Temperance (virtue)

Temperance in its modern use is defined as moderation or voluntary self-restraint.[1] It is typically described in terms of what an individual voluntarily refrains from doing.[2] This includes restraint from revenge by practicing non-violence and forgiveness, restraint from arrogance by practicing humility and modesty, restraint from excesses such as extravagant luxury or splurging, and restraint from rage or craving by practicing calmness and self-control.[2]

The Temperance of Piero Pollaiuolo, 1470

Temperance has been described as a virtue by religious thinkers, philosophers, and more recently, psychologists, particularly in the positive psychology movement. It has a long history in philosophical and religious thought.

In classical iconography, the virtue is often depicted as a woman holding two vessels transferring water from one to another. It is one of the cardinal virtues in western thought found in Greek philosophy and Christianity, as well as eastern traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism.

Temperance is one of the six virtues in the positive psychology classification, included with wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, and transcendence.[3] It is generally characterized as the control over excess, and expressed through characteristics such as chastity, modesty, humility, self-regulation, hospitality, decorum, abstinence, and forgiveness; each of these involves restraining an excess of some impulse, such as sexual desire, vanity, or anger.

The term "temperance" can also refer to the abstention from alcohol (teetotalism), especially with reference to the temperance movement. It can also refer to alcohol moderation.


Greek civilizationEdit

Figure of Temperance from Digges memorial by Nicholas Stone, St. Mary's Church, Chilham

There are two words in ancient Greek that have been translated to "temperance" in the English language. The first, sôphrosune, largely meant self-restraint. The other, enkrateia, was a word coined during the time of Aristotle, to mean control over oneself, or self-discipline. Enkrateia appears three times in the King James Bible, where it was translated as temperance.

The modern meaning of temperance has evolved since its first usage. In Latin, tempero means restraint (from force or anger), but also more broadly the proper balancing or mixing (particularly, of temperature, or compounds). Hence the phrase "to temper a sword", meaning the heating and cooling process of forging a metal blade. The Latin also referred to governing and control, likely in a moderate way (i.e. not with the use of excessive force).[citation needed]

Temperance is a major Athenian virtue, as advocated by Plato; self-restraint (sôphrosune) is one of his four core virtues of the ideal city, and echoed by Aristotle. In "Charmides", one of Plato's early dialogues, an attempt is made to describe temperance, but fails to reach an adequate definition. According to Aristotle, who restricts the sphere of temperance to bodily pleasures, says "temperance is a mean with regard to pleasures".[4]

Roman stoicismEdit

In his Meditations, the Roman emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius defines temperance as "a virtue opposed to love of pleasure".[5] He argues that temperance separates humans from animals, writing that

it is the peculiar office of the rational and intelligent motion to circumscribe itself, and never to be overpowered either by the motion of the senses or the appetites, for both are animal; but the intelligent motion claims superiority and does not permit itself to be overpowered by the others[.]

For Marcus, this rational faculty exists to understand the appetites, rather than be used by them.[6] In the ninth book of the Meditations, he gives this advice: "Wipe out imagination: check desire: extinguish appetite: keep the ruling faculty in its own power."[7]

Marcus took inspiration from his father, someone Marcus considered "satisfied on all occasions", who "showed sobriety in all things" and "did not take the bath at unseasonable hours; he was not fond of building houses, nor curious about what he ate, nor about the texture and colour of his clothes, nor about the beauty of his slaves." Marcus writes that temperance is both difficult and yet important. He favourably likens his father to Socrates, in 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".[8]


Representation of temperance (painted wood sculpture, dated 1683, which covers the shrine of the baptismal church Breton Commana in France). Temperance's foot tips over a jug of wine, and presents a pitcher of water

Themes of temperance can be seen across cultures and time, as illustrated here.


Temperance is an essential part of the Eightfold Path. In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, often regarded as the first teaching, the Buddha describes the Noble Eightfold Path as the Middle Way of moderation, between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. The third and fifth of the five precepts (pañca-sila) reflect values of temperance: "misconduct concerning sense pleasures" and drunkenness are to be avoided.[9]


"Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods."[10] The Old Testament emphasizes temperance as a core virtue, as evidenced in the Book of Proverbs. The New Testament does so as well, with forgiveness being central to theology and self-control being one of the Fruits of the Spirit.[4] With regard to Christian theology, the word temperance is used by the King James Version in Galatians 5:23 for the Greek word ἐγκρατεία (enkrateia), which means self-control or discipline (Strong's Concordance, 1466). Thomas Aquinas promoted Plato's original virtues in addition to several others.

Within the Christian church Temperance is a virtue akin to self-control. It is applied to all areas of life. It can especially be viewed in practice among sects like the Amish, Old Order Mennonites, and Conservative Mennonites. In the Christian religion, temperance is a virtue that moderates attraction and desire for pleasure and "provides balance in the use of created goods". St. Thomas calls it a "disposition of the mind which binds the passions".[4] Temperance is believed to combat the sin of gluttony.


The concept of dama (Sanskrit: दम) in Hinduism is equivalent to temperance. It is sometimes written as damah (Sanskrit: दमः).[11][12] The word dama, and Sanskrit derivative words based on it, connote the concepts of self-control and self-restraint. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, in verse 5.2.3, states that three characteristics of a good, developed person are self-restraint (damah), compassion and love for all sentient life (daya), and charity (daana).[13] In Hinduism literature dedicated to yoga, self-restraint is expounded with the concept of yamas (Sanskrit: यम).[14] According to ṣaṭsampad, self-restraint (dama) is one of the six cardinal virtues.[15]

The list of virtues that constitute a moral life evolve in vedas and upanishads. Over time, new virtues were conceptualized and added, some replaced, others merged. For example, Manusamhita initially listed ten virtues necessary for a human being to live a dharmic (moral) life: Dhriti (courage), Kshama (forgiveness), Dama (temperance), Asteya (Non-covetousness/Non-stealing), Saucha (purity), Indriyani-graha (control of senses), dhi (reflective prudence), vidya (wisdom), satyam (truthfulness), akrodha (freedom from anger). In later verses, this list was reduced to five virtues by the same scholar, by merging and creating a more broader concept. The shorter list of virtues became: Ahimsa (Non-violence), Dama (temperance), Asteya (Non-covetousness/Non-stealing), Saucha (purity), Satyam (truthfulness).[16][17] This trend of evolving concepts continue in classical Sanskrit literature, Dama with Ahimsa and few other virtues present in the evolving list of virtues necessary for a moral life (dharma).[18][19]

Five types of self-restraints are considered essential for a moral and ethical life in Hindu philosophy: one must refrain from any violence that causes injury to others, refrain from starting or propagating deceit and falsehood, refrain from theft of other's property, refrain from sexually cheating on one's partner, and refrain from avarice.[14][20] The scope of self-restraint includes one's action, the words one speaks or writes, and in one's thoughts. The necessity for temperance is explained as preventing bad karma which sooner or later haunts and returns to the unrestrained.[21][22] The theological need for self-restraint is also explained as reigning in the damaging effect of one's action on others, as hurting another is hurting oneself because all life is one.[20][23]


Temperance in Jainism is deeply imbibed in its five major vows which are:

In Jainism, the vow of Ahimsa is not just restricted to not resorting to physical violence, but it also encompasses in itself abstinence from violence in any and all form either by thought, speech or action.

On Samvatsari, the last day of Paryushan—the most prominent festival of Jainism—the Jains greet their friends and relatives on this last day with Micchāmi Dukkaḍaṃ, seeking their forgiveness.[citation needed] The phrase is also used by Jains throughout the year when a person makes a mistake, or recollects making one in everyday life, or when asking for forgiveness in advance for inadvertent ones.[24]

Contemporary organizationsEdit

Values of temperance are still advocated by more modern sources such as the Boy Scouts, William Bennett, and Ben Franklin.[25] Philosophy has contributed a number of lessons to the study of traits, particularly in its study of injunctions and its listing and organizing of virtues.

In positive psychology, temperance was defined to include these four main character strengths: forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-regulation.[26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Green, Joel (2011). Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic. p. 769. ISBN 978-0-8010-3406-0.
  2. ^ a b Schwarzer, Ralf (2012). Personality, human development, and culture : international perspectives on psychological science. Hove: Psychology. pp. 127–129. ISBN 978-0-415-65080-9.
  3. ^ Peterson, Christopher (2004). Character strengths and virtues a handbook and classification. Washington, DC New York: American Psychological Association Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-516701-6.
  4. ^ a b c Niemiec, R. M. (2013). VIA character strengths: Research and practice (The first 10 years). In H. H. Knoop & A. Delle Fave (Eds.), Well-being and cultures: Perspectives on positive psychology (pp. 11–30). New York: Springer.
  5. ^ Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Book Seven, Translated by George Long. The Internet Classics Archive.
  6. ^ In Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Book Seven. The Internet Classics Archive.
  7. ^ In Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Book Nine. The Internet Classics Archive.
  8. ^ In Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Book One. The Internet Classics Archive.
  9. ^ Harvey, P. (1990). An introduction to Buddhism: Teaching, history and practices. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  10. ^ Standridge, Paula. "Virtue of temperance can offer life balance", Understanding Our Church, Diocese of Little Rock, November 17, 2018
  11. ^ Sanskrit translations for Self-Control English-Sanskrit Dictionary, Germany
  12. ^ Sanskrit Words; See dama and damah
  13. ^ Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Translator: S Madhavananda, p. 816, For discussion: pp. 814–821; Quote - "तदेतत्त्रयँ शिक्षेद् दमं दानं दयामिति", translation: Learn three cardinal virtues - temperance, charity and compassion for all life."
  14. ^ a b James Lochtefeld, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Rosen Publishing New York, ISBN 0-8239-2287-1, see article on Yama, p. 777
  15. ^ Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, France, this reference is in French; see explanation under the term dama: contrôle de ses passions
  16. ^ Gupta, B. (2006). BHAGAVAD GĪTĀ AS DUTY AND VIRTUE ETHICS. Journal of Religious Ethics, 34(3), 373–395.
  17. ^ Mohapatra & Mohapatra, Hinduism: Analytical Study, ISBN 978-8170993889; see pp. 37–40
  18. ^ Comparative Religion, Kedar Nath Tiwari, ISBN 81-208-0294-2; see pp. 33–34
  19. ^ Bailey, G. (1983). Puranic notes: reflections on the myth of sukesin. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 6(2), 46–61.
  20. ^ a b Heim, M. (2005), Differentiations in Hindu ethics, in William Schweiker (Editor), The Blackwell companion to religious ethics, ISBN 0-631-21634-0, Chapter 35, pp. 341–354
  21. ^ Rao, G. H. (1926), The Basis of Hindu Ethics, International Journal of Ethics, 37(1), pp. 19–35
  22. ^ Hindrey, Roderick (1978), Comparative ethics in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, Motilal Banarsidass Publications, ISBN 81-208-0866-5
  23. ^ Sturgess, Stephen (2013), The Yoga Book: A Practical Guide to Self-realization, Watkins Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84293-034-2, see Chapter 2
  24. ^ M.R.P. Vijaya; K.C. Jani (1951). Śramana Bhagavān Mahāvira: pt. 1. Sthavirāvali. Śri Jaina Siddhanta Society. p. 120.
  25. ^ Peterson & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  26. ^ Seligman, Martin (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. American Psychological Association / Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195167016.