Ben Franklin sought to cultivate his character by a plan of 13 virtues, which he developed at age 20 (in 1726), and continued to practice in some form for the rest of his life.
His autobiography lists his 13 virtues as:
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, cloaths (sic), 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.
Franklin didn’t try to work on them all at once. Instead, he would work on one and only one each week, leaving all others to their ordinary chance. While Ben did not live completely by his virtues, and by his own admission fell short of them many times, he believed the attempt at living them made him a better man. He believed these virtues contributed greatly to his success and happiness.
In his autobiography, Franklin listed and wrote about the virtues, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”
His list is certainly no be-all end-all list of virtuous characteristics, BUT it gets you thinking about yourself and your virtues. Impossible not to.
Not wanting to in any way infringe on the genius of what was Ben Franklin, I’d like to offer some of today’s characteristics of virtue and add to Ben’s list.