Is Benjamin Franklin a Puritan?

No.  But from Puritan autobiography to Benjamin Franklin, there is a noticeable change in what Watson and Smith call the ideological “I”.  In Reading Autdbiography, they define the ideological “I” as the “mobile positionalities of the ‘I’” or in other words, the cultural scripts at play on the author, the lens through which the “I” sees itself.  However, in both the case of the Puritans and Franklin, their ideological “I”s operate in unique ways.

In the case of the Puritans, their religion acts as their ideological “I”.  Their lives are filtered through God; everything from disaster to dinner is handed down directly from the Almighty.  Franklin, perhaps as a cultural reaction or through pure cynicism, achieves an ideological “I” that is polar to the Puritans.  Franklin sees the world through a scientific and logical lens that removes the “God” influence that is so present with the Puritans.  Instead, Franklin takes the control of his life away from God and places himself and, most importantly, his reason in the driver’s seat.

For instance, he allows himself to eat fish again after years of being a vegetarian because, he reasons, fish eat each other so why can’t humans, “if you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.”  But in this respect, Franklin is not so different from the Puritans.  While they justified their lives through God, Franklin views his life through reason.  For example, after he reasons the fish edible, Franklin says, “So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for every thing one has a mind to do.”  Franklin has replaced God with reason as his most influential ideological “I”.  And like the Puritan’s God, Franklin’s Reason is equally pervasive in his life.


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