Benjamin Franklin is, certainly, one of the most outstanding figures in the history of America because of his significant contribution to the various aspects and fields of human activity. Being the creator of the United States of America as a country, he had enough time and opportunity to exercise scientific work, make some famous inventions, engage in politics. Besides, Franklin also showed himself as the political theorist who is best known for his support of the slavery abolishment. The American period of Enlightenment had been influenced by his outlooks and contributions to a great extent. Being a passionate lover of writing and printing, he used to write countless articles and letters where he used to express his point of view regarding various concepts. This paper is aimed at depicting Franklin’s point of view on the main virtues which have to be proper to a person. These virtues had been listed and published in his autobiography in the chapter called Thirteen Virtues.
From the position of various investigators of Franklin’s legacy, the article on the virtues he had written is a manifest of how the nation has to look like and the way it is expected to be governed. In case there is a lack of at least one of the virtues described, there will be no possibility to make the people and the society (i.e. the nation) morally developed. According to Franklin, the nation is a conglomerate of people. Thus, if everybody will be trying to achieve the ideal, the society will be enjoying the improvement (Hu 117).
In Benjamin Franklin’s point of view, the virtues which a respected person has to possess are centered around his/her inner world and personal features of the character. In addition to this, the author of the Thirteen Virtues claims that these characteristics had been proper to him, and he used to develop them throughout all his life in order to gain respect, acknowledgement, and help the country become a prosperous and successful place, which is governed by the cleverest people.
In his Autobiography, the author singled out the following virtues which he regarded as the most important ones: temperance, silence, order, humility, chastity, resolution, tranquility, frugality, cleanliness, industry, justice, sincerity, and moderation (Franklin 2). As for the main criteria of selecting the mentioned virtues, the author makes an emphasis that he “included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr’d to” him “as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express’d the extent [he] gave to its meaning” (Franklin 2). In other words, Franklin was a great psychologist and had the ability to see and then assess the human personal traits. This helped him create a list of the things, which would contribute to the personal growth and development. The additional point, which is of a great importance, is that Franklin not only describes each virtue but also makes the reader understand why it is necessary to possess them.
Thus, for instance, temperance presupposes moderateness in the everyday habits; Franklin thinks that everything a person does every day has to bear a moderate nature. If a person consumes drinks, they should not achieve the level of the extreme drunkenness. The same he mentions concerning food (Franklin 2).
One more important point of Franklin’s Thirteen Values is the industry. By this term, the author understood a constant work. Franklin (2) claims that a person has to “lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions”. It means that the constant work which is aimed at the development of personal area presupposes the development in its global meaning: the personal contribution to the country and nation – and prosperity as a consequence (Franklin 2).
Finally, the point of the Thirteen Virtues which is worth of describing is cleanliness. Singling out this term, the author presupposes its direct meaning: the people have to be clean. The cleanliness includes, from the point of view of Franklin, the clean conditions of “body, clothes, or habitation” (Franklin 2). This criterion is of importance since there is a direct link between the physical and moral cleanliness. In other words, if a person is not clean in the physical sense, his thoughts as well as actions and ideas cannot be pure. This state of the absence of purity leads to the disbalance and lack (or the overall absence) of a person’s harmony with himself / herself as well as with other individuals.
Regarding the concept of tranquility, Franklin appeals to the human emotionality and tranquil state that helps to resist the external agents and irritants. The author has a conviction that the more a person can resist, the more stable he/she is. This trait of character is very helpful since it helps to prevent a person from the nervous breakdown, for instance (Franklin 2).
Sincerity is another virtue in Franklin’s point of view. He claims that in order to be sincere in one’s lifestyle, it is necessary to “use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly” (Franklin 2). This means that it is sincerity that contributes to the overall wealth of a person and thus helps him/her communicate with the surrounding world.
Hu (17) claims that the ethical and moral approaches Benjamin Franklin used in his works are focused mainly on the personal perception of the human idealism. Generally, they signify the traits of character possessed by Franklin himself. The author also assumes that if these personal characteristics had been totally implemented into the education area, his ideas would have found much more acknowledgement. In addition to this, such personal features would certainly contribute to the overall improvement of the nation’s prosperity and morale thus creating an ideal society from the point of view of morality.
Regarding the key particularities of Franklin’s autobiography and the contributions he has made, Reinert (65) believes that the morality is one of the fields where Franklin had succeeded the most. Therefore, the legacy he left to the future generations is impossible to underestimate. The same idea is supported by Randall (35) who claims that the Thirteen Virtues had been called to serve as a basis for the foundation of the American nation. Therefore, the Thirteen Virtues have become more important and acknowledged after the slavery abolishment, which was to contribute to the creation of a new nation and establishing the rules which the communities and the society at large were expected to follow in order to live in the most comfortable conditions.
To sum up, the Thirteen Virtues by Benjamin Franklin that were discussed in this paper had been called to perform several functions and bear a certain amount of meanings and messages. On the one hand, they served as the reflection of Franklin’s outlook and personality; on the other hand, they represent a set of ideal personal qualities, which were supposed to be laid into the basis of the creation of a new American nation. Finally, they were to change the people’s lifestyles and outlooks since they aimed at building up a new morality-based society.