The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

by Benjamin Franklin

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Student Question

How does the use of "errata" in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin reflect on his transgressions and replace concepts like sin or guilt?

Quick answer:

Although Franklin uses the term errata in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin to refer to his mistakes as a young man, he sees them as ultimately good things. By reflecting on his past transgressions, Franklin is able to see how they harmed both others and himself. This self-reflection allowed him to mature into a more virtuous person.

Expert Answers

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As someone who worked in the printing trade, Benjamin Franklin was familiar with errata. In part 1 of his autobiography, Franklin uses this term to describe his early transgressions in life. This includes terminating his apprenticeship early, spending Vernon's money, and not communicating with his fiancée while in England.

Franklin describes how these errors, or errata, were all correctable. Franklin sees a dual quality to errata; they represent both the human capacity to err and also the ability to improve oneself. By reflecting on one's mistakes, people have the capacity to strive for perfection. To Franklin, acknowledging past transgressions showcases "the advantages authors have in a second edition to correct some faults of the first."

By not glossing over his errata, Franklin points out that no person is flawless. By emphasizing his own transgressions, Franklin humbles himself before the reader. But this is not to be mistaken as some sort of self-flagellation. Franklin sees his past mistakes as an important part of his character development and not something to be scorned.

While he is repentant, Franklin still writes that if given a second chance at life, he would have done it all again the same way. His errata were opportunities to grow and mature. People who never falter or err or who never acknowledge their faults are unable to grow and become better people. Franklin feels that he never would have arrived at his later understanding of morality and virtue if he had never committed errors during his youth. Taken this way, errata can be seen to serve the purposes of both guilt and redemption.

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