How does Benjamin Franklin embody the idea of The Enlightenment?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Benjamin Franklin was a key figure in what is sometimes called "the American Enlightenment." Like his counterpart among the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin was urbane, transcontinental, and interested in the sciences and invention. Politically, he was a humanist, meaning that he believed that problems could be solved by rational thinking and that secularism was always preferable to theocracy, or a government ruled by a dominant church. 

Franklin invented early swim fins, bifocals, and the Franklin stove -- an iron furnace that was safer and more efficient than other wood stoves.

He authored Poor Richard's Almanack, a farmer's guide that he published from 1732 to 1758 under the pseudonym, Richard Saunders. He also published his autobiography after his death, which revealed his early commitment to discipline as well as his work in printmaking. 

Famously, in 1752, he flew a kite during a storm to prove that lightning was, in fact, a form of electricity. He perpetuated his dedication to learning by founding the University of Pennsylvania, Franklin and Marshall College -- also in Pennsylvania -- the American Philosophical Society, and Pennsylvania Hospital, which is a medical school.

In contemporary parlance, we would refer to Franklin as "a Renaissance man," one who demonstrates extraordinary talent in many disciplines, as Leonardo da Vinci had. However, his commitment to democratic values, as well as his worldliness, are particular to the eighteenth-century. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial