Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues

Posted by Kurt Daradics on February 14, 2009

Benjamin Franklin's Thirteen Virtues

by Ron Kurtus (revised 7 February 2005)

Around 1730, while in his late 20s, Benjamin Franklin listed thirteen virtues that he felt were an important guide for living. These virtues consisted of temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. These can be divided into virtues related to personal behavior and those related to social character traits. Franklin tried to follow these guides in his life, although he often went astray. These thirteen virtues may be worthwhile to consider following in your own life.

Questions you may have are:

  • What are the thirteen virtues?
  • What did Franklin do with these virtues?
  • Can you follow them?

Virtues

We have divided Franklin's thirteen virtues into personal and social character traits.

Personal

The eight personal virtues relate to your attitudes toward activities and their challenges. Good personal character traits will better your chances of success in achieving your goals.

Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Social

These five social virtues that Franklin stated concern your attitudes toward people with whom you have dealings. Good social character traits result in other people wanting to do business with you or to have relationships with you.

Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

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.

Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Franklin's application

Ben Franklin tried to lead his life following these virtues. He placed each one of the virtues on a separate page in a small book that he kept with him for most of his life. He would evaluate his performance with regard to each of them on a daily basis. He would also select one of the virtues to focus on for full week.

Franklin often emphasized these virtues in his Poor Richard's Almanack. Later, In a letter to his son William, he gave the list of virtues, recommending that William follow them too.

Although Franklin tried to follow them himself, he sometimes went astray from his good intentions. For example, in his Almanack, Poor Richard (Franklin) gave the advice:

"Be temperate in wine, in eating, girls, and cloth, or the Gout will seize you and plague you both."

Meanwhile, Franklin was known to relished his food, womanize and sometimes dress to impress people. His food and wine-drinking habits led him to be plagued with the gout for much of his life. But still, the positive intentions were there.

Following virtues

The list of 13 virtues is certainly an admirable guide to try to follow.

Trying to be virtuous person is what is necessary. But realize that no one is perfect. To some extent, these thirteen virtues imply that you must be extremely diligent and hardworking. But also remember the saying in Poor Richard's Almanack that "all work and no play make John a dull boy."

In conclusion

When in his late 20s, Benjamin Franklin listed thirteen virtues that he felt were an important guide for living. These virtues can be divided into those related to personal behavior (temperance, order, resolution, frugality, moderation, industry, cleanliness and tranquility) and those related to social character traits (sincerity, justice, silence, chastity and humility). Franklin tried to follow these guides in his life, although he often went astray. These virtues may be worthwhile to consider following in your own life.