Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ben Franklin Balanced Reason and Religion

Jerry Weinberger writes that Franklin strove for an "artful balance" between reason and religion. But what did he believe?:
Franklin concluded that rationalistic science could never prove the believers wrong. He also concluded that the rationalists were unlikely to admit to this fact. They turned out to believe in their rationalism as fervently as the believers believed in their miracles, especially the miracle of conscience, or of the voice and spirit of God moving within. Moreover, if one were to push this fact in the rationalists’ faces, they could get just as angry as believers about challenges to their faith. Franklin, it turns out, was a freethinking critic of Enlightenment freethinking.

The conventional and current take on Franklin—that he was a pragmatic moralist and serious Enlightenment Deist and eventually an American patriot—is flat wrong...Franklin was no Deist. He was no pragmatic moralist. And he wasn’t really “The First American.” Franklin was, rather, the first American Baconian. He was also a profound philosopher, deeply skeptical of religion (especially the metaphysical conceits of Deists) and of our everyday moral intuitions. He was also profoundly skeptical of the intellectual foundations of rationalism and the Enlightenment. And he was, to put his politics in a nutshell, a political constructivist and libertarian. Franklin was not as American as apple pie, but he was as American as the corndog.

1 comment:

Reign of Reason said...

Thought provoking...

I've read a couple of biographies of Franklin... He was a freethinker: but "questioning the enlightenment" seems almost circular. The enlightenment was founded on the concept of questioning everything.. of using reason and rationality as the basis of analysis.

Sure, you can question that rational -- but your likely to use reason in your quest for an answer.