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Rob Stutzman

 

Virtue Mathematics

 

Here will I hold: If there is a Pow'r above us, (And that there is, all Nature cries aloud Thro' all her Works) he must delight in Virtue, And that which he delights in must be happy." -Joseph Addison's Cato

           

As we all know, Benjamin Franklin was a man invested in numerous projects over his long industrious life. Franklin was a man perpetually curious regarding what "made things tick," and how to make them more efficient. So it comes as no surprise that when it came to project of attaining virtue {or rather, negating vice), Franklin tackled it with two of his strongest skill sets- Science and Reason. Naturally what followed was a list of "Names of Virtues with their Precepts" (Franklin 84) which came to be known as Franklin's 13 Virtues; and of course, the almost mathematical chart documenting his pursuit of these virtues, which some-including myself- have come to see as his "virtue calculus."

 

            Franklin uses his reason and his own version of cross-cancellation to tackle the arduous project of eliminating any and all vices from his life.

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 "My intention being to acquire the Habitude of all these Virtues, I jusdg'd it would be well not to distract my Attentions by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time, ... And as the previous Acquisition of some might facilitate the Acquisition of certain others, I arrang'd them with that View as they stand above" (Franklin 86).

           

As a result, Franklin saw the attaining of virtues as a simple calculation; an algebraic expression in which he could systematically tackle a seemingly impossible feat. Although this strategy seems rather simple, it is a perfect example of just how practical Franklin's reasoning was. Although some simply saw this attempt as "simply a complacent bookkeeper who tabulates his good and bad deeds the way a businessman keeps records of liabilities and assets (Anderson 26), I believe that Franklin's interest in virtue was considerably greater than that. For a man who directed his life so much on (what I consider) a rather strong moral compass, I find it hard to believe it be so cold nor simply for show. But that if anything, Franklin's pleasure was more in the chase than the attainment; "Vitrtue, as Benjamin Franklin understands it, is a means, not an end. Happiness is an end, the most desirable of life's good things." (Anderson 24).

 

            Franklin is in fact rather clear on this motivation behind his project. Obviously moral perfection is a task nothing short of daunting, and believing one is capable of this feat would be rather foolish- not to mention prideful. Much like his view on religion, Franklin seemed very adamant that the best way to find happiness with one's self, and with their God, is through the pursuit of leading a virtuous life. And further, that there is no blame in falling short of difficult tasks.

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"As those who aim at perfect Writing by imitating the engraved Copies, tho' they never reach the wish'd Excellence of those Copies, their Hand is mended by the Endeavour, and is tolerable while it continues fair & legible." (Franklin 92).

 

            I believe this sentence perfectly sums up Franklin's view on Virtue. One does not need to be Jesus or Socrates to be virtuous, on simply needs to imitate him. That does not mean turning water into wine, it simply means patterning your actions in the right direction. As Aristotle states in his Nichomachean Ethics, virtue is simply temperance in regards to pursuing virtue. Or in other words, a balance must be attained in order to be truly virtuous, because once that balance is attained, one will be clear of mind to know what virtue is appropriate for different situations.

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"both excessive and defective exercise destroys the strength and similarly drink or food which is above or below a certain amount destroys the health, while that which is proportionate both produces and increases and preserves it. So too is it then in the case of temperance and courage and the other virtues." (Aristotle 4).

 

Although this is most likely meant as an analogy (temper your temperance?), there remains a lot of truth in the matter. One cannot constantly strive to be as frugal, industrious, and temperate as possible. However it is wise to have these traits in mind as you go about your day. By patterning your actions this way, you then create a likelihood that this habit (or ethos) will stick. And whether you are the most orderly or moderate person will not matter as long as you simply make the effort. It was through this search you become at peace with one's self and maker. This process in itself is what leads to this Happiness end game that Franklin idealized.  "Happiness then is something final and self-sufficient, and is the end of action." (Aristotle 2).

 

 

Franklin's 13 Virtues and the Outside World

 

Benjamin Franklin had a serious affect on a large amount of people. As a result these people have tried to affect his legacy. However, his legacy is fairly intact. I have never once come across one person. One man, who was so universally read and renowned that the could have such a broad impact on the world at hand.

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Honestly the most surprising view came form within our own backyard. My man, George Bragues. Comin'out loud and proud sayin' Franklin was a selfish mercenary. "Franklin is not opposed to people internalizing moral principles, but he does not think that the inherent worth of virtuous conduct is more likely to be appreciated if the ultimate payoff is unmistakably emphasized." (Bragues 384). Well that's cool and all. New point of view for sure. But last I checked Franklin was constantly doin' things for the disenfranchised. Like every, single, day. Why do I see this? 1) Bragues is a joke if he sees Franklin in this light. Honestly, the man gave up a Steve Jobs-esque patent to benefit the common good. Go ahead and try to get him on that. Finally in respect to Bragues actually calling out Franklin on public works, please if there is one thing the man had in spades, it was social works programs (libraries, hospitals, schools, need I say more?).

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(I don't know how to fix this.)

Another interesting insight to how Franklin's virtues were viewed- this time outside of the state- lies in 19th century Poland. Yes, apparently a bold man named Mendel Lefin was fed up with this particularly trending sect of Judaism known as Hasidism. Or more specifically, this offshoot of the religion that has more to do with mysticism and whatnot as opposed to actual, orthodox Judaism. His solution? Just straight up robbing Franklin's Virtues for the good of the Polish Jewry. He called it, Moral Accounting. "The creator of this "wonderful invention" was none other than Benjamin Franklin, whose "Rules of Conduct first appeared in 1791 in the second part of his English Autobiography" (Sinkoff 134). Well all I have to say is that if your "virtue calculus" is being used half-way around the world- you must be doing something right.

 

            Our next fun insight to Franklin's widespread influence on the world lies just around the corner in Romania apparently. Thanks to Penn State's own Adrian Marino, we can see how Franklin somehow idealized a revolution in Romania 50 years after his death. Franklin's Way to Wealth evidently gave him much rapport with the aspiring middle-class of 19th century Romania. "Franklin's image was that of a "popular teacher," educator and philosopher of practical morals. The Way To Wealth was translated and assimilated as "the way to happiness." (Marino 132). Apparently this got Franklin through the threshold- even though his works were published in comparably tiny portions. But it was his methods of virtue that really captivated the crowd. "All its elements belong to a typical Enlightenment portrait, to the militant, civic, humanitarian and virtuous "model" characteristic of this doctrine. A strongly "idealized" image, to be sure, but in full agreement with the aspirations of the age." (Marino 134).

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Finally, my man Toshio Watanabe gives us a peek into how the Japanese culture views Franklin's pursuit of virtue. "For better or worse, rightly or wrongly, Bejamin Franklin has been identified with the American national character. 

The perfect interlude for the rockin' roller coaster which is to ensue. "Nothing has ever given me a sense of dejection so strong as his Autobiography... I find myself disgusted with seeing one them (so-called great men) so proudly and exasperatingly holding up to us his paradigm of virtues...(after listing his 13 virtues) "all these are nothing but obscene words to us;... I must confess, in the first place that I detest Franklin and his autobiography... Franklin's brazen-faced self-assertion, his lack of concern for his reader's feelings, his obsessive fanaticism, in short what I cannot help detecting as ugliness lying behind his merits..." (Watanabe 37).

 

This is the warm sentiments of one students informative essay which I have so neatly paraphrased. I tried to break it down the best I can, but essentially- the whole thing runs like that song from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. 

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No seriously. The whole time I was reading this thing I just kept hearing "you nauseate me Mr. Franklin" over and over in my head. The best apart about this is that apparently, he most neatly sums up the opinions of his generation. "Undoubtedly, Franklin's basic character and his way of life as revealed in his Autobiography run counter to the life-view or sense of values of the younger generation of Japan." (Watanabe 38). Never would have guessed that one. However, I think what confuses me even more is how Watanabe tried to make Franklin seem like a better guy to his students. Which he apparently attempted to do by telling him about his "intrigues with low women" and how "he has at least one illegitimate child". I will obviously never understand the Japanese.

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(Apparently this is the picture that sums up their disdain for the Frankman)


In summation, of this blog, I have learned much of Franklin's influence across the world. He fueled a nationalistic revolution in Romania, and put out a religious one in Poland. He has been seen as a great virtuous man, and a mercenary (and probably something much worse that did not make it into Watanabe's piece).  All and all I guess it's a sort of love-hate worldwide relationship with Franklin. The one thing they all have in common is their respect for the man, which is predominately for the same reason (I really don't understand the Japanese).

 

 

 

WWBFD

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            And now its time for what you have all been waiting for- WWBFD. And no, that does not stand for What Would Benjamin Forrest Do. It stands for What Would Benjamin Franklin Do; namely if he were literally here now, as opposed to the imposters ramblin' around Philly like The King in Vegas. After much thought on how Franklin would view and/or adjust to this entirely different culture-or more precisely- the college-aged-generation.

 

            My conclusion... I was looking at the situation the wrong way. Obviously, Franklin's virtues are timeless. Why? Because virtue isn't something that can be classified- it is what is. I tried to stick Franklin in a different time to gain insight into the man's virtuous thought process. When I should be doing what he did. Taking these virtues and interjecting them into my life; seeing how Franklin's 13 virtues can benefit our society today; as opposed to putting the focus on someone else.

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            Franklin's 13 Virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. This is a solid base. However, I believe it to be almost watered down. Perhaps this is what some of the "nay-sayers" of Franklin are talking about. This sort of "doing-to-say-I-do, much like the argument regarding Franklin and his twilight slavery crusade; "...Franklin as having brought {antislavery} into the marketplace of ideas only to leave it there." (Werner 296). Perhaps this is why Franklin doubles up on certain morals as he does. moderation vs. temperance; resolution vs. industry; and whatever the hell sincerity and tranquility are getting at- that just sounds like a haiku.

 

After sitting here pondering for so long about how Benjamin Franklin would find our generation lazy, I wonder, why? According to his daily schedule he awakes at five. Possibly one hour earlier than us. Works an 8 to 5 as opposed to a 9 to 5. But as anyone will tell you, work never ends when you clock out. So if anything Franklin was a pro at leaving his work at the office. So here we are looking at a traffic jam straight up ahead, are "Franklin's words slyly [anticipating] the pained and prickly "Countenances" of friends who might be prone to take offense at conspicuous displays of benevolence."(Anderson 28). I have found this as a stark possibility. In literally any debate I could have found myself in, I would have argued on behalf of Franklin; and yet here I am, debating the sincerity in his writings. This is simply because I feel like Franklin would have easily recognized the similarity between those examples I laid out earlier; any deviance from that not only would be a waste of time, but would go in violation of silence and sincerity.

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So this is how I find our situation. We have been pondering morality, and its validity in our lives. But apart from me criticizing a great American Hero's version (which I never thought would happen) someone needs to lay down the law. So here we are... WWRSD. And no, that doesn't stand for What Would Rob Stutzman Do. Oh wait, yes it does. I got 4. 4 virtues to live your life on. We don't need to pad the stats; just four simple virtues to act as a GPS through life. You know. Not everyone trust's it; but if its there I'm going to look at it. Moderation, Honesty, Resolution, oh wait that's it. Simple as that, Benny Frank's 13 Virtues cut into a fourth- and just as lethal.

 

Honestly? Honesty should be the most straightforward of the bunch. Why aren't we honest anymore? I feel like this is an area we can improve on. The interesting part is this solely addresses the justice virtue. Well I guess you could throw chastity in there, but I feel that is a topic that can be discussed elsewhere. So that should show you how efficient I am in my own "Virtuous Calculus". Next we move on to Resolution. This Virtue encompasses order and industry. By being resolved to one's actions, it is necessary to ORDER the feat in front of you, to be INDUSTRIOUS in accomplishing this feat through your own skill set, and finally having the RESOLUTION to do this every, single, day. Naturally now we move on to moderation.

 

Although I believe resolution to be the virtue most sorely missed in our generation, moderation is the most important. Without it we cannot truly achieve this state of virtuousness I have so cleanly laid out.  Moderation is, in effect, the key behind all 13 virtues. And for good reason. As I have said above, it is solely in the pursuit of virtue that leads one in the right path. Franklin without doubt subscribed to this belief in the many random Ancient Greek quotations I have supplied. All and all, our generation needs more moderation. Myself included. Without this attribute we are unable to properly get our stuff together.  Moderation it's a son-of-a-bitch; yet necessary. Without it, we cannot properly adjust our lives to get things done. Case and point, measures need to be set to prevent us from violating my four simple virtues.

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The only road towards virtuousness today is through practicing these virtues. Without them we are left without motivation or drive to improve ourselves. It is necessary and proper for us to formulate our characters around a strong base. Without this base we are left hopeless. Which is why we need something to guide us through life. Without a north star we cannot acclimate ourselves to any time or any climate, we are left helpless- up shit's creek. Perhaps this is what sets so many people back today, we lack that simple judgment; seeing the world for what it is- and capitalizing on it. Without that drive, that motive, people would not be able to succeed, Benjamin Franklin could not exceed- we cannot exceed. Why? Because values are timeless.

 

            

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