Self-restraint Equals Freedom, According to Ben Franklin In 1771, Ben Franklin began writing his Autobiography to his Son. In Franklin’s Autobiography, he explains to his son, on several different occasions, morality, virtues, and understanding the rules in which God intended us to follow to make us better humans. In this essay, I will point out incidents where Ben Franklin was showing his son instances of morality and virtues to show him how self-restraint gives you freedom. Then I will give my opinion and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these morals and virtues that Franklin has expressed.
Ben Franklin states in his autobiography that we should be “Free, as being, by the general practice and habit of the virtues, free from the dominion of vice” (95). Franklin talks of his best friend John Collins, a Clerk at the Post Office, and how his vice is drinking of alcohol and gaming (34). Franklin was very upset to learn of his childhood friends difficulty with drinking and gaming. He had hoped that they would be able to work together since Collins had a wealth of knowledge from reading and his “pretty” collection of books.
Franklin wanted to help Collins, even wanted to take him with him to see the Governor of New York, but Collins was too drunk. Franklin had to support Collins, including paying his rent. Finally, Franklin let Collins know that he would have to take care of himself, and Collins, after an argument with Franklin, which ended up with Collins being thrown in a river by Franklin, decided to go to Barbados, never to be heard from again. Franklin also reasons with the printers to stop their vice, their custom of drinking at work.
He tries reasoning with them and tries to convince them “that the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or flour of the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread; and therefore, if he would eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer” (46). He explains to them that having good moral character and good virtues is what he encourages these men to do by pointing it out to them how possible it is to be virtuous, and encouraged them to make themselves better men by following the virtues that he follows.
Ben Franklin stated in order to be free we should practice industry and frugality, and be free from debt (95). Franklin practiced this on a daily basis. He states that “I took care not only to be in reality industrious and frugal, but to avoid all appearances to the contrary” (66). He believed that by dressing plainly, staying out of “places of idle diversion” (66), living within your means, and following the same schedule day in and day out was beneficial to his success. Franklin was the first to admit he was not perfect.
He struggled with the virtue of Order, and when he got frustrated with the perfection of this virtue, he was ready to admit that he had a faulty character in that respect, and says “for something, that pretended to be reason, was every now and then suggesting to me that such extreme nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals, which, if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a perfect character might be attended with the inconvenience of being envied and hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance” (89).
He does give himself a pat on the back for giving it his best effort and says he is a better man for trying. In our every day lives, we struggle with self-restraint. We often wonder why can’t we have this or that whenever or where ever we want it. We have to use self-restraint every day in order to keep our lives in order. If we were to indulge in everything we wanted, we would be prisoners to others. People would hold what we wanted and manipulate us into doing things we didn’t want to do just so that we can have that one thing that we want.
We have to exercise self-restraint every day or the world would be total chaos. For instance, if we didn’t have any money and we had no self-restraint, nothing would be stopping us from going to a bank and robbing it and get bags of money. It sounds some what contradictory, but if we follow the rules we will be free. Franklin’s thinking relating to virtues is very thorough and I believe can still be incorporated in today’s world. I believe that if you were to follow the virtues that Franklin has set out, you will have attained moral conduct.
Are the virtues broad enough to involve every human being? Do following these virtues mean that you have self-restraint? Do these virtues give you freedom? Temperance defined is moderation in action, thought or feeling. Franklin applied temperance in a way to let a man know not to overindulge on drinking and eating. This virtue definitely requires self-restraint. It is also the very first virtue that Franklin wrote. I believe he wrote temperance first because if you can take control of what you eat and drink, it will give you the confidence to take on other parts of your life.
Franklin’s second virtue, silence, “speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation” (83); is a challenge for me, and I’m sure many others. In today’s society this would be a difficult virtue for most to adhere to. The very First Amendment of our Constitution gives us Freedom of Speech, to speak freely and openly. Keeping silent in this day and age is almost impossible, unless you are a shy, lifeless individual. I do believe that this virtue definitely requires self-restraint, but I do not believe that it will give you freedom if you keep quiet.
We need to respectfully speak up for what we want and believe in. In explaining the virtue of order, Franklin states, “Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time” (83). The laws of physics tell us that the universe and everything in it leans towards chaos and disorganization. It is a difficult task to keep order. If everything is in its place it makes life easier to navigate, not so many obstacles. The virtue of order takes more self-discipline than self-restraint. “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve” (83).
Resolution is the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones. Simplifying your life. Making your life better. You say your going to do something and you do it! This virtue definitely takes some self-discipline/restraint because if you don’t follow through with your resolution, the new simpler way you have resolved will not happen. The virtue of frugality according to Franklin means “make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i. e. , waste nothing” (83). Spend less than you earn. That is what this virtue comes down to. We as Americans use credit for everything, but if you don’t have the money, don’t spend it.
We are learning how to waste less by recycling, making our cars more efficient and even growing our own foods to save money at the grocery store. The self-restraint needed for this virtue is tremendous. Not enough Americans practice frugality. Industry seemed to be a favorite virtue of Franklins. “Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions” (83). People today are looking for get rich quick schemes that will give them huge payouts with minimum effort. Working hard, has become an obstacle, people try to avoid it. This virtue requires a lot of self-discipline.
It requires you to be constantly busy, always doing something that will benefit yourself or someone else. If you work hard you will be rewarded, proven from Ben Franklin’s time to today. “Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly” (83). In today’s world, there is a lot of insincerity. The internet, texting, TV, movies, it’s all around us. This virtue also goes back to the virtue of Silence. “If you speak, speak accordingly. ” As parents, we try to teach our children to be respectful and sincere, but the minute they leave our arms, the world outside will try to corrupt them.
We need to teach our children, (and remind ourselves), that sincerity will prevail in any situation. This virtue of sincerity requires self-restraint/discipline in order to keep ourselves kind and open minded. Franklin’s virtue of Justice, “Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty” (83) was a virtue he lived by on a daily basis. Developing the virtue of Justice in your life can make a big difference on someone else’s life. Stand up for the little people, make a difference. Help the children in the world that are being left behind and not cared for.
Help one another, don’t hurt each other. This virtue needs to be instilled on many more people. Too many people are scared, or too selfish to stand up for others. I don’t believe this virtue takes self-restraint/discipline, I believe you either have it in you or you don’t. You either are doing right or you are doing wrong. Society will tell you that “more” is the answer, that more money, more stuff, more women/men, and more pleasure are the keys to gaining satisfaction in life. In reality the secret to a fulfilling life is moderation. “Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve” (83).
This virtue, moderation, definitely takes a tremendous amount of self-restraint/discipline. Moderation leads us back to virtue number one, Temperance. “Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation” (84). There is a standard of cleanliness today for your home, dress, and personal grooming. More people could benefit from implementing this virtue. This virtue really ties into a few other virtues, e. g. Order, and Frugality. If we kept our homes, ourselves and the world around us clean, we might not have so many issues with the environment. Self-restraint/discipline is needed for Franklin’s cleanliness virtue.
Ben Franklin says about the virtue of tranquility, “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable” (84). There are many social and health benefits to controlling your anger. Keeping your cool also makes the world around you a better place. It gives great examples to our children. If more people took notice of this virtue of tranquility, it would most certainly make the world a better place. Self-restraint is completely needed with Franklin’s virtue of tranquility. Of all the virtues, chastity is probably the least popular these days. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation” (84). We live in a society that glamorizes and exploits sex. Sex is everywhere, on the internet, on TV and in our magazines. The omnipresence of sex has only cheapened a once sacred act and turned it into just another consumer good to be selfishly consumed. Self-restraint should be included in the definition of Chastity! Some of the greatest men in history have been the most humble. “Imitate Jesus and Socrates” (84). Humility isn’t weak, submissive, or self-loathing.
Humility means having the quiet confidence to allow your actions to speak for themselves. Jesus is the epitome of humility. In the Bible there are several instances of Jesus’ humility, “For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted. ” (Luke 14:11) “It is better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, Than to divide the spoil with the proud. ” (Proverbs 16:19). Franklin’s virtue of humility, in my opinion, could very well be the greatest virtue of them all. In conclusion, the virtues which Ben Franklin developed are adaptable to any human being, whether they had faith in God or not.
They all require a level of self-restraint/discipline and they do give you the freedom to live life to the fullest, to succeed, to be kind to one another and make the world a better place, which is what God intended in the first place. Living by these virtues today would be challenging, but most certainly attainable. If we all did it, I can only imagine the peace bestowed on all of us. Works Cited Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Ben Franklin. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1998. 1-73.