Benjamin Franklin: Student of Life

BY
ROBERT E. SPILLER, Ph.D., Swarthmore College.


I.

So many aspects of Franklin's life, thought, and work have already been discussed by the preceding speakers in this series that there should be little left to say. But perhaps I have one advantage over the others. They have all been limited to specific subjects, whereas I am asked to talk about life--or at least, Franklin's reading of life, which might lead me into almost anything. But I shall try to limit myself to an attempt to define the point of view which seems to me to have been at the root of all his many and varied actions, and thereby provide one more comment on that sense of wholeness and unity of character which we all feel in his presence but which we all find so difficult to define. However many avenues of his thought and experience one follows out to their manifold expressions, the return trip brings one always to the same source. Franklin asked only one question of life and of the things in it: "Does it work?" The method of his thinking seems to me always to be pragmatic. He relies in every problem upon experience in the immediate sense as his final authority.

If this seems too simple a statement of the question and too easy an answer, my excuse is that I am not a philosopher, that I do not believe Franklin to have been one, and that I do not look to philosophy in the strict sense of the term to provide much more than some of the language of the discussion that I have undertaken. It is the habit of literary critics and historians to describe people in terms of the main-springs of their actions and thought. Such a statement as I have made about Franklin is perhaps as much a comment upon myself and my tribe as upon him. We find ourselves constantly using such phrases as "philosophy of life," "read

-83-

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Meet Dr. Franklin
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Table of Contents iii
  • Foreword v
  • Meet Doctor Franklin 1
  • Benjamin Franklin as a Scientist 11
  • Self-Portraiture: the Autobiography 27
  • Dr. Franklin as the English Saw Him 43
  • Franklin's Political Journalism in England 63
  • Benjamin Franklin: Student of Life 83
  • Molding the Constitution 105
  • Benjamin Franklin: Philosophical Revolutionist 127
  • Looking Westward 135
  • Benjamin Franklin: the Printer at Work 151
  • Benjamin Franklin: Adventures In Agriculture 179
  • Dr. Franklin: Friend of the Indians 201
  • Concluding Paper 221
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