Benjamin Franklin: His Contribution to the American Tradition

By I. Bernard Cohen | Go to book overview

IV In the Servíce of the Communíty

IN FRANKLIN'S civic pride and his projects for the improvement of Philadelphia, we see another aspect of the philosophy of doing good. At the same time we may recognize the zeal for reform that has long been a characteristic of American life. In his attention to the details of daily living, Franklin shows himself as the observant empiricist. As the successful engineer of ways to make the city he loved cleaner, safer and more attractive he continually sponsored new institutions that were proof that the applications of reason to experience were fruitful in the real world.

"Human felicity," he wrote, "is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day." Franklin typifies that aspect of the American character that is attentive to small details as well as over-all great plans. The practical idealism of America lies in our capacity to work for our ideals step by step, to recognize that the perfect world is never achieved but that we may approach it gradually by a creative attentiveness to each aspect of life around us.


I. CIVIC IMPROVEMENTS

Franklin watched his city and his country grow and -- being a man of action rather than an armchair philosopher

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