The Education of Benjamin Franklin

26 May 2015, Posted by Founding Franklin in The Franklin You Thought You Knew

This month we will examine how Benjamin Franklin, a man with only two years of formal education, became one of the most widely published writers, thinkers and scientists of the eighteenth century. There were many influences in Franklin’s long life, but I want to concentrate now on one man, Franklin’s early mentor, James Logan.

James Logan’s name is all over Philadelphia, but relatively few Philadelphians know who Logan was. This man, who came as a young man to Philadelphia and worked as William Penn’s secretary, became mayor of Philadelphia, governor of Pennsylvania, and a wealthy businessman. His legacy is greater than that, however, for Logan was one of the supreme intellectual figures in America in the early eighteenth century. He spoke, read and wrote Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Italian, French and German. He was a moral philosopher and scientist. Logan’s personal library contained over 2,600 volumes, which he not only read but wrote copiously in the margins. This library, as well as Logan himself, drew the young Benjamin Franklin to Logan’s Germantown home, Stenton, on many occasions. Logan proposed theories on electricity that obviously influenced Franklin’s thought and work. He wrote critiques of the amoral social philosophies of Locke and Newton, under whose influences Franklin had become as a nineteen-year-old in London. Logan had much to do with exposing Franklin to the moral sense of philosophers such as Pythagoras and Leibnitz.

For more information on this fascinating evolution of Franklin’s thought, I enthusiastically recommend my friend Philip Valenti’s recently published edition of Logan’s masterwork, On the Duties of Man, as They May Be Deduced From Nature, published by Quaker Books. I particularly call your attention to Valenti’s introductory essay, “Toward the Education of Benjamin Franklin: James Logan’s Challenge to Locke and Newton:”

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