I’ve been reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography for my philosophy class (yuck)…and it’s really interesting. Something I’ve noticed about a lot of these ‘big’ thinkers is that they were usually really close to the truth…like if you read their memoirs and kind of get a feel for their thought processes, they were just beating around the bush..soo close! SubhanAllah. What was triggering them to (almost) recognize Allah, was the same thing that kept them away from really getting there–their intellect. For example, Franklin talks a lot about the attributes of God and how he genuinely believes man was created to spread good. His ideas on virtuosity and righteousness are also on point. Though he was a deist categorically, he definitely lived a life of self-reflection and personal development. Just my thoughts. :)
Most of you probably read his autobiography too, but here’s what really stood out to me. His list of virtues–whether he actually lived up to his virtues is debatable…I personally think he didn’t..way too many serious erratum throughout his life.

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.

EDIT: This list is very similar to any Islamic work on Tazkiyatun Nafs, no?

-Fi Amanillah-


8 thoughts on “Franklin

  1. This is very interesting. Not enough of us engage with assigned reading like this and digest things and relate them to the purpose of life :)

    I haven’t read his autobiography so this might be a really basic question: what was the objective behind his list of virtues? Like for example if I choose to do something, I do it for a purpose and to get somewhere. Most of his virtues aren’t hedonistic (which is a little surprising) – so what higher purpose or objective is he aiming for? Most modern ethics are derived with the principle of not causing harm to others. This explains some of his virtues but not others, which prompts my question.

    “. What was triggering them to (almost) recognize Allah, was the same thing that kept them away from really getting there–their intellect.”
    Very well put.
    I think at the root of everything is a stubborn desire to not give up (perceived) control, to not lose one’s independence, to not become an ‘abd. Even of Allah. They may not even recognize this is the root, but in the end I think that’s what it comes down to. Becoming an ‘abd means to to defer everything to Allah. We own nothing, our intellect is incapable of understanding everything, our achievements are minuscule in the grand scheme of things. And this thought is scary to one whose entire life depends on all these things. Allahu ‘alam, maybe there’s a better reason to explain philosophers’ attitudes.

    • “So what higher purpose or objective is he aiming for? ” That’s the confusing part. I don’t think he lived up to even half of these virtues. I think he tried, but he had this belief that while one should strive to reach/practice these virtues, it was more important for people to *appear* virtuous and industrious by nature. Kind of hypocritical :p. He cheated people (money, and other things), he wasn’t honest many times, he downplayed his talents, had an illegitimate child, blew his money in London, and often made people think he was poorer than he actually was. What’s interesting though is that he acknowledges all these mistakes and attempts to fix them at some point in his life. I think he genuinely wanted Americans to have a better future so it could be that he shared his virtues hoping they could learn from his mistakes and benefit. The more accepted opinion is that he just wanted to be a better person every day. He kept a little book with him at all times in which he would put a dot next to each virtue for any mistake he made in respect to that virtue. He kept up with it for a long time but eventually stopped because he realized he had way more faults than he had ever expected. This kind of reminded me of my Muhasaba charts for Heart Serene.

      Another thing he mentioned is that he started doubting Revelation because he thought people could be good if they really tried. As in, they were innately good (fitrah) but they didn’t need “so-called Revelation” telling them not to lie, cheat, commit adultery, etc. If this was true, then wouldn’t he have been able to live up to his virtues..or exerted greater effort in trying to live up to them?

      About relating things to the purpose of life..I find that this is a lot easier to do in college classrooms, and especially in liberal arts studies. Everyone’s trying to answer the same questions, who are we? Why are we here? How did we become who we are? etc. We started reading Frederick Douglas’s autobiography the other day and a lot of his thoughts on religion and what constitutes a soul relate almost exactly to things I learned in a Maqasid al Shari’ah lecture. I just wish it was easier to bring up these things in class without mentioning intimidating Arabic words lol :p

      • Yeah I forgot to ask how much of an influence Christian thought had on him. About not needing revelation to determine morality, that’s the essence of Kant’s argument right?

        To go off on a tangent many Muslim progressives/modernists today are influenced by precisely this argument. For them ultimate truth (or in this case, ethics, morality, social code) is something we think of on our own and if Qur’an or sunnah appears to contradict it, well, tough luck.

        About liberal arts programs trying to ask the same questions – you’re right in a way. Many a time though, this exposure to arguments and counter-arguments can mess with someone’s faith and belief. It can happen to the best of us. I was with Sh. YQ once and was peppering him with questions about his experience at Yale dealing with philosophy and Orientalists and stuff like that, and he shuddered. It’s a big fitnah. Advice from someone far more knowledgeable and wise: if you’re going to delve into these things always keep a strong connection with Qur’an. It’s the only way to keep perspective.

        In your case alhamdulillah you know which way the information needs to flow :) and mashaAllah your connection with Qur’an looks solid and growing. May Allah make it easy for you and increase you in guidance and knowledge.

    • Hmm… interesting. You know what I think… I haven’t read the book, but nevertheless… It seems like he recognized the virtues but never really put them into practice because he never had a high purpose. He seems to have no reason to act upon them. For us Muslims, we recognize the good we have to do because we’re aiming for something better than this world, right? Perhaps he didn’t think of it that way? Maybe he couldn’t answer the “Why should I?” question, and when you can’t find a purpose for the actions you do, it’s hard to adhere to them. Just a thought.

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