Out of the Blue, Benjamin Franklin

I am not sure why I received a copy, but yesterday’s mail brought me a beautiful, illustrated 60 page booklet from the Smithsonian Libraries, titled “Benjamin Franklin’s Political Arithmetic: a Materialist View of Humanity”, written by Harvard professor Joyce E. Chaplin.

Because it was too icy this morning to comfortably retrieve the newspapers, this publication became my breakfast companion.

The main point of the essay is that Franklin (sometimes without emphasizing the point publicly) believed that humans and animals were on a continuum, and that human actions could be measured to a great extent the same way animal actions are measured, bringing into question the existence of a ‘soul’ or the promise of immortality or resurrection, controversial to be sure. People were born in pain, and spent their lives trying to maximize pleasure and avoid more pain; so it is with animals. These studies also led Franklin to make population studies and to project the nature of future increases in the population of the colonies. His premise was that the anticipated increase (brought about primarily by the unlimited land available, thus encouraging large families) made further emigration from England unnecessary. He was one of the original anti-immigration Americans (suggesting once that for every Englishman sent to the colonies, the colonies should send an American rattlesnake to England; their effects would be about the same).

And there was much more. Franklin’s study and publications about the new field of microscopy, and his effect on Malthus and on Darwin, to name just two.

I don’t know how broad the circulation of this pamphlet has been. But if you get it, I suggest you don’t just just throw it out.


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