Discuss Benjamin Franklin as a representative of the Enlightenment. How does his writing reveal the shift from a belief in Providence to faith in the individual?

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Sometimes called the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment period, both in Europe and in the United States, was marked by a new interest in the potential of the human mind, and resonated with the ideas of Europeans John Locke and Jean Jacques-Rousseau, both of whom had a profound impact of many of America's Founding Fathers; these included Thomas Jefferson, who relied on Enlightenment ideals in penning the Declaration of Independence, and Ben Franklin, who is sometimes referred to as the First American among the Founding Fathers.  Franklin's interest in science, and less-than-rabid interest in religion identify him easily as a product of the Enlightenment.  He believed that religion and/or belief in a Deity were probably a positive things for a society, leading as it did to reflections on avoiding immoral behavior.  Later, Ameican transcendentalist writers would decry what they would say was an overemphasis on reason. 

Franklin also believed in the ability of individuals to improve their minds, and therefore their lives and communities, through the art of reading and study and to his credit established the first lending library, and contributed frequently to newspapers and almanacs.  His Age of Reason philosophies are also reflected in the list of thirteen virtues he identified at one point in his life as a foundation of self-improvement, as well as the time management system he developed, saying, "Dost thou love life?  Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of". 

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Like John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton, also frequently associated with the Enlightenment period, Ben Franklin was interested in both the philosophies of living life (like Locke) and the science of human living (like Newton).  Like Newton, Franklin came to believe that man's ability to manuever and analyze the forces of the universe, gave each individual unique power and responsibility for running his or her own life.  Locke's work echoed these ideas when he argued that human beings were essentially blank slates upon which knowledge develops as the individual experiences the world.  Franklin embraced both of these ideas, as well as proclaiming himself a "Deist", meaning one who believed that the Creator of the universe did just that--and nothing else, leaving human beings to their own devices, free to make choices and mistakes and generally orchestrate their journey through life.  Franklin, however, brought a practical spin to his ideas, creating an almanac that dispensed advice and brought attention to the flaws and foibles of humanity, gently reminding individuals that personal and self-improvement lay within his or her grasp, if only he or she was willing to discipline him or herself into being a better person.  In fact, Franklin himself spent one year working on personal virtues, one at a time, in a quest for self-improvement.  His datebook or personal planning notebook, where he recorded these types of activities was the inspiration for the Franklin Covey (formerly known as Franklin Quest) day planning systems.  The cover page of every Franklin Covey paper refill features a sketch of Franklin's profile and a quote by Franklin about the value of effectively using one's time:  "Dost thou love life?  Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of." 

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