14 December 2004
Benjamin Franklin, while still a young man recently transplanted to
Philadelphia, set about a task of self-improvement. He approached the
project as he did everything else: with the attitude of an empiricist,
experimenting, observing, modifying the approach, though the object of his
observation was his own virtue. He came to realize that his most useful tool
in this endeavor was not the strength of will, which failed him repeatedly,
but rather the gradual formation of new habits, via the persistent
repetition of his resolve, combined with the organization and discipline of
a Virtues Notebook. He began with temperance,
because, he reasoned, intoxication interferes with all other
discipline. He deferred for the sake of accumulated strength those
that seemed most difficult for his temperament: tranquility,
chastity and humility.
Here is his famous list of precepts:
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business
have its time.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i. e., waste nothing.
Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak,
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your
Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness,
weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
from the Autobiography