Benjamin Franklin, Natural Right, and the Art of Virtue

Benjamin Franklin, Natural Right, and the Art of Virtue

Kevin Slack


University of Rochester Press



A thorough examination of Benjamin Franklin's works on philosophy and politics, arguing that Franklin was a philosopher of natural right
Benjamin Franklin's writings on politics are voluminous, and his own politics are well known, yet scholars debate -- often fiercely -- whether he had a political philosophy and, if so, what it was. Benjamin Franklin, Natural Right, and the Art of Virtue is a study of Franklin's political and philosophical writings, tracing the development of his political thought and elucidating the political philosophy he came to embrace and put into practice.

Kevin Slack argues that Franklin, despite his reputation as a wit and clever politician, examined the nature of politics, virtue, and morality more deeply than any scholar has given him credit for. Franklin, as Slack demonstrates, rejected metaphysics during a period of youthful skepticism, adopting radical skepticism, but later abandoned that view for a third alternative, Shaftesbury's common-sense philosophy. Engaging in a rigorous critique of religious and political authorities, Franklin rejected all authoritative claims but that of reason, which he used to investigate the nature of justice, or natural right. Slack shows here that Franklin was a thinker in the tradition of Socrates, and thus a political philosopher in the truest and highest sense.

Kevin Slack is assistant professor of politics at Hillsdale College.


2 line illustrations
318 pages
9x6 in
Hardback, 9781580465632, June 2017
eBook, 9781787440197, June 2017
University of Rochester Press
BISAC POL010000, PHI019000, HIS036030
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Related Titles

Table of Contents

Liberty and Necessity
Truth and Usefulness
Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion
On the Providence of God in the Government of the World
The Science of Virtue
The Virtues of a Free People
Political Principles
Political Theory


The author's thoroughly researched and cogently argued thesis adds a new dimension to our understanding of one of America's most influential founding fathers. CERCLES Kevin Slack offers here a learned commentary on the ethical dilemma faced in the eighteenth century by Mandeville's dictum "private vice, public good." Slack shows how Franklin's political philosophy arises naturally from his creative efforts to resolve Mandeville's apparent ethical revolution. --Ralph Ketcham, Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University

Kevin Slack executes a tour de force through the oeuvre of Benjamin Franklin, uncovering some new attributions along the way. The Franklin he gives us is thoroughly modern, thoroughly Enlightenment, and thoroughly philosophical. At the same time, Slack shows how Franklin's life and thought were leavened with the common-sense humanism of Shaftesbury, creating a kinship with classical thought. Slack's is a stimulating and provocative take on Franklin. --Steven Forde, professor of political science, University of North Texas.