Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Benjamin Franklin.
Image: source.

I admire Benjamin Franklin for many reasons. But I never knew that in 1726, at the age of 20, while on an 80-day ocean voyage from London back to Philadelphia, Franklin developed a “Plan” for regulating his future conduct. He was partially motivated by Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” He followed his Plan he “pretty faithfully” even to the age of 79 when he finally revealed it in his writings. After he wrote about it, he was even more determined to stick with The Plan for his remaining days because of the happiness he had enjoyed thus far by following it.

Benjamin Franklin’s “Plan” was made up of 13 virtues, each with short descriptions:

  1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness and 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. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.
  11. 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.
  12. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

What do you think of Franklin’s Plan, amigos bonitos? Do you think you could live by these standdards? Would you want to try to live by these standards?


  1. #1 G Barnett
    November 30, 2006

    I’m intrigued by how he worded #11, especially with the “but for health” bit. Considering just how prolific he was with the “offspring” part, one might hazard that he believed in staying quite healthy…. 🙂

    Overall, it’s a rather good set of goals for oneself, I think. There’s a couple that I’d say would prove troublesome for me, but the rest seem to be not so difficult to shoot for.

  2. #2 gladio
    November 30, 2006

    A solid guide to life based on ethics more than religion, I think.

  3. #3 speedwell
    November 30, 2006

    I’m absolutely charmed by them and would carry them in my wallet or keep them posted on my wall, for sure.

    “Venery” for mental health or the health of your marriage, surely, would be covered?

    Jesus as a role model for humility? Mister Turn-the-Temple-Upside-Down, Let-Your-Flunkies-Steal-Grain, Diss-the-Authorities, Claim-To-Be-the-Chosen-King humble? No way. Socrates I can go with, I guess. 🙂 I’m not so sure humility even is a virtue, anyway; I think I could do quite without it and keep the remaining 12.

    In humility’s place, I might substitute something like… what’s a good word to describe knowing not to back down when you know you’re thinking, saying, and doing the right thing? Fortitude?

  4. #4 speedwell
    November 30, 2006

    Actually, now that I think of it, Franklin did cover all of the four “cardinal virtues” (Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance) except fortitude. I wonder if this was not due to fighting a certain tendency in himself to be a bit too forthright and argumentative. I can identify with that… though I’ve heard it said that for everyone who needs to be taken down a peg, there’s someone who needs to learn to stand on his own feet.

  5. #5 CanuckRob
    November 30, 2006

    Reminescent of the Buddhist Eight Fold Way

  6. #6 llewelly
    November 30, 2006

    # Temperance: Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.

    Uh, if drinking elevated Franklin, I would like to know what he was drinking!

  7. #7 grigory
    November 30, 2006

    “Avoid trifling conversation.”

    “Cut off all unnecessary actions.”

    What percentage of Scienceblogs would Ben Franklin have avoided based on these precepts?

  8. #8 Joshua
    November 30, 2006

    llewelly: Had they invented absinthe yet? 😉

    I, too, love the wording in #11. Not only “but for health”, but also the use of “venery”. It shares the same root as the Latin “venator” for “hunter”. Oh, Benny, that dog!

  9. #9 Tyler DiPietro
    November 30, 2006

    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.

    We can just safely remember that contraception did not exist in Ben Franklin’s day. If it did he would have considered it a godsend.

  10. #10 Chuck
    November 30, 2006

    Actually the root of venery is Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Cousins of the word: venerate and venereal. I like the idea, though.

  11. #11 John McKay
    November 30, 2006

    I think I would have worded Tranquility to balance out Industry. “Be always employed in something useful” is one of the two main impulses behind the rat race (the other being envy). I’m more of a “everything in moderation, including moderation” person.

    Tyler, used condoms have been found dating back to, at least, the English Civil War, a century before Franklin.

  12. #12 MarkP
    November 30, 2006

    Franklin was brilliant. Anyone who’s rules for living don’t sound completely dated after 200+ years deserves respect. I recall a writing of his once too that described the futility of insisting on perfect adherence to his rules. So I guess we can give him sideways credit for “there is nothing wrong with sobriety in moderation”.

  13. #13 boojieboy
    December 1, 2006

    I think he used “elevation” as in “getting high”

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