American in Spain

Moderation Proof

August 23, 2006

How many times have you heard someone say, "Moderation in all things", "Take everything in moderation", or "X is fine, but in moderation"? Replace X with anything you like: food, alcohol, exercise, sleep, etc. I will now prove to you why this statement is completely meaningless. This statement is what logicians call a tautology. It is obviously true, and therefore saying it is of no value. I will be using some logical syntax, but even if you ignore the equations and can reason a little bit with the text, you should understand.

Here is our statement:

moderation ⇔ good

Let us look at the definition of moderation:

moderation: n. the avoidance of excess or extremes.

In short, it means "not too much nor too little".

¬(too-much ∨ too-little) ⇔ good

Okay, so what does "too much" mean?

too much: an intolerable, impossible, or exhausting situation or experience : the effort proved too much for her.

So X is "too much" right when having more X becomes bad, a threshold. Not surprisingly, the same applies in reverse for "too little". X is "too little" right when having less of X becomes bad.

¬(bad ∨ bad) ⇔ good

We consolidate the identical disjunction.

¬bad ⇔ good

Do I really need to explain this step?

good ⇔ good


Add to this the fact that the too-much and too-little thresholds are completely arbitrary and subjective and, therefore, completely different for each person. What I consider to be too much work / sex / fishing / alcohol / television / marijuana / food / running / salt / sleep / volume is not going to be what you consider to be too much.

My point is simply this: the next time the words "in moderation" are about to come out of your mouth in relation to quantity of consumption or activity, stop and ask yourself if a statement as silly as "What's bad isn't good!" would enhance the conversation.

Eschew tautologies.