...LEARNING "from this special utilitarian principle – and find that doing what is right for the right's sake is good, not only because it is right, but also because it is the best thing to do to achieve happiness. Moreover, for those who do not believe in this utopia, we can learn that these precious teachings help pave the way to financial independence, which in turn can ensure plenty of freedom, time, and tranquility to enjoy a good life.
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“Want of care does us more damagethan want of knowledge.”
The Way to Wealth
Remarks concerningthe savages of north america
We are spirits
The art of procuring pleasant dreams
Advice to a young tradesman
Necessary hints to those that would be rich
The way to make money plenty in every man’s pocket
On luxury, idleness, and industry
Sources & bibliography
Table of Contents
It is difficult to define such a genius as Benjamin Franklin, whose talent and work encompass various fields of knowledge, and whose precious, atemporal, pragmatic worldview was ahead of his time. Born in Boston on January 17, 1706, he was an American abolitionist, journalist, editor, writer, philanthropist, civil servant, scientist, diplomat, and inventor. As a politician, he is acknowledged as one of the leaders of the American Revolution. He read extensively about cultures throughout the world, held Plutarch’s Parallel Lives in high regard as one of his main references, wrote beautiful articles and essays, and became known worldwide for his experiments with electricity – which led him to be elected a member of the prestigious Royal Society. Following such virtues, Franklin earned the title of First American, as he was the first of them to be admired and respected by the Old World in its traditional, biased opinion of the peoples who colonized the New World.
He was the youngest of 17 children born to his father, Josiah Franklin – a tallow chandler and intransigent Calvinist –, in his two marriages. Benjamin ended his schooling at 10 years old and, at 12, he started working as an apprentice to his brother, James – a printer who published the newspaper New England Courant. He soon had his own articles published there and came to be its editor.
The readers greatly appreciated Franklin’s articles, who soon, perhaps motivated by conceit, had disagreements with his brother James. Because of the strife, Benjamin Franklin decided to leave for New York and later became a printer in Philadelphia (1723). After troublesome professional years, Franklin managed to set up a printing house, where he began publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette. He became famous for his writings published in this newspaper, which communicated aspects of his respectful, industrious, punctual, laborious, and frugal profile in simple, non-scholarly, straightforward words, employing maxims to translate his ideas. In some cases, he successfully and skillfully penned down sequences of aphorisms, significantly impacting his readers with the ethics put forth in the values present in his writings – as we can witness in The Way to Wealth.
The Way to Wealth featured in his famous Poor Richard’s Almanac, first published in 1732 – through which he immortalized maxims in the heart of the North American people, including among others the memorable “a penny saved is a penny earned”.
Alongside The Way to Wealth, we considered another four of Benjamin Franklin’s essays, selected for their outstanding philosophy, humor, and argumentative eloquence.
In Remarks concerning the Savages of North America, Franklin teaches us about the existing equality between all human beings. In We are Spirits, he shares with us his view on death in a letter dedicated to a grieving woman. In The Art of Procuring Pleasant Dreams, he wittily teaches about an essential topic to health: some good sleep! Lastly, as if closing a circle, we bring Advice to a Young Tradesman, where he likewise shares his ideas in the form of a letter, this time in the role of an experienced tradesman advising a young apprentice. This last essay complements the first one.
In one of the most relevant nonfiction works in the last centuries, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber highlighted the importance of Benjamin Franklin’s insight to the ideals of North Americans and capitalism in a Protestant society. As a matter of fact, Franklin does not preach the right for the right’s sake (as the Kantian philosophy and its categorical imperatives) – his lessons, instead, are essentially utilitarian. His point is not that being honest is good because it is right, but rather because it is profitable, generates credit, and helps one attain wealth. And wealth is not meant for buying futilities – not because that would be irrational or wrong, but because it leads to misery. Weber points out that “Franklin’s moral attitudes are colored with utilitarianism. Honesty, like punctuality, laboriousness, and frugality, is useful because it ensures credit – and that is why they are virtues”. In this German sociologist’s understanding, these virtues and efficiency are “the true alpha and omega of Franklin’s ethics – the social ethics of a capitalist society, which is present, without exception, in all his writings.
It may seem irrational to acquire wealth just for the sake of being wealthy. It may seem unreasonable, from a naive standpoint, to exert so much effort only to “go down to the grave overloaded with a great material burden, full of money and properties” and not enjoy any of it during one’s lifetime. Nevertheless, this is what Weber considers the summum bonum of this ethics: developing an idea that “making money in the modern economic order, as long as done legally, is the result and expression of virtue and efficiency in one’s calling”.
The utilitarian philosophy may be criticized for focusing on the ends, instead of the means employed to this end. However, we do not consider that the pragmatic and utilitarian nature of his ideas is so entwined as to diminish or condemn the system of thought developed in Franklin’s discourse. With this approach, we invite our readers to pore over these essays, for the utility he imparts in his teachings leads to freedom, wealth, understanding, health, and prosperity. Hence, we must learn from this special utilitarian principle – and find that doing what is right for the right’s sake is good, not only because it is right, but also because it is the best thing to do to achieve happiness. Moreover, for those who do not believe in this utopia, we can learn that these precious teachings help pave the way to financial independence, which in turn can ensure plenty of freedom, time, and tranquility to enjoy a good life.
I HAVE heard, that nothing gives an author so great pleasure as to find his works respectfully quoted by other learned authors. This pleasure I have seldom enjoyed; for though I have been, if I may say it without vanity, an eminent author (of Almanacks) annually now a full quarter of a century, my brother authors in the same way (for what reason I know not) have ever been very sparing in their applauses; and no other author has taken the least notice of me: so that did not my writings produce me some solid pudding, the great deficiency of praise would have quite discouraged me.
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