Franklin and Jefferson on science vs. public service

Quotes from Edmund S. Morgan, Benjamin Franklin (Yale Nota Bene)

p. 25-26 “Obviously the man we want to know had something other than riches in mind when he retired from business. Given his interest in science – he was just beginning his electrical experiments – he could have devoted the rest of his life to it. But we already noted that he did not, nor did he consider his scientific work as important as the rest of the world did. His refusal to defend his views against criticism reflected not only an aversion to public controversy about them but also a conviction that scientific inquiry was not itself as worthy of anyone’s time and effort, not as useful, as public service.”

p. 26 “Twenty-eight years later, Thomas Jefferson expressed an opposite view of the relative merits of science and public service. In a letter to David Rittenhouse, a much lesser scientists than Franklin but widely respected his contemporaries as an astronomer, Jefferson expressed concern that Rittenhouse was squandering his time in public service in the Pennsylvania legislative assembly.”


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