Department of Philosophy, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I suggest in this article that Benjamin Franklin's electrical experiments were naturalistic and reactive towards providential theories of natural harmony and electricity provided by the English experimentalists Stephen Hales, William Watson and Benjamin Wilson. Conceptualizing nature as a divine balance, Franklin rejected English arguments for God's conservation of nature's harmony, suggesting instead that nature had within itself the ability to re-equilibrate when rendered unbalanced. Whilst Franklin's work reveals an experimentally defined fissure between providential and naturalistic views of matter and motion in the mid-eighteenth century, his subsequent reflections on the use of natural philosophy sheds light on the divergent trajectory of utility implicit in these differing views. Hales and Watson in particular believed that insight into nature's providential manifestations gave the natural philosopher a medically restorative role, aligning the power of nature with God's benevolent purpose to heal the infirm. For Franklin, humanity behaved like nature, moving only when necessary. Natural philosophy existed to help these needs, making new worlds that had no dependence on God.
(Online publication February 23 2012)
The author would like to thank John Hedley Brooke, John Christie, Moti Feingold, Jon Hodge, Chris Kenny, Greg Radick, Jon Topham, Adrian Wilson and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts.