The Three Primary Virtues
By Brian Tracy
Adam Smith, in his important book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, wrote
that excellent people have three primary virtues: prudence, justice, and
benevolence, in that order. Each of them is essential to the others and
to the living of a full life in society.
The virtue of prudence refers to your developing the habit of providing
well for yourself, your family, your friends, your co-workers, and your
company. This requires that you think intelligently and honestly about
the very best course of action to maximize your opportunities and
minimize possible danger and threats. The habit of prudence means you
investigate every investment carefully, think ahead about what might
happen if you were to take a particular course of action, and take
intelligent steps to guard against setbacks and reversals of fortune.
The most successful people are those who are prudent in the conduct in
all of their personal and business affairs.
Justice is Blind
The second habit for you to develop is the habit of justice. This refers
to your commitment to the establishment and maintenance of laws in
society that protect the person and property of every individual. The
American republic has endured for more than 200 years because it was
carefully established by the founding fathers on the basis of law, not
men. At every level of our society, specific laws are prescribed and
laid down that are applicable to all people, regardless of wealth or
station in life.
John Rawls, the Harvard philosopher and author of A Theory of Justice
(Belknap Press, revised edition, 1999), once presented a question to his
class that has been repeated often through the years.
Imagine that you could write the laws and create the circumstances of
your society. You are given the power to prescribe the economic, social
and political relationships that would exist in your country throughout
your lifetime. There is only one limitation on your power. You would set
up this structure without knowing into what sort of family or situation
you would be born. You would not know in advance what sort of physical
condition you might be born with. Whatever system of laws and customs
you decided upon, you would then be required to live by them for the
rest of your life. What kind of structure would you design in this
The answer to this question is the very essence of the concept of
justice. The statue of justice, holding the balances and scales in her
hand, is blind folded. True justice is therefore applicable to all
people who live under a certain system, irrespective of their
background. When you make the habit of justice an organizing virtue for
your own character, you will insist that, whatever the relative power of
the parties, everyone be treated fairly and justly in the resolution of
any difficulty or dispute.
The habit of prudence is essential for personal success. The habit of
justice is essential for the creation of a society within which a person
can pursue his or her own best interests with the greatest of
possibilities. The rule is that you should never want or demand anything
from anyone else that you are not perfectly willing to accept for
The third quality you must develop is the habit of benevolence. This is
one of the hallmark characteristics of the truly superior person.
Aristotle referred to it as one of the eight essential virtues, that of
"generosity." Most people are psychologically and emotionally structured
in such a way that they are only truly happy and satisfied when they
feel they are doing something that serves and benefits other people.
When you give freely and generously of yourself to others, whether it is
to members of your family or to members of the public, you feel more
valuable and happier inside. When you dedicate yourself to serving your
customers with the very best quality product or service of which you are
capable, not only do you feel a deep sense of personal satisfaction, but
you also put yourself on the side of the angels when it comes to
personal and business success. You remember the principle: "The more you
give of yourself to others with no expectation of return, the more good
things there are that will come back to you from the most unexpected
The regular practice of prudence, justice, and benevolence leads
naturally to feelings and actions of kindness, compassion, and tolerance
toward other people. You become more open minded and flexible. You
develop greater patience and understanding. You are less judgmental or
demanding of others. You become a better and finer person.
Imagine yourself to be a person of complete honesty and impeccable
integrity. Is there any behavior of yours that you would change?