One of the most famous men in American history, Benjamin Franklin lived by a logical, straightforward yet somewhat complex series of moral standards. In his autobiography, he mentions 13 virtues by which he lived his life, and encouraged future generations to do the same in the hopes that we might reap the benefits that he did from practicing these pragmatic, all-around-decent concepts in daily life.

Key to his success was that, while there were thirteen of these concepts to apply in life, he only worked on one of them per week. He left the others to just happen “automatically” as they may. It sounds like Franklin’s recipe toward personal improvement and empowerment was a “13-step program” (slight joke there at “12-step program(s)”) where you pick one virtue and try to keep it top of your mind for a week, complying with it in everything you do. When Sunday (or Monday, however you want to mark your weeks) rolls around, pick another. Perhaps one should cycle through them sequentially to prevent fixation on a specific few, neglecting much-needed improvement in other areas.

Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues

  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, clothes, 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.”

Coming from a scientific, 21st-Century perspective, I don’t totally agree with all of these in the fullness of what they might imply, but it’s a good list that can mean different things - and have different value - to different people.

Speaking of these virtues, Franklin encourages future generations to practice them as well:

“I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”

Thank you, Dr. Franklin, for your wisdom that echoes across the centuries.


(Source: Benjamin Franklin - Wikipedia)