Augustine of Hippo “Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation” meaning

The quote “Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation” speaks to the nature of human temptation and self-control. The idea here is that for many people, it’s easier to entirely avoid temptation than it is to engage with it in a balanced, moderate way.

Take, for instance, the example of someone trying to quit smoking. For that person, it may be easier to abstain entirely from smoking rather than trying to smoke just a little bit each day. The act of smoking “just a little” might constantly test and strain their self-control, making them more likely to slip back into excessive use.

Similarly, consider the example of dieting. Some people find it easier to abstain from sugary foods altogether rather than try to consume them in moderation, as even a small amount can trigger cravings for more.
Saint Augustine himself struggled with issues of temptation and moderation, most famously documented in his autobiographical work, “Confessions.” Before converting to Christianity, he led a life that he later viewed as sinful, filled with what he considered excessive pleasures and diversions. After his conversion, he advocated for a life lived in accordance with Christian virtues, which often involved strict forms of self-discipline.

In summary, Augustine’s observation reflects the idea that human willpower is often better suited to “all-or-nothing” conditions rather than nuanced moderation. This line of thinking suggests that the clarity of total abstinence can sometimes make it a more achievable goal than the grey area of moderation, which requires ongoing, careful management of one’s behaviour and desires.

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