Related Schemes and Literature

Should everything be done in moderation?

At first blush it sounds like a trite phrase of common wisdom that oft repeated but seldom followed. But if we scratch the surface a little by going back two and a half millenia, that blush may be of deeper import than at first suspected.

On the steps (or pillars, or columns, or above the entrance) of Apollo’s temple at Delphi were carved two phrases. One, and arguably the more well known, was ‘Know Thyself.’ The other being ‘Everything in Moderation.’

In anything of import that we discuss it is prudent to be aware of and on the watch for equivocation of words. Individual words in any language may each have many different meanings and connotations depending upon its context in the sentence, who is speaking, to whom it is being said, common cultural and community backgrounds, &c. Most of the time native speakers parse all these variations easily, almost subconsciously. All of these differences rarely, if ever, are covered by the ‘same’ word in another language, so that when we see ‘moderation’ and identify it with half-way, not fully, mildly, without passion, ‘the middle road,’ and so on, it may or may not be the set of connotations and denotations used in the original, and ancient Greek. (This may not be the origin of the concept, but this is most certainly the originating form as it has come down to us in Western society.)

So let’s take a look at that noble Greek phrase:

μηδὲν ἄγαν

The first word means (more or less) ‘nothing,’ and the second has the meaning of ‘very much’ or ‘too much,’ along with the idea of that ‘too much’ being ‘too much in a bad sense.’ I personally am fond of ‘Nothin’ over much’ as an apt translation.

‘Everything in moderation’ then seems like it might be the same, but logically it is not equivalent. A little less obviously, though, is that this phrase, however translated, would not apply to those things that cannot possibly be measured in terms of too much, too little or just right. For example, and I have come across this example many times, is that being married cannot be done in moderation, or half-way. You either are, or are not, by definition. The phrase does not, can not, apply. But if someone decides to get married every year, or say, beheads his wife to remarry (leaving aside theological/political problems and causes), may not be using marriage in keeping with this maxim.

This leads me to my last two points. First, I believe that this precept is a good and useful one that can be applied in many situations in our own lives. The second follows on the first. If we understand ‘everything’ as meaning literally everything, and we expand, perhaps, ‘moderation’ by including the idea of moderated, like many blogs are towards improvement, or our actions being moderated by our will and reason, then I think the modern way of putting it hits the mark quite well.

Apologia: for running off at the mouth (fingers?), for the lack of examples and clear direction (long, hard day with many worries), and for not putting the Apologia at the top.


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One thought on “Should everything be done in moderation?

  1. Nice and well made post, I learnt something this morning. It is not only in english that the word “moderation” has been vulgarized to a less exciting definition. In french, moderation is a word mostly used in a negative way.

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