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Imitate Jesus and Socrates
September 10, 2005 6:38 AM   Subscribe

Temperance. Silence. Order. Resolution. Frugality. Industry. Sincerity. Justice. Moderation. Cleanliness. Chastity. Tranquility. Humility. Benjamin Franklin's 13 virtues. "He committed to giving strict attention to one virtue each week so after 13 weeks he moved through all 13. After 13 weeks he would start the process over again so in one year he would complete the course a total of 4 times."
posted by nthdegx (32 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks nthdegx, this is what I was looking for after seeing the pocketmod post recently.

Pocketmod guys: add a Franklin template!
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:51 AM on September 10, 2005


Ben Franklin's 13 virtues are unique and obviously served him well since he is one of the most respected and most accomplished men in the history of the United States.

This reminded me of a passage in The Cultural Contradiction of Capitalism, where Daniel Bell dismisses Franklin's virtues as "partly cunning, and perhaps even deceit. While Franklin was thrifty and industrious, his success, like that of many a good Yankee, came from his capacity to make influential friends, an uncanny ability to advertise himself, and the charm and wit reflected in his person and his writing." OH SNAP
posted by eddydamascene at 7:21 AM on September 10, 2005


Fun stuff but if you read Ben's Autobiography you will note that when he came to the item about "humility" and imitating Jesus he knew that to do so was to be much less than humble. Solution" give the appearance of humility. Such duplicity or personna moulding seems to work well in America. And his advice about chastity might have caused him a problem or two when in France as our representative to that country.

The check list idea has roots in Cotton Mather and the Puritans. They had constantly to see if they were of the chosen (Elect) or damned...and Fitzgerald has his Gatsby character also keeping a list as a young man to improve himself...
posted by Postroad at 7:21 AM on September 10, 2005


no human is perfect. to my mind, benjamin franklin, without a doubt, is the greatest american. he was way ahead of his time.
posted by brandz at 7:47 AM on September 10, 2005


No doubt he invented "Industry" week to make up for "Chastity" week.
posted by Vallenwood at 7:56 AM on September 10, 2005


A fine set of virtues for anyone to pursue, despite the futility of perfection.
posted by caddis at 8:10 AM on September 10, 2005


That's a neat trick. While you're suffering under the weight of Moderation, you're just coming off your Justice week so you can go on a pickpocketing spree. I bet Tranquility week in the post-Chastity timeline, is the best one.
posted by jessamyn at 8:17 AM on September 10, 2005


partly cunning, and perhaps even deceit

However imperfectly he may have implemented this scheme, the fact that a 20 year old kid, long before Self Help shelves in bookstores, felt the need to invent a system like this says it all.

And he also invented that pincher thing for getting stuff off the top shelf in grocery stores.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:29 AM on September 10, 2005


Reminds me a bit of This
posted by ParisParamus at 8:36 AM on September 10, 2005


I bet everyone has weeks where they intentionally or un-intentionally achieve one of these virtues.

Holding yourself to a rigid schedule seems unnecessary, burdensome, and inefficient.
posted by three blind mice at 8:39 AM on September 10, 2005


Unless that rigid schedule helps you get shit done.
posted by foot at 9:05 AM on September 10, 2005


That's the problem foot.

It makes no sense to be committed to chastity during a week when you have the chance to shag.

It makes no sense to be committed to industry during a week when you're not feeling industrious.

It makes no sense to be committed to temperance when you really feel like a drink. (Well, to my way of thinking, temperance is no virture.)

It is far better to be committed to industry when you are feeling industrious and committed to chastity when you're not getting laid.
posted by three blind mice at 9:20 AM on September 10, 2005


Holding yourself to a rigid schedule seems unnecessary, burdensome, and inefficient.

Not all who wander are lost! (but most of them are)
posted by mecran01 at 9:21 AM on September 10, 2005


I think he added 'virtue' when he was older.

Also, check out the D.H. Lawrence response.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 9:22 AM on September 10, 2005


It also reminded me vaguely of this. This bascially all comes from Aristotle, but people over the ages, finding it difficult to think for themselves, have had to resort to various laundry lists of directives to get there. We're all doomed, always have been.

You must all think for yourselves! - Life of Bria
posted by psmealey at 9:38 AM on September 10, 2005


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posted by psmealey at 9:39 AM on September 10, 2005


It is far better to be committed to industry when you are feeling industrious and committed to chastity when you're not getting laid.

This sounds more like a plan for doing what's convenient than a plan for building character.
posted by Dean King at 9:58 AM on September 10, 2005


Benjamin Franklin: the only president of the United States who was never president of the United States.
--Firesign Theatre
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:17 AM on September 10, 2005


Careful, there seem to be a lot of people confusing temperence and chastity with abstinence and celibacy. They're not the same things and I wouldn't imagine that Franklin saw them as synonyms.

I don't see "industry" as a virtue, but maybe that's because I'm not protestant. I'm no big fan of silence, either.
posted by duck at 10:24 AM on September 10, 2005


I've come to see silence as a fault as well. Making "trifling conversation" is the social glue that binds people together..
posted by mert at 11:10 AM on September 10, 2005


I dunno, seems a little contrived. Coming up with exactly 13 virtues so they fit neatly into a 52 week cycle. Typical enlightenment thinking.
posted by scheptech at 11:45 AM on September 10, 2005


Also, check out the D.H. Lawrence response

Wow, The Jesse Helms, that was great.
I admire him. I admire his sturdy courage first of all, then his sagacity, then his glimpsing into the thunders of electricity, then his common-sense humour. All the qualities of a great man, and never more than a great citizen. Middle-sized, sturdy, snuff-coloured Doctor Franklin, one of the soundest citizens that ever trod or 'used venery'.

I do not like him.

I am a moral animal. But I am not a moral machine. I don't work with a little set of handles or levers. The Temperance- silence-order- resolution-frugality-industry-sincerity -justice- moderation-cleanliness-tranquillity-chastity- humility keyboard is not going to get me going. I'm really not just an automatic piano with a moral Benjamin getting tunes out of me.

And now I, at least, know why I can't stand Benjamin. He tries to take away my wholeness and my dark forest, my freedom. For how can any man be free, without an illimitable background? And Benjamin tries to shove me into a barbed wire paddock and make me grow potatoes or Chicagoes.
posted by spacewaitress at 11:52 AM on September 10, 2005


Careful, there seem to be a lot of people confusing temperence and chastity with abstinence and celibacy. They're not the same things and I wouldn't imagine that Franklin saw them as synonyms.

No kidding! "Chastity: the state or practice of refraining from extramarital, or esp. from all, sexual intercourse"

So one way of interpreting this little process is that for four weeks a year he tried extra hard not to cheat on his wife ;)
posted by carmen at 12:44 PM on September 10, 2005


I'm guessing that for four weeks a year he tried extra hard not to think 'dirty thoughts" or to masturbate, and hopefully also not to cheat on his wife.

Chastity involves abstaining from any sexual activity that is unhealthy (in the broadest sense of the word) or harmful and is generally used to mean "not letting your sexuality control you". I would imagine that at the time fantasizing or masturbating would have been considered unhealthy or harmful (except when done specifically "for health," of course, an exception included in his own definition).

Acutally, now that I think about it, I kind of like the idea of just having one virtue at a time and practicing each for only 4 weeks a year.
posted by duck at 1:02 PM on September 10, 2005


I love Franklin's description of how humility ended up on his list:

My list of virtues contain'd at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride show'd itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing, and rather insolent, of which he convinc'd me by mentioning several instances; I determined endeavouring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list) giving an extensive meaning to the word.

I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it.


If you haven't read Franklin's autobiography, you are missing a real treat. He writes in a very straight forward manner, and tells some embarrasing stories about himself, especially in the first half. You can read it online or get a Dover Thrift edition for a couple bucks.
posted by LarryC at 1:08 PM on September 10, 2005


I think persistant (but not continuous) reflection on aspired-to qualities is really the way to go. Go-betweens (such as religious traditions supposedly encompassing these values) don't seem to work, as people tend to forget the root of teachings and end up going through the motions. (That's why I like Buddhism - keeps sought qualities in mind in a primary way)

It may also force people to consider whether their actions really reflect the qualities they say are important to them. Of course, nothing stands in the way of avid self-delusion.
posted by dreamsign at 3:55 PM on September 10, 2005


Frankling is one of a number of people whose memories suffer greatly for being overestimated. He is also a member of a smaller set of people: Those whose memories suffer, at the same time, for being underestimated.

As for the Lawrence response, it's typical of much of Lawrence in that it ignores the actual subject in preference to Lawrence's self-serving projections upon the subject. Franklin, of all people, was no one to herd anyone into a barbed-wire paddock. If he personally shunned the dark forest, it was because he too greatly enjoyed the pleasures of a metropolitan life. Nor was he a "moral machine" -- Lawrence seems again to project his own frustration onto someone who pointedly did not share it. And who probably got laid a lot more, too.
posted by lodurr at 6:31 PM on September 10, 2005


this country could use a few more benjamin franklins right about now.
posted by brandz at 6:56 PM on September 10, 2005


The 13 Habits of a Highly Effective Person
posted by 27 at 7:46 PM on September 10, 2005


Lousy genius, making us all look like pikers.
*shakes fist at Franklin*

Of course, nothing stands in the way of avid self-delusion.

Woo Hoo!


The man is my hero. The Athenians would probably have loved him enough to kill him.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:03 PM on September 10, 2005


If you have ever participated in training offered by FranklinCovey, you'll know about Franklin's system. It is the foundation of the planning system.

When people who haven't had the training think of FranklinCovey planning, they tend to think of prioritized "to-do" lists. But the heart of the program is actually identifying a set of personalized "governing values" which then inform and infuse your weekly planning process with a sense of who you want to be, not just what you want to do.

To use the language of the course, the aim of weekly planning is to be "a human being, not a 'human doing.'"
posted by russh at 5:27 AM on September 11, 2005


Good post. Thanks.
posted by cribcage at 8:20 AM on September 11, 2005


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