Benjamin Franklin, Business Ethics, Newspapers And Teaching

From the John Torrey Morse, Jr. biography of Benjamin Franklin (pages 23-24)

But the famous almanac was not the only pulpit whence Franklin preached to the people. He had an excellent ideal of a newspaper. He got news into it, which was seldom done in those days, and which made it attractive; he got advertisements into it, which made it pay, and which also was a novel feature; indeed, Mr. Parton says that he “originated the modern system of business advertising;” he also discussed matters of public interest. Thus he anticipated the modern newspaper, but in some respects improved in advance upon that which he anticipated. He made his “Gazette” a vehicle for disseminating information and morality, and he carefully excluded from it “all libeling and personal abuse.” The sheet in its every issue was doing the same sort of work as “Poor Richard.” In a word, Franklin was a born teacher of men, and what he did in this way in these his earlier days gives him rank among the most distinguished moralists who have ever lived.

I, myself, am a teacher and a good one. Franklin is very good. He is fond of facts, fascinated with reason and inclined toward discussion, both intelligent and moderate.

But do not think for a moment that Franklin was not willing to be angry or unwilling to use strong language. He knew that civility is not a one way street. He was a leader in revolution, at times, a soldier and a master of spies.

We need Franklin’s example now, more than ever. Franklin believed in virtue, virtue ethics like those practiced by the Greeks. That system says that we do the right thing because it is a better way to live, that it has benefits and we profit by them.

Those benefits are generally internal, how we feel about ourselves, others, this life or the next one. But Franklin takes it to a place where we can see that you can be virtuous and effective, honest and successful, hard-working and prosperous. He takes virtue ethics and shows how when applied with diligence and intelligence, a balanced life is possible.

The Greeks of the Classical Age believed in the moderation in all things. I do not. Neither did Franklin.

However, we can certainly say that Franklin believed in moderation in most things and recommended such to others.

Let that be our lesson today.

James Pilant