self control

Doing what you know to be the right thing when you are undergoing strong temptation to do something else instead.

a.k.a. restraint, continence (you usually only hear this term in advertisements for adult diapers these days, but it was once the preferred term in ethical philosophy for self-control), sôphrosunê/σωφροσύνη

There’s some debate over whether self control is a virtue per se, or is some other sort of characteristic that is important in exercising the virtues.

See temperance for the subtle difference between temperance and self control. If you are temperate, virtue will be more attractive than vice to you, so you will not feel a strong temptation to do the wrong thing. So self control is a sort of back-up for when your understanding of virtue hasn’t yet fully shaped your desires.

With the internet evolving new ways of capturing and holding “eyeballs” through “clickbait”, “sticky” interfaces, etc. strengthening self control is a new challenge today.

Complementary virtues

Contrasting vices

  • heedlessness
  • incontinence
  • lack of self control
  • licentiousness
  • being unrestrained
  • unruliness
  • wildness

Virtues possibly in tension

How to acquire or strengthen it

Self-control seems in some experiments to be a resource that can be depleted and takes time to recharge. So e.g. if you have to use self control at task A, and then at task B, you will have a harder time than if you were just asked to use self control for task B. And yet, some evidence suggests that “self-regulation… can be strengthened like a muscle, which means that with regular ‘exercise,’ people can become less vulnerable to ego depletion effects.” (See Bauermeister, J.A. et al. “Assessing motivations to engage in intentional condomless anal intercourse in HIV risk contexts…” 2009). Good nutrition, good sleep, etc. make it easier to exercise self control.

Mindfulness may be a technique for strengthening self control:

Notes and links

Mentioned elsewhere

Inspirational quotes

  • “If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled — have you no shame in that?” — Epictetus, Enchiridion (28)