Monday, July 4, 2011
234. Confucius, Benjamin Franklin and His Friends
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) had many skills. The fact that he could retire at the age of 42 demonstrates that he was very good at making money and knew how to make good use of his talents. However, Franklin's real attention was given to the purification of his virtue. He worked hard to arrive at "moral perfection". On June 11, 1760, he told Mary Stevenson (1739-1795): "The Knowledge of Nature may be ornamental, and it may be useful, but if to attain an Eminence in that, we neglect the Knowledge and Practice of essential Duties, we deserve Reprehension."
Dr. Dave Wang has done some research on Franklin’s efforts to improve her virtue through following Confucius’s moral teachings. One question came to my mind is: did Franklin’s friends know about his efforts to live such a moral life?
I don’t have to give you numerous examples on how Franklin followed Confucius moral teachings to pursue a more virtuous life. That knowledge you can glean from Dr. Wang’s essay, Benjamin Franklin and Confucius Moral philosophy, or even his paper, Benjamin Franklin and China. Judging by the correspondences between Franklin and his friends, it is fair to say that Franklin’s use of Confucian ideals to enhance his morality was well-known among his friends.
For example, on February 26, 1766 Ezra Stiles (1727-1795)told Franklin:
“I have somtimes wished, after you had digested such of your Letters and other Writings as you would desire to accompany your Name through all American Ages, that I might be charged with the publication of them, prefixing them with the history of your Life. But this is an honor, to which among your numerous friends I can have no pretension. Confucius and his Posterity have been honored in China for Twenty Ages—the Electrical Philosopher, the American Inventor of the pointed Rods will live for Ages to come to live with him would please no one more than, my Dear Maecenas Your affectionate Friend and obedient Servant.”