Sunday, November 20, 2016

478. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Confucius

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) and Thomas Paine (1737-1809) were the two founders that pointed out the importance of morals during the inception of the United States. In 1778, two years after American colonists declared their independence, Franklin emphasized the significance of morality. He pointed out the necessity of governing with morality, especially for the leaders of the United States. He told fellow Americans that laws were not enough for the new nation. He used his experiences to advice Americans on the importance of virtues. Franklin raised the question, “What can laws do without morals?” He clearly expressed that he believed, without morals, the human society “will in a course of minutes become corrupt like those of other and older bushes, and consequently as wretched.”[1]   

Thomas Paine believed that Confucian morals were necessary for politicians in their political debate. He raised Confucius’ virtual principles during his political polemic with the federalists. To support his argument against the federalists, Thomas Paine quoted Confucian moral principles to criticize their moral faults. He told these federalists to follow Confucian teachings so they could be worthy to argue with: “I recommend to them the observance of a commandment” regulated by Confucius, “that existed before either Christian or Jew existed.”  He then listed Confucius principles “Thou shalt make a covenant with thy senses, With thine eye, that it beholds no evil. With thine ear, that it hear no evil. With thy tongue, that it speak no evil. With thy hands that they cemmit no evils.”[2]

[1] Benjamin Franklin, To Madame Brillon: “The Ephemera” AL (draft): Cornell University Library; French translations: American Philosophical Society (three), Bibliothèque de la Société Eduenne, Autun, Institut de France; copy or transcript: Yale University Library; incomplete copy: Huntington Library.
[2] Thomas Paine in 1802? ,  The Political Works of Thomas Paine, 2 vols.,  [in 9 pt.], Oxford University, 1864, p.15. Paine quoted from Confucius’ following teaching maxims to Yan Yuan, one of his well-known students: "Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety." (Section 12 of  the Analects).

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