Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues

The story I heard was that Ben Franklin, like most young men, was not necessarily destined for greatness, but at age 20 he resolved to better himself – and came up with 13 ‘virtues’ that he attempted to follow the rest of his life.

it’s a good idea – and it worked for him well enough.

Here they are – stolen straight from Wikipedia – I think some form of this might also help me reach my goals. Think of it as a guest post.

Thirteen Virtues

Franklin sought to cultivate his character by a plan of thirteen virtues, which he developed at age 20 (in 1726) and continued to practice in some form for the rest of his life. His autobiography lists his thirteen virtues as:

  1. “Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
  2. “Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
  3. “Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
  4. “Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
  5. “Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
  6. “Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
  7. “Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
  8. “Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
  9. “Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
  10. “Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”
  11. “Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
  12. “Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
  13. “Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”

Franklin did not try to work on them all at once. Instead, he would work on one and only one each week “leaving all others to their ordinary chance”. While Franklin did not live completely by his virtues and by his own admission, he fell short of them many times, he believed the attempt made him a better man contributing greatly to his success and happiness, which is why in his autobiography, he devoted more pages to this plan than to any other single point; in his autobiography Franklin wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”

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5 thoughts on “Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues

  1. Pretty good list, it seems. I’m curious about his working on one for each week – I guess he rotated through them every thirteen weeks for the rest of his life??? I think part of why I get overwhelmed is because I don’t focus and prioritize like that – I want to meet all of my resolutions, right now!

    • Things moved a little slower for Franklin. Does this still apply to us? I don’t think so. If Franklin were here, I think he’d agree we need to update his rules for the 21st century – but how? The concept is sound, but there needs to be a new take on them – I think. That’s what I struggle with. What would those changes be?

      Any ideas?

      • I can’t really think of any I would change. I think some of the illness of society today is that we have gotten away from many of these virtues, such as silence, order, and humility. I wonder if it’s even harder now to focus on these virtues than in his days because you would have to swim that much harder against the current of mainstream culture. Things like chastity were probably more expected back then – today you would just be considered a prude by most people.

        • Franklin’s chastity is in great doubt by history. Perhaps it was more his attempt at these things, and his failures, and his resolve to try again, that was the secret of his success. He saw his own flaws, tried to fix them.Failed. Tried again. Failed. Tried again. Over and over.

          Perhaps it is not his perfection but his LACK of perfection – his failing, but not giving up – of trying again and again and never giving up on these goals for 60 years – that inspires me.

  2. Yes, I had to laugh when I saw chastity as one of the virtues. But it also made me pause. I can’t say I know a lot about Franklin, but from what I’ve heard and read, it didn’t even sound like he was struggling to be more chaste, it sounded more like a man not even trying! So I hope he didn’t just make the list and leave it at that…sort of like my yearly resolutions that fizzle pretty quickly. But one can never know another’s inner struggles; maybe without his list, Franklin would have been even more of a player! And maybe without my resolutions I would never eat anything but carbs!

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