Arriving at Perfection by Benjamin Franklin

Intention: To document Benjamin Franklin’s efforts to live each day without committing any faults which he characterized as failing to act in the manner defined by his thirteen virtues. Franklin wanted to acquire the habit of living by these virtues.

Franklin’s writing is very clear and plain, explaining his entire thought process. He goes through each virtue and explains why he placed that virtue where it is on the list, making him appear very reasonable and organized. There was a great emphasis on reason at the time that the piece was written, so Franklin’s apparent emphasis on reason within his writing helps to ensure that his piece comes off positively with the audience of the time. The audience in turn would be more likely to copy Franklin’s efforts as a result.

Franklin helps clarify his method of recording his efforts through the use of a metaphor. He likens his attempts to ridding his notebook of black dots, which signify his failure in a particular virtue, to a gardener attempting to rid his garden of weeds. In this way, Franklin is better able to communicate his feelings without straying from his reasonable tone. Through the metaphor, the audience can understand the nuisance that the black dots may pose and the feeling of satisfaction that may come with clearing the page of black dots. At the same time, Franklin is able to clarify his gridding system in simpler terms so that others may understand and copy his methods in the future.

At one point, Franklin cites the “advice of Pythagoras in his Golden Verses.” Franklin uses Pythagoras’s advice when determining that daily examination is a necessary step in his attempts to be perfect. Pythagorean was a highly-revered mathematician. In citing him, Franklin gains ethos and again aligns himself with his audience which is presumably those who value reason and intellect.

-Olivia Hatch

Franklin describes his experiment with perfection chronologically, and goes into immense detail. He builds suspense by delaying the introduction of the virtues and his methods for a few pages. He then talks about how he ordered the virtues and the reasoning behind them, and finally goes into discussion of the experiment. His narrative style is comfortable and easy to follow, especially for the lengthy style that characterized the time period.

Franklin describes his acceptance of his failures through an anecdote about a man who wants his entire ax as bright as the edges, but he and the smith find that grinding the ax down is too difficult, and the man decides he likes his “speckled ax” better. This anecdote is metaphorical and shows how some people give up in their search for self-betterment. Franklin compares his struggle with order to this, and relates himself to the common man.

Franklin, ever the scientist, arranges his attempts at perfection in the style of a lab report. He describes his objective, procedure, analyzes his results, and draws conclusions. This arrangement is familiar and sensible, and illustrates Franklin’s logical thought process.

-Rachel Meyer


Logos: Although Franklin presents his ideas and findings in a rather pretentious way, we cannot argue that he is wrong. He uses common sense in order to make a logical process to become a better person, saying we should shower and take a little more time to ourselves, which isn’t bad and is actually a very good idea, but perhaps he used too much logos to make it sound appealing.

Ethos: The speaker, Ben Franklin, obviously has ethos. He is a very important man in US History and is well-known for many things, not only being a political man, but also an entrepreneurial one. He was innovative in the sense that he was a very progressive thinker. In this essay, he shows that off by offering a new way to train someone to be a better person.

Pathos: The pathos in this piece is there to an extent. It is a nice read if you’re genuinely trying to improve yourself and make a difference in your life. But if you’re not, it seems very bland, emotionally speaking. This is partially because he presents it all in such a logistical way; it makes it seem like there’s no need to keep individuality and to be a better person just for the sake of yourself rather than just doing it because it’s the right thing to do.

Mary Beiter


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