“It is not abstinence from pleasures that is best, but mastery over them without even being worsted. ”
— Aristippus, quoted in A History of Ancient Philosophy
This reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Samuel Johnson: “All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.”
This issue comes up a lot with the Strategy of Abstaining, when Abstainers and Moderators debate their approach to resisting a strong temptation.
Moderators argue, “Why abstain, why be so absolute, why give up a pleasure altogether?” But for Abstainers — and I say this as an Abstainer myself — abstaining is the way to gain mastery over pleasures. It’s easier to abstain, and it’s a relief. “Abstinence from a pleasure” not for the sake of abstaining, but because it’s easier.
In Better Than Before, I have a whole chapter dedicated to the Strategy of Abstaining — but as always, I must emphasize, this is not a strategy that works for everyone! It doesn’t work for Moderators!
And most of us are a mix of both.
How about you? How do you best master your pleasures?