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Immanuel Kant on Benjamin Franklin

In his 1755 essay “The Modern Prometheus,” Immanuel Kant cautioned mankind against defying the natural order of things.

“There is such a thing as right taste in natural science, which knows how to distinguish the wild extravagances of unbridled curiosity from cautious judgements of reasonable credibility. From the Prometheus of recent times Mr. Franklin, who wanted to disarm the thunder, down to the man who wants to extinguish the fire in the workshop of Vulcanus, all these endeavors result in the humiliating reminder that Man never can be anything more than a man.”

Mary Shelley would subtitle her masterpiece, Frankenstein, “the modern Prometheus,” deliberately referencing the Kant essay. It’s highly likely that Mr. Franklin was the model for Dr. Frankstein!

It’s easy for us to forget that in his lifetime Benjamin Franklin was most famous for his work as a scientist, particularly his experiments with electricity. Thinking of him primarily as a writer and a founding father, I never made the connection between him and one of my favorite novels. This changes everything!!

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