The relevance of temperance for social entrepreneurs

In Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that we cultivate the moral virtues by means of habituation and proper training. The right kind of education in courage will put us face-to-face with fear so that we can ‘learn to despise things that are terrible and to stand our ground against them.’ Later on in our moral education, we will learn to delight in the kinds of persons we have become: taking delight, for instance, not always in acting justly (for the case at hand may be painful) but rather in being the kinds of persons who can judge justly. The same goes for temperance. We delight in regarding ourselves as the kinds of persons who can take in and on only what is enough.

Temperance is the cardinal virtue for the social entrepreneur. As a philosopher, I observe how frequently curiosity, exuberance, and creative effluence are stressed in the education of young social entrepreneurs. But more important than these, during a period of fervor as well as one of torpor, is temperance. Aristotle: ‘by abstaining from pleasures [early on] we become temperate, and it is when we become so that we are most able to abstain from them.’

In the early stages, we must hold ourselves back from getting too excited, too enthusiastic, too amped up about some new idea; about too many ideas; about too many projects. We must slow down and consider. Best not to make up one’s mind too quickly without good deliberation. For it must be borne in mind that somewhere along the path things will get dull and difficult, and then one will need also to exercise courage, patience, and openness…

Temperance restrains us from excess, from snap judgments, and from the up’s and down’s of modern life, keeping us level and on track. As we get older, we then learn to delight not in the free reign of the appetite but in how measured and composed we have become.

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