Hold your horses
What is the most underrated virtue? In our world of excess, it is definitely self-control.
I was reading this post about willpower and weight loss and getting pretty depressed. I mean really, we live in a world where we can’t stop ourselves. A world where I’ve eaten three litres of ice cream in the past five days on the pretext of needing a bucket to put compost in. A world that looks like this:
And you know what I thought?
I thought… we need help. All of us, as a human race. So lets look back to one of the masters. Who better than Plato’s Socrates? We talked about him before, when we needed some relationship do’s and dont’s (read: I was very, very bitter at the time).
Plato, in the dialogue Phaedrus, split up the soul into three pieces: reason/intellect, appetites/desires, and spirit/boldness. His allegory is not overly creative (and probably racist). Reason is a charioteer, which drives the white horse of spirit and the black horse of desire.
So the charioteer wants to ascend divine heights. The white horse listens if given clear, logical instructions. However, the black horse does not. As the story goes, the black horse is distracted by encountering the love, the object of desire (who is an attractive young boy) along the side of the road. It wants to give in to overwhelming sexual lust (strangely enough, most summaries of this allegory omit the bit about equine pedophilia), and the soul is tempted. In Plato’s system, the charioteer must be the master… and must drive the horses to do what is right (ie: not let the horse have sex with the boy). Whips should be used when necessary. The charioteer keeps the horse steady, despite recognizing just how super hot this young boy is, and the chariot stays on course.
Lack of self control is just the product of us charioteers being too light-handed with the whip, and giving in to our desires. We must use reason and apply restraint heavily and often, until our desires are reigned in.
Well Plato, that is all well and good, but I still can’t stop with the ice cream. Any suggestions?
Filed under: virtue | 32 Comments
Tags: appetite, desire, horses, phaedrus, philosophy, plato, reason, self-control, socrates