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The 3 Primary Virtues in Business

Adam Smith, in his important book T​he Theory of Moral Sentiments,​ wrote that excellent people have three primary virtues: prudence, justice, and benevolence, and in that order of importance. Each is essential to the others and for living a full life in society.


Prudence refers to your habit of providing well for yourself, your family, friends, co-workers, and your business. It means that you think intelligently and honestly about the best ways to optimize your opportunities and minimize any threats. The habit of prudence means you investigate and vet financial commitments, thinking ahead about what might happen if you were to take a particular course of action, and take well planned steps to guard against setbacks and reversals of fortune. The most successful people are those who are prudent in all areas of their personal and business affairs.

Justice Is Blind

The second habit you must develop is justice. This refers to your commitment to maintain society’s laws and structures designed to protect the person and property of every individual. America is not a Democracy but in fact a Republic has endured for more than 200 years because it was carefully established on the basis of law, not the changing whims of people. At every level of society, specific laws apply to all people equally, regardless of wealth or station in life. Canada, while built on a different Constitutional framework, has a similar structure as a Republic rather than a pure democracy. This means officials are elected to represent the people to make decisions that create a legal framework best for society as a whole, applying equally to everyone. In a pure democracy, every decision would be in constant flux because it would be based entirely on the desires of the majority at all times.

John Rawls, the Harvard philosopher and author of A​ Theory of Justice, once presented a question to his class that has been repeated often through the years:

“I​magine 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 situation?”

What kind of structure would you design in this situation?

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 justice is part of your 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 and business success. The habit of justice is essential for a society within which each person can pursue his or her own best interests with the greatest potential. The rule is that you should never want or demand anything from anyone else that you are not perfectly willing to accept for yourself.


The third quality you must develop is benevolence. This is a hallmark of truly superior people. Aristotle referred to generosity as one of the eight essential virtues. Most people 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 to members of your family or strangers, you feel more valuable and emotionally satisfied. When you dedicate yourself to serving customers by providing the very best product or service, 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.

There’s a well-known principle which every BNI member understands: “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 sources.”

By regularly practicing prudence, justice, and benevolence, you’ll experience feelings and actions of kindness, compassion, and tolerance toward others. 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 person.

Action Exercise

Imagine yourself to be a person of complete honesty and impeccable integrity. Is there any behavior of yours that you would change?

This material was originally created by Brian Tracy and posted to Successnet


The 3 Primary Virtues in Business


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