Thursday, September 24, 2009

Perfection in Thirteen Steps

Benjamin Franklin may be the closest we get to a national saint, which is a little strange, because he wasn't all that saintly. He WAS, however, immensely likeable and his vast literary output is the first widely-read American literature that wasn't primarily religious.

Another of Locke's disciples, Franklin decided that perfection is attainable, and he set out to attain it. In his characteristic fashion, what he did was create a list of virtues and then a weekly schedule by which he practiced them. If he weren't Ben Franklin, we might think he was OCD.

Anyway, if you're determined to achieve moral perfection, here's Ben's list. Devote a week to each one, in turn, until they become habits. Watch out, though. Ben warns that if you have any success at all, you will screw up number 13 and be proud of your humility.

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 employed 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.


  1. I wonder if at the end of his life he ever seriously questioned his belief that perfection is attainable. In my opinion, anyone who set up that many virtues and tried to practice them daily and every afternoon wrote down his progress would drive himself insane and drive himself to a new belief.

  2. Franklin said in his *Autobiography*, that he realized he couldn't attain perfection, but he felt he'd benefitted from the attempt. He left it open as to whether or not other people could. I think we should try the experiment.

  3. wait wait wait... I thought there was absolutely nothing after chastity... as in I learned that in English Macc and it was always a big joke. Was I lied to all these years?

  4. No, no. Franklin added humility later, after a friend of his said he was arrogant to a fault. It's in his autobiography, and I think to tell a story like that on yourself is kind of humble.

  5. I think that Franklins list is a little crazy, but I like to progress it’s trying to make. God knows I could never come anywhere close to entire list, but if I were to choose a few and try to accomplish those, I don’t think it would be that bad of an idea. Lets see, if I was going to choose a few they would be: Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness. I feel that these three virtues are good ones and not too crazy to accomplish. I think that these virtues should be important to everyone and would be good for all to follow.

  6. After reading this post again, it got me thinking. He began practicing each virtue with the intention of attaining perfection. Yet, he admits if you have any success at all you will be proud and get 13 completely wrong. You see even Ben knew that total perfection is never really attainable. And thank goodness for that, this world would be a dull place! Btw, comparing Jesus and Socrates in the humility virtue cracks me up every time :)

  7. I think Ben Franklin is one of the most interesting people of all time. Being an inventor, author and taking on many other roles, he had a lasting impact on our country and many others. I find his silence virtue to have the most lasting impact. He makes a good point when saying to keep away from trifling conversation, and only speak if it's the right time and situation.

  8. I like how Ben Franklin strived for prefection even if it is unattainable. However, his list was a little off the wall. I also liked how he said you should stay away from trifiling conversation, and to only speak in the right situations.
    -Katy Simpkins