their pleasures and their lack of courage leads them topraise self-control. During thediscussion of temperance, Socrates responds to Callicles’ opposition with themetaphor of the leaky jar:And fools he named uninitiated, suggesting that part of the soulsof fools where their appetites are located is their undisciplined part, one nottightly closed, a leaking jar, as it were…They would carry water into theleaking jar using another leaky thing, a sieve. That’s why by the sieve hemeans the soul (as the man who talked with me claimed). And because they leak,he likened the souls of fools to sieves; for their untrustworthiness andforgetfulness makes them unable to retain anything.
(66)The leaky jar exemplifies that the soul with unrestrained desireswill always require or seek after more and more, therefore never beingfulfilled. Callicles remains unconvinced, therefore saying, “the man who hasfilled himself up has no pleasure any more, and when he’s been filled up andexperiences neither joy nor pain, that’s living like a stone” (67). He believesthat temperance and self-control are undesirable when a man allows no more roomfor more pleasure. Socrates andCallicles produce interesting arguments; however, Socrates’ argument is moreplausible.
The virtue of temperance is measured as being the mean of reason.Temperance or self-control makes moderate use of desirable pleasures. One mustmake use of his or her pleasures to the degree of reason. According to Aristotle’s definition oftemperance, he relates it more to bodily pleasures such as eating, drinking,and sexual pleasures (Aristotle 2011). The virtue oftemperance allows us to have a balanced and harmonious life. Withouttemperance, one can be like the leaky jar; always seeking after more.
Forexample, a person who desires chocolate may want to eat it constantly; however,temperance allows one to refrain from eating chocolate because it may endangertheir health. As with food, one may have a desire to drink alcohol during abusiness lunch. However, temperance allows one to have a measure of reason andcreate the right balance. If a person goesoff the notion of Callicles, a person may be a slave to his or her desire. Forexample, alcohol may be a good thing, but an alcoholic may end up hating itbecause it detaches him from reality and he becomes dependent on what was oncepleasurable. Sexual desires may be good as well. However, a person who becomesa slave to their desires may not view it as pleasurable and through theirslavery, they have degraded themselves or have been degraded by others.
Temperance on the other hand, allows a person to achieve pleasure inmoderation. Socrates givesCallicles another image, therefore describing that the man who is constantlyseeking pleasure is undisciplined and less happy:Consider whether what you’re saying about each life, the life ofthe self-controlled man and that of the undisciplined one, is like this:Suppose there are two men, each of whom has many jars. The jars belonging toone of them are sound and full, one with wine, another with honey, a third withmilk, and many others with lots of things. And suppose that the sources of eachof these things are scarce and difficult to come by, procurable only with muchtoil and trouble. Now the one man, having filled up his jars, doesn’t pouranything more into them and gives them no further thought.
He can relax overthem. As for the other one, he too has resources that can be procured, thoughwith difficulty, but his containers are leaky and rotten. He’s forced to keepon filling them, day and night, or else he suffers extreme pain. (67)A person who lacks self-control reacts on impulses which may leadto disaster.
There are also vices to every pleasure or desire. Sexuality isappropriate with fulfilling the desire of physical union between two lovedones. However, lust is the vice which uses the other person for sexualgratification.
The constant desire or sexual gratification can lead tofornication, pornography, and any other means of sexual activities. Having the virtueof temperance does not show weakness. Temperance is a virtue one should strive tomaintain to have a balanced and happy life. Temperance allows a person to bringclarity to his or her life and not to be a slave to his or her desires. AsSocrates stated, the life of the self-controlled man is like the jar which isfilled, therefore being satisfied and living a happier life.