The Virtuous Life: Wrap Up

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 1, 2008 · 30 comments

in A Man's Life, On Virtue

For the past 13 weeks, The Art of Manliness has been running a series entitled “The Virtuous Life.” Each week we took a look at each one of Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues and how men could implement them in their life.

Today, “virtue” has taken on soft and effeminate connotations. But originally, the word “virtue” was inextricably connected to what it meant to be a true man. The word comes from the Latin virtus, which in turn is derived from vir, Latin for “manliness.” These days guys excuse their lack of virtue by hiding behind the excuse of being “just a guy.” Men need to do better and strive to improve themselves each day. It’s time to restore the tie between manliness and virtue.

What follows is a summary of the entire series with links to each virtue. We hope you found the series helpful and will revisit it in the future for inspiration.

Let’s get started.

Lessons in Manliness: Benjamin Franklin’s Pursuit of the Virtuous Life

This is the post that kicked off the series. In it we discussed Benjamin Franklin’s goal of moral perfection and how he set about attaining it through living his 13 virtues. Franklin, a printer, had a small book of charts made up that allowed him to keep track of his progress in living the virtues. You can get your own Benjamin Franklin virtue chart here.

Ben admitted that he was never able to live the virtues perfectly, but felt he had become a better and happier man for having made the attempt.

Temperance

Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Franklin began his list of virtues with temperance because it was the virtue that would develop the self-discipline necessary to adhere to the other 12 virtues. Temperance calls for a man to avoid overindulgence in food or drink. By conquering your primal urges for food and drink, you’ll have the confidence to start making improvements in other areas of your life.

Silence

Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; Avoid trifling Conversation.

We live in an age of constant noise and chatter. Etiquette and polite manners have sadly not kept pace with developments in technology and our quickly changing culture. In the virtue of silence we took a look at how a man can practice this virtue in regards to cell phone use, customer service, and the internet. A man must learn when and when not to open his mouth.

Order

Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

If a man wishes to thrive in this world, he must develop order. But the laws of physics tell us that the universe and everything in it tends towards chaos and disorganization. A man must fight against these natural laws and the path of least resistance. Yet taking on complex organization systems will only cause more imbalance in your life. Instead, make small changes by rectifying each slip into disorganization the moment it happens. Do it now.

Resolution

Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Resolution is the firm determination to accomplish what you set out to do. In this post, we looked at the story of Alexander the Great conquering the island of Tyre as an example of manly resolution. From Alexander’s conquest at Tyre, we extracted four ways to help improve your resolve in life.

Frugality

Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

Americans’ savings rate is negative. That’s right, Americans are spending more than they’re saving. With the sluggish economy and soaring gas prices, practicing frugality is quickly coming back into style. While there are countless blogs that go into detail about how to live frugally, it all comes down to one principle: spend less than you earn.

Industry

Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.

Hard work has been the hallmark of every manly man. However, industriousness has gone out of style. People today are looking for get rich quick schemes that will afford them a huge payout with minimum effort. In reality, honest work is a beneficial and refining endeavor that should be embraced, not disdained. In this post we take on the cult of “The Four-Hour Work Week,” illuminate the value of work, and explain how you can be more industrious in your life.

Sincerity

Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

If you frequent blogs or internet message boards, you’ve probably noticed the prevalence of gossip, sarcasm, and lying. Unfortunately, we’re starting to see the demeanor that pervades the internet rub off on people in the real world. In this post we discuss how gossip, sarcasm, and lying can harm you and others and how you can work on avoiding these vices.

Justice

Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

When I look back at the men I admire most, they all had one thing in common: each of them stood up for the little guy. In a society plagued with apathy, what this world needs now more than ever are men who will stand up for justice. Find out how you can develop the virtue of justice in your life as well as areas that you can implement the virtue.

Moderation

Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Are you looking for more fulfillment and satisfaction in your life? Society will tell you that “more” is the answer, that more money, more stuff, more women, and more pleasure are the keys to gaining satisfaction in life. In reality the secret to a fulfilling life is moderation. In this post, we offer five tips on how you can practice moderation in your life and in turn increase your happiness and pleasure.

Cleanliness

Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.

While many would say cleanliness is more a sign of femininity than manliness, the reality is that developing cleanliness develops a man’s attention to detail, discipline, and order. Of all the virtues, the meaning of cleanliness has changed the most over time. In this post, we discuss that history and then offer suggestions on meeting today’s standard of cleanliness in your home, dress, and personal grooming.

Tranquility

Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

The irritations of modern life have left many men hot under the collar. Controlling one’s anger is the mark of a cool and composed gentleman. There are many social and health benefits to controlling your anger. In our discussion on tranquility, we provide 5 suggestions on how men can control their anger and start living more peaceful and tranquil lives.

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.

Of all the virtues, chastity is probably the least popular these days. We live in a society in which that glamorizes and exploits sex. Sex is everywhere, on the internet, on TV and in our magazines. But the ubiquity of sex has only cheapened a once sacred act and turned it into just another consumer good to be selfishly consumed. In this post, we take a look at the harmful effects of today’s “hook-up” culture.

Humility

Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

The typical image of a manly man is one who is supremely confident, bordering or arrogance. Humility doesn’t seem to fit in that manly image. However, some of the greatest men in history have been the most humble. Humility isn’t weak, submissive, or self-abasing. Humility means having the quiet confidence to allow your actions to speak for themselves. After discussing a lesson on how not to be humble from Greek legend Achilles, we discuss five things you can do to be a little more humble.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark June 2, 2008 at 3:02 am

Excellent series. Will be revisiting for review on a regular basis. Fundamental for both men and women. Real gentlemen and real ladies alike should strive to uphold these virtues for they make the world a better place.

2 Jason June 2, 2008 at 4:20 am

Would love to see this as a poster or placard. I’d have this next to my sink so I could review them every single day.

3 Corey - Simple Marriage Project June 2, 2008 at 5:52 am

Great series Brett and Kate! If more people strove to follow even a few of these virtues in greater depth, there would be a noticeable shift in the society.

4 Art Gonzalez June 2, 2008 at 7:38 am

Gentlemen, I really enjoyed this series and enjoyed reading and commenting them with my son. Thanks a lot for this site which is like a beacon of virtue in a world of decadence.

Many blessings,

Art Gonzalez
Check my Squidoo Lens at: Quantum Knights

5 James June 2, 2008 at 8:53 am

Great series.

Just a friendly note, I’ve noticed this a couple places on your site: “Vir” is actually the Latin word for “man,” as in male as opposed to female, not “manliness.” “Hic est vir”…”This is a man.”

I know the effect is similar, and maybe I’m anal about that stuff, but it might be worth noting that, by definition, to be virtuous isn’t being “manly”…being virtuous means being a man.

6 Kate McKay June 2, 2008 at 9:15 am

@James-

While “Vir” is indeed the latin word for man, “Virtus” from whence “virtue” is derived does actually mean “manliness”

From Cambridge.org

“The Latin word for manliness is virtus, from vir, meaning man, and virtus designates the activity and quality associated with the noun from which it is derived; virtus characterizes the ideal behavior of a man.”

From wikipedia:
“According to its etymology the word virtue (Latin virtus) signifies manliness or courage.”

So being virtuous can be equated to being “manly.”

Although admittedly the way we worded the sentence in the intro doesn’t do a good job distinguishing the difference between vir and virtus.

7 michael June 4, 2008 at 9:39 am

Fantastic overview! I especially agree with the “moderation” bit. Less really is more – and Franklin was a great example of that.

As a fellow Ben Franklin enthusiast, I’d like to direct you all to Ben’s Site over at Sampa.com. A tribute to his genius, and a neat little way to transport his legacy into the social networking age.

8 jlbraun June 6, 2008 at 8:46 am

Except Franklin wasn’t any of the things he espoused in word.

He got up late, around 10. He spent money freely. He was a philanderer and a womanizer.

Perhaps his fairly Puritan stances came about from his efforts to reform himself from a fairly dissolute person into something better. Aspire to the man’s words and not so much his life.

9 Rich June 7, 2008 at 7:37 am

jlbraun notes, as I think did Brett, and certainly Franklin himself, that he fell short. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he was *none* of the things he espoused. As to industry for example, I’d take to getting up at 10:00 myself if I thought it would lead to accomplishing half what he did in so many fields of activity.

I discovered Franklin’s list maybe 15 or more years ago in his Autobiography and was inspired to a similar attempt–with limited success I have to admit. Having read the book so long ago, I don’t remember what sources he drew on or what criteria he used for selecting his list. I have wondered if he focused on virtues in which he saw himself as lacking or that seemed particularly difficult for him. That might explain the absence of courage and generosity–to name two qualities long held to be among the chief virtues of men. Perhaps he recognized early that, whatever his faults, he was not timid or stingy by nature. I note too that we don’t find anything on the order of curiosity or creativity here–it’s hard to imagine that Ben ever had to prod himself to improvement in those directions. (Of course, he also lived in a culture that, though rich in both those qualities, didn’t necessarily articulate them explicitly as values.)

All of which suggests that Ben’s list of virtues might be usefully customized. Not lightly or in such a way as to set ourselves easy tasks–that would be useless and contrary to the spirit of the thing. But I think this list and the impulse behind it might be taken, first, as an occasion for an honest self-examination, and then as a model for our own list, perhaps incorporating Ben’s virtues–some, most, or all–and others that seem particularly important to us.

10 Derek Ralston July 18, 2008 at 4:11 pm

Unique series, I’m excited to read through all of these. I like how you are modernizing the virtues… Although wondering if they are all applicable to the present, or if there is too much of an issue of presentism with some of them? Also, it seems as though there’s a lack of passion in his virtues. They are all about moderation.

I think that it should be a virtue for people to be passionate about what they do, and that they can still have balance in this state. Although I’m using presentism here, comparing my present day virtues to those of Ben’s era.

11 vitruz hamzah October 12, 2008 at 7:16 am

gmn sukases y ham

12 US History Teacher September 17, 2009 at 2:30 pm

cool site, we used it in class during our Citizen Ben Blog.
check out student comments @ http://www.delvedigger.com/blog

13 Philly Jim March 15, 2010 at 4:12 am

In the “Industry” heading you mentioned “the cult of the 4-hour work week”. I think are judging the book by the cover.

There is something to be said about slaving away 50-60 hours a week for 40 years and never experiencing anything beyond your normal job. I am 44 years old and I do admit that I have to charter a new direction for my life or 99% of my dreams will only ever be a dream. Franklin is a great role model for making that kind of change.

Creating an alternative income streams that allow you to be free to pursue other more rewarding objectives and a living a rich, dynamic, full and well rounded life is well within the 13 virtues. Franklin traveled the world and had the free time to pursue other interest in his life. He created his own security and income thus created a level of freedom in his life. You work hard be a hamster on the tread mill or you can work harder and create your own freedom.

I live in Philly and live about 7 blocks away from his grave. When ever I am in that area I always stop by and pay my respects. I also live about 100 yard away from one of the sites he supposedly did his famous kite in the lighting storm experiment. Dr. Franklin was a remarkable human being. He didn’t achieve this by following the same path and rules 99.999% of all of the other people in this world.

14 SYEDA RUDAB KAZMI March 25, 2010 at 4:11 am

i have to give presentation on VIRTUOUS LIFE n i got a lot of points to discus in my presentation. Everything written here is really meanfull!!

15 Michael March 31, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I came across this site last year and printed the calendar to try and start my path to a Virtuous Life, but I found I would eventually forget to jot it down, lose the paper, not have a pen, etc. Then recently I found the calendar available as an Iphone/Ipod Touch application. It’s been great!! I pretty much always have my player with me so I’ve been following the calendar much closer now. So if you have a player, check out the application. The other good thing is that it’s free!
Here is a link:
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bens-virtues/id333333687?mt=8

16 Rick November 3, 2012 at 7:59 pm

I’ve been following your blog for years, but just ran across this series. In a similar line of thought is the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards – pastor, theologian, philosopher and president of Princeton. It may be an interesting series at some point. You can find them here: http://www.apuritansmind.com/the-christian-walk/jonathan-edwards-resolutions/

17 deborah January 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm

I’m an 8th grade teacher about to begin teaching American Hstory. I’ll be using Ole Ben’s virtures to help the students become more aware of what constitutes a person of the highest caliber. Mighty important to have goals in these days of teenage angst…and for all of us each day. Thanks!

18 ENF January 30, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Chastity? Wasn’t Ben Franklin an infamous womanizer?

19 Jeremy January 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm

@ENF —

This is a list of virtues that Franklin aspired to. Admittedly, he was not perfect. Having said that, he did have multiple relationships with younger women, but there’s no evidence he ever stepped outside of mere flirtation.

20 ENF January 31, 2013 at 6:29 am

Thanks. At any rate, those are good virtues and a good way to try to improve. The Spiritual Excercises of St. Ignatius reccomends something similar except he reccomends focusing on a single virtue till it becomes habitual and eventually becomes a virtue you possess.

21 Jeremy January 31, 2013 at 9:12 am

@ENF — Interesting, I wasn’t aware of the St. Ignatius Exercises. I’ll have to look ‘em up — thanks!

22 Kate McKay January 31, 2013 at 1:10 pm

While Jeremy is correct that there isn’t any proof Ben’s dalliances with the ladies went beyond flirtations after he was married (although he did have an illegitimate child prior to marriage), I would say the important thing is that it actually wouldn’t matter if he was indeed a womanizer. As we quoted in the first article, made mention of in this one, and had to repeat to folks throughout this series, Franklin himself admitted that he wasn’t perfect, but that at least trying to be virtuous had made him better than he would have been otherwise:

“Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”

If attaining a final result of perfection is a prerequisite to pursuing virtue, then every single person would be barred from the attempt. And if being perfect is required for advocating the virtuous life, then no one could recommend it. Every one falls short to one degree or the other, but the important thing is striving to better oneself.

23 daniel auta October 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm

God help us to develop in area like these.

24 Cameron Ruppe November 17, 2013 at 9:48 am

I really needed this at this time of my life. I have been struggling to be the kind of man that I respect, and I have studied these virtues in the past and will now work on acting on them in my life.

Thanks for a great resource in self-improvement. I stumbled across this website and now will visit frequently. Thanks again

25 jesse March 9, 2014 at 3:19 pm

It would be cool if there was a link to an app for the virtue chart. Don’t forget, there’s more than just apple apps.

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