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The Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Franklin makes the point that Franklin (1706-1790) and his contemporary intellectual thinkers may not have been aware of themselves as representatives of an "Enlightenment" movement though they were surely aware that their age marshaled in and embraced new ideological constructs. Throughout the 18th century (1700s) the idea of "reason" had been explored and defined by thinkers such as Rousseau, Locke, Hobbes and Voltaire. Some of these ideas limited the power of the government (e.g., Locke) and some denounced the all-encompassing power of the Church (e.g., Voltaire) while all advanced the rights of the individual, even Hobbes who implicitly advanced the rights of the individual by proscribing a Social Contract and a strong absolute monarchy to govern the individual's greed and selfishness.
Franklin was a participant in the discussion of this new ideology of individualism and even carried the exploration of Enlightenment reason from his writings into the physical realm through his experiments, particularly those with electricity where he drew "lightning from the clouds" (Thomas Paine). He early in life rejected his father's Puritanism and as an adult identified himself with Deists, who opposed the idea of an all-encompassingly powerful religion and Church, though he was not a violently outspoken Deist such as Paine was. Franklin's writings, particularly his autobiography, make it clear that he rejected the old, pre-Enlightenment religious ideology in favor of an ideology backed by the Enlihgtenment's definition of reason.
Benjamin Franklin believed that people were the most important part of a government. For example, he wanted to make some of his inventions available to the people.
Franklin didn’t patent any of his inventions or scientific discoveries, since he believed that everyone should be able to freely benefit from scientific progress. (http://www.benfranklin300.org)
I think this is actually one of the most remarkable features of Ben Franklin. He cared more about people than fame, money, or success. He wanted people to use his inventions. He is a real American hero.
Like most of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin believed more in the power of the individual than in the power of government. He also believed that individuals had the ability to change themselves and their destiny through their own merits, not by predetermined fate (divine providence) or by coercion. This means that while there may indeed be a divine plan, it is up to the individual to make themselves good enough to put it into motion. If the individual aspires only to mediocrity, then the individual cannot purposefully change anything about life and society. If, however, an individual strives to be as skilled, educated, and able as possible, the individual can change the lives of others through personal achievement. This does not abandon the idea of divine providence, but puts the burden of accomplishment on the individual rather than on the spiritual or communal.
Benjamin Franklin did believe in the power of the individual. This is seen through his "creation" of the Thirteen Virtues. He believed that an individual could change the world by changing himself or herself first. Therefore, given his writing and belief in the virtues, he showed a distinct change from the previous thought (society is the most important) to the individual.
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