Franklin on Moral Perfection

It is appropriate that the first reading of the new year is an excerpt from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography in which he describes his method for increasing personal virtue.  Franklin stated his initial aim was to achieve moral perfection as he wished to live “without committing any fault at any time.” However, Franklin discovered this venture was impossible, and personal examination revealed: “much fuller faults than I had imagined.”

Franklin suggests some points consistent with living a good Catholic life: a daily examination of faults and the creation of habit to counteract human nature.  Franklin identified a mere desire to do better was not enough; corrective action required conscious effort through examination and practice.  Franklin suggested beginning the day by considering “what good” you might accomplish and, at the end of the day, considering whether that goal was met.  2023 is as good a year as any to focus on self-improvement, and Franklin’s list and methodology have a lot to offer.  

13 Moral Virtues with Precepts

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 employ’d 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 extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.  
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.  
11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.  
12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.  
13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates. 

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