CliffsNotes on Franklin's Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

By Merrill Maguire Skaggs | Go to book overview

Section 9

Summary
“It was about this time I conceiv’d the bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection,” Franklin writes. “As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other.” He soon found the task “of more Difficulty than I had imagined,” but decided that one’s bad deeds resulted from bad habits, and that with concentration one could substitute good habits for the bad ones. He decided that 13 virtues were either necessary or desirable, arranged them so that the first acquired could help in assimilating the second, and so on:
1. TEMPERANCE: Eat not to Dulness. 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 Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS: Tolerate no Uncleanliness in Body, Clothes, 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 Dulness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.
13. HUMILITY: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Franklin allotted himself one week to acquire each new virtue. And in order to see his progress, he made a record book and gave himself a black mark each time he failed to exhibit a virtue on which he was working. He also made a schedule for his day, allotting seven hours for sleep, eight for work, and nine for planning, reviewing, reflecting, eating, relaxing, and reading. Though he found that he was “fuller of Faults than [he] had imagined,” Franklin also found that he “had the Satisfaction of seeing them diminish.” He was never good at order or humility; the latter, in fact, had been added somewhat later than the others because a friend convinced him that he was justly suspected of being proud. He later learned that “there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue” as pride; he even wondered, had he conquered pride, whether he wouldn’t have been proud of his humility. But he carefully simulated the appearance of humility, if not the reality of it. And though he never attained perfection, he still felt better and happier from having attempted it. He felt, in fact, that all his past blessings of health, prosperity, reputation and popularity were due to these efforts.


Analysis

Franklin’s plan to attain perfection astonishes the modern reader for many reasons, among them the assumptions on which such a plan was based. For our author assumed not only that man is perfectible but also that the perfecting can be completed fairly quickly. Franklin assumed that man is reasonable, that through his reason he can control himself, and that he can resolve, at a given moment, to unlearn “bad habits” of thought and action and substitute good ones. He also assumed that what one should do in any given situation, the kind of action “good habits” would dictate, would be easy to identify.

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CliffsNotes on Franklin's Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Table of Contents 1
  • Book Summary 2
  • About the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin 3
  • Character List 8
  • Summary and Analysis 10
  • Section 1 11
  • Section 2 12
  • Section 3 14
  • Section 4 16
  • Section 5 18
  • Section 6 20
  • Section 7 22
  • Section 8 24
  • Section 9 25
  • Section 10 27
  • Section 11 29
  • Section 12 31
  • Section 13 33
  • Section 14 35
  • Section 15 36
  • Section 16 38
  • Section 17 40
  • Section 18 41
  • Critical Essays 42
  • Franklin’s Writing Style 43
  • Franklin’s Humor 44
  • Franklin and the American Dream 45
  • Franklin and the Spirit of Capitalism 46
  • Critical Opinions of the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin 47
  • Study Help 49
  • Quiz 50
  • Essay Questions 51
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