Emily Russo English 102 Professor Davis 4 December 2012 Benjamin Franklin: Citizen and Scientist “Come along, lads! ” cries a young Benjamin Franklin to his group of schoolmates. Running and jumping, the boys make their way to the Charles River on a warm Boston day. Reaching the river, young Ben dives in straight away, while the other boys gingerly slip into the calm waters. Ben was always a very confident and strong swimmer, and strikes out with his arms at the blue water In a familiar stroke as his friends splash about. Frown a distance, he observes his fellow lads as he bobs in the eater, catching his breath.
He was quite some distance away from shore now, floating on his back and gazing at the clear blue sky in front of him. Then suddenly, in this moment of relaxed clarity, an Idea pops Into his mind. It was so obvious, a simple solution to lad his swimming ablest. He swims back quickly to his friends, eager to share his new idea for an invention. “Fins! ” he exclaims as he reaches the boys. Upon meeting their confused looks, Ben begins to explain his idea of how to make swimming easier and more efficient after experiencing the wear that swimming a Eng distance takes.
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In order to swim more easily like the other aquatic creatures he observes in the river, he would construct swimming fins for his hands and feet. His friends laughs excitedly at the image of Ben with fins strapped to his hands and feet, and he Joins In. He knows that to most lads, a boy with fins would appear foolish, but he is certain that such a thing would make swimming great distances easier. As the other boys turn their thoughts to boyish antics and schoolboy gossip, Ben’s sharp mind begins to map out his construction of his newest invention.
It would be this name mind, refined through strict moral structure and expanded with knowledge as he grew up, that would one day construct some of the most elaborate and cutting edge scientific experiments of his age, as well help craft vital documents that would help form a new nation. My research tells me that it would be Benjamin Franklins virtues, both individually and collectively, that would enable his passion for knowledge and sense of curiosity to make him a successful citizen scientist.
At age twenty-five, Josiah Franklin made the decision to move his growing family of two young children, an infant baby girl, and his wife to America. The voyage was long and difficult, not to mention costly for a tradesman such as Josiah, but in all would prove to be a wise Investment (Caisson 10). Born on the seventeenth of January In 1706, Benjamin Franklin was the tenth son of Josiah Franklin, whose mother was Bah Folder, Josiah second wife according to casuistry. Org. A few years later, when Benjamin Franklin was born, Boston was then 76 years old and was a blossoming center of trade and business (15).
But rather than have his son continue In the family business of soap and candle making, Josiah Intended to see his son become a clergyman. After only being able to afford to send young Ben to school for this for no more than a year, Josiah decided to apprentice the twelve year old to ‘OFF love for reading and writing, so shortly after becoming an apprentice Franklin began to write secretly for his brother’s newspaper, using the name “Silence Dogwood. ” Posing as a fictitious widow, he would write his own advice and views to be published.
When Franklin admitted to writing the letters, James was not amused and was Jealous of the attention his brother received for them. But young Ben continued to work for him until 1723, when his brother’s strict and controlling appointment over IM finally led him to run away, something that was illegal at the time (casuistry. Org). In Just the six years after he would leave Boston, Franklin would travel to London, return and open his own print shop, and then buy the Pennsylvania Gazette, which would become the most successful newspaper in the colonies (Caisson 503).
This period of his life was one filled with many successes and failures. Although traveling to London for a commission for the Governor of Pennsylvania William Keith was originally a great career opportunity, Kith’s letter of credit for him never came and left Franklin stranded in London. Soon after he returned home, Franklin fathered a son named William, whose mother is unknown, and then shortly after set up a home with Deborah Read in a common-law marriage, according to Edmund Morgan (315).
In debt and struggling to support his newly formed family, Franklin worked diligently as a bookkeeper and shopkeeper in a store selling clothes and hardware so that he could soon set up his print shop in 1727, and then continued to write and publish works such as “The Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency’ (casuistry. Org). This period shows Franklins persistence and hard work that would get his life back on rack after a few wild young years, and would help give him the life lessons that would one day make him successful in nearly any task he undertook.
While Franklins life as a printer, writer, and scientist was Just in its early stages, one thing that stayed with him from early on through his whole life in every role he played was his code of moral conduct. Written by himself around the sass, Franklin structured a list of thirteen virtues that he followed closely in attempts to achieve “moral perfection” (20-23). On closer examination, this list is interesting for what it pacifically includes as well for what is excludes.
According to Morgan, all of the surviving papers Franklin wrote attest to “his lifelong wish to be useful to his friends, to his countrymen, and to mankind in general” (23). Yet this list lays out principles of life that solely benefit those who follow it. While one can only speculate that Franklin hoped to better himself to become more useful to others, charity or any mention of civic responsibilities is left off the list, a virtue that would become a significantly defining virtue later in life (24). Another important quality that would be defining of
Franklins personality was his insatiable curiosity, evident when as a young man he observed everything from pelagic crabs to tea leaves, which would lead him to some of his greatest scientific discoveries (Morgan 5). Although Franklins curiosity and observation of his world around him was evident from a very young age, he did not seriously pursue his scientific interests and observations until 1748, when “he turned his printing business over to his foreman, intending to devote his life to science,” according to the Columbia Encyclopedia.
It was at this time that Franklin made sibyl his most significant discovery, that of the connection between electricity and lightning, coining terms still used today to describe electricity such as “charge,” this connection in his iconic experiment using a kite during a storm with a key tied to the string of the kite with insulating silk. From this experiment, Franklin was able to charge a Leaden Jar, a glass Jar lined with foil both inside and out, as well as generate sparks from the end of the wet string of the kite during the storm (Franklin, Benjamin (1706-1790)).
Notable as a scientist not only for his discoveries of electricity and its repertories, Franklin was an inventor, even from a very early age. Many of his inventions are still used in some form today. At the age of eleven, young Ben invented a pair of swim fins to be attached to the hands to help one more efficiently propel through the water. Some of his inventions from later in life include the glass Romania, a musical instrument, a heat and wood efficient stove called the Franklin stove, bifocals, and the lightning rod (casuistry. Org).
Benjamin Franklins insatiable curiosity, careful documentation and notation of observation, and tinkering mind led IM to make highly significant scientific discoveries and create innovative inventions, making him an important scientific figure today. Franklins discoveries of the properties of electricity and then his invention of the lightning rod led him to become a key figure in the protection of Philadelphia, for fires were often caused from buildings getting struck by lightning. More than Just inventing the lightning rod, Franklin organized Philadelphia first Union Fire Company in 1736. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” was not only one of his famous saying, but also fire-prevention advice. But when fires did occur, Franklin wanted to see that those who suffered economic losses could be compensated, and in 1752, founded the Philadelphia Contribution for Insurance Against Loss by Fire, which is still a business today (casuistry. Org). More than Just protect and insure the people of his beloved city against fire, Franklin also sought to help heal and educate them.
With the help of a debating club he founded a few years earlier, Franklin began the first circulating library in the country in 1731 by collecting books from club members, and then asking for a small fee to expand the Barry. Similarly, he also raised funds for and founded the first American hospital, which also still exists today (Franklin, Benjamin (1706-1790)). Of course, Franklin is amortized a one of America’s greatest Founding Fathers not Just for his roles as writer, printer, scientist, and citizen, but also for those of diplomat and statesman.
Serving his country as a diplomat to France, Franklin helped to negotiate the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain, ending the Revolutionary War (American Treasures). His significance as an American founder can be seen in the fact that he was the only Founding Father to have sign all four significant documents in the creation of the United States; the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Peace with England, and the U. S. Constitution (Caisson 503-505).
To reiterate my thesis, I believe that Franklins virtues, both individually and collectively, enabled his passion for knowledge and sense of curiosity to make him a successful scientist and citizen. However, not everyone shares this view of the reasons for Benjamin Franklins success. Before further support is provided, I shall first address some of these criticisms. Some will argue that it was the circumstances of the changing era that Franklin lived in that enabled him to become a successful citizen-scientist, not his virtues. Of important scientific and philosophical discoveries.
During this time, people began to establish, for the first time, scientific methods and began to look to science for explanations for the natural world rather than supernatural explanations. Although Franklin did have this benefit, his life virtues, such as resolution and industry, enabled him to work hard and eventually pursue his scientific interests at the age of 42 (Franklin, Benjamin). Another agreement that some will pose as to the actual reason behind Franklins success was his position as a printer and influential figure of the time, giving him easy access to materials and communications with the scientific community.
This view also is true in many ways, as Franklin did have easy access to materials to conduct his experiments later in life after becoming financially stable and had many connections to those with resources that might be needed for experiments in the community, and also corresponded often with other scientific minds like Peter Collisions and Jan Ingenious (Morgan 318-319). While Franklin did have this advantage, it was his own ambitions enabled through his virtues that lead him to use these available materials and take advantage of conversing and sharing ideas with other scientific minds.
Now that we have dealt with different criticisms of the view of my thesis, I will illustrate how different virtues of Benjamin Franklin enabled him to be a successful citizen and scientist. The most important virtues in guiding Franklin to success as a citizen and as a scientist, in my opinion, were resolution, frugality, industry, and humility. In a list of thirteen virtues that Franklin himself outlined, was resolution, about which Franklin wrote, “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve” according to casuistry. Org. This virtue can clearly be exemplified in Franklins life, as stated by Walter Caisson in Benjamin Franklin, An American Life, after he worked for twenty years as a printer before he focused on and pursued his scientific interests. Franklin was always passionate about science, but he was also a very down-to-earth and sensible man and knew that he needed to work and become financially stable so he could support himself and his family before he could follow his scientific interests.
This resolve, seen in all areas of his life, allowed him to do what was best and carry out what he needed to do not only for his business, himself, and his family, but also for his community. Two other virtues that go hand-in-hand from Franklins list are frugality and industry. Franklin believed in being frugal both with time and money, and tried to never waste time on trivial or wasteful habits. Along with the idea of not wasting time, he believed in being as productive and industrious as possible with his time.
These two virtues allowed Franklin to work productively as a printer so that his years working would enable him to create inventions and make scientific discoveries. Thanks to these beliefs, Franklin also used his time to find solutions for different matters that presented themselves to him, such as creating a more efficient wood-burning stove that became known as the Franklin stove. Thanks to his belief in being industrious, his invention of the lightning rod was another invention that was a helpful solution to destruction of property due to lightning that he made (casuistry. Org).
Humility was another important virtue that Franklin lived his life by. He believed in patents on his inventions (Caisson 130). He felt that what he discovered or invented was something that ought to be shared with the general public. His humility also led him to work for the distribution of lightning rods and for informing the general public about fire prevention. This shows how Franklins attitude of modesty towards his scientific contributions not only helped the scientific community, but his community around him as he tried to make Philadelphia a better and safer place (casuistry. Org).
If anything thing can be said about Benjamin Franklin that was always evident from a young age, it would be that he was forever a curious person; at age eleven, he invented his first pair of swimming fins after observing how they would help him swim faster (casuistry. Org). Thanks to his inquisitive personality, he would make and record many scientific discoveries about the properties of electricity, the Gulf Stream, and even the Northern Lights, according to American Treasures. But without Franklins guiding virtues, his sense of curiosity would not have had such a defining importance to his significance as a citizen and a scientist.
His combination of virtues and his inquisitive personality would enable him to work hard to pursue his rosiest and interests in an industrious manner and then humbly share what he learned and created with the rest of the world. When asked about how they felt about the importance of guiding virtues in ones life, a little more than half of a small sample of university students answered on a questionnaire that they felt that one’s virtues were very or at least relatively important to guiding an individual to becoming successful in what they do.
A fair portion, about thirty percent, said that virtues were fairly important, and a very small portion said that they were not very important at all. From this survey, it is easy to conclude that in general, when considering important figures in history, their virtues are often seen as part of what defines them and is seen as what helped them become a significant figure, leader, or scientist. It also shows how most people feel that guiding principles are what enable individuals to successfully reach their goals, much as Benjamin Franklin did.
The survey also proves that in general, most people would agree, to a certain degree, that people need virtues in their life that they will stand by and allow them to guide them in order to lead a successful life. The virtues by which we stand by will not only guide us, but can even come to define us. This holds true for many citizen- scientists, and Benjamin Franklin was one of them. He will live on in history for his many contributions to science, to Philadelphia and the birth of our nation, but also for the great man that he was and the virtues he stood by that defined the different aspects of his immortal and endearing personality.
Benjamin Franklins virtues, both individually and collectively, that enabled his passion for knowledge and sense of curiosity to make him a successful citizen scientist. Virtues such as resolution, regularity, industry, and humility served significant guiding principals, as well as created a moral structure in Franklins life. Even examining him at a young age, we see it is no wonder that this man would achieve extraordinary scientific breakthroughs, while continuing to be the thoughtful and giving human being that history records him as.