Immanuel Kant on Benjamin Franklin

Feb 11, 2016

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!!

Angelina Stanford

Angelina Stanford

Angelina Stanford has an MA in English literature from the University of Louisiana, graduating Phi Kappa Phi, and has taught in various Christian classical classrooms for over 20 years.  She is currently teaching the Great Books online to high school students at the Harvey Center for Family Learning and recently joined the online faculty of the Circe Academy.  She’s also the co-star of the popular Circe podcast “Close Reads.”  She has a particular interest in myths, fairy tales, and understanding literature through the study of mythological archetypes and biblical typologies—as well as a mild obsession with the influence of Celtic fairy stories and Celtic Christianity on the development of British literature.  She also has a more than mild obsession with Wendell Berry.​​

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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