The first of the 13 virtues that Benjamin Franklin worked on was Temperance. He defined Temperance as “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation”. Temperance means having restraint, having control or self-control. It is the opposite of excess. So, it is basically moderation. One might wonder, why Franklin chose Temperance as the first of the virtues to be practiced. Franklin probably believed that to start on a virtuous path, temperance in food is one thing that could be easily followed and will build the requisite discipline and will power to master the other virtues as well.
Franklin meant temperance only in terms of food and drinks. It seems to me Franklin developed this virtue to maintain a good health. We all know how important health is. As long as someone is healthy, one does not realize how lucky one is. But as soon as one’s health fails, one realizes the adage Health is wealth.
Apart from very few diseases that can be congenital, all others are due to some foreign germs or carcinogens or particles which get into the body. The bulk of the diseases in human beings can be traced to what we eat and drink. So, if we are able to control our food intake, it will result in a strong and healthy body. That could be the reason that Franklin advised not to eat so much so as to become dull and lethargic. He advised not to drink so much as to lose one’s sobriety. Being a man of the world, he did not restrict someone completely. It was not very prescriptive saying one should remain in a sugar free diet and have only proteins, or abstain from alcohol completely. Food and drinks should be taken in moderation. With a healthy body and a healthy mind, one will live long and enjoy the gift of life fully.