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Franklin's Virtues

In his Autobiography Benjamin Franklin describes a "... bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection" that he attempted to practice as a young man. He enumerates a charmingly organized (if not exactly orthonormal) set of virtues and offers a spreadsheet-like bookkeeping procedure that he used to track his progress. He admits to falling short, but feels that "... I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it ...". As a fan of both virtue and of lists, I'm obligated to present Ben's admonitions:

  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. Tranquillity
         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's project somehow reminds me numismatically of a Cub Scout token that I once saw, likewise designed to encourage regular practice of virtue. It bore the inscription "Secretly Transfer Me To Your Right Pocket Each Day After Your Good Turn Has Been Done" ... which brings to mind a comment by the Wizard of Oz in the movie of that name: "Back where I come from, there are men who do nothing all day but good deeds. They are called phila-, er, er, philanth-er, good-deed doers!"

And most striking to me is Franklin's use of the word venery in the context of Chastity. I hitherto had only seen it in the context of hunting and of collective nouns, aka "terms of venery", like a pack of dogs, a school of fish, a pride of lions, etc. The venerable word has a veritable venereal meaning!

(cf. FlagranteDelictoPhilosopher (2003-09-19), ...) - ^z - 2008-05-23


(correlates: Ben Franklin on Intellectual Property, NecessityAndSufficiency, ThisSide, ...)