Benjamin Franklin Unmasked

Franklin believed men were equal, in a certain way, but he was consistently reluctant to endorse Thomas Jefferson’s notion of human equality, informed by John Locke, that all men are equal in a state of nature, and he rejected the idea that all men are equally loved in the eyes of God. It was manifestly false, Franklin claimed, that all men are equal in intelligence, ability, natural goodness, or innate dignity.

However, Franklin, in a roundabout way, did endorse the idea that men are equal on the grounds of their mutual ignorance, vanity, foolish opinions, and pretensions to truth: The fact that human folly and imperfection is universal is the true root of equality. In this manner he cuts down our moral pretentiousness but, as Weinberger points out, he does so for the sake of a truly common human morality.

Such conclusions are unlikely to flatter anyone, but the truth, as Socrates pointed out, is often unpleasant. —Jerry Weinberger reviews Timothy Lehmann’s B. Franklin, Moralist: Printer, patriot, scientist, inventor — and PhilosopherBenjamin Franklin Unmasked  (Weekly Standard)

Franklin was born 300 years ago today.