These dark moments were rare for Franklin not because he lacked moral principles but because those very principles gave him a deep affection for simple decency and a supreme vantage point from which to laugh at the pretenses and self-deceptions that surround most efforts to be moral—including many of his own. In his early essay on liberty and necessity, Franklin did conclude that the metaphysical difficulties with the doctrine of free will made the distinction between virtue and vice an empty one.
But a little more experience and reflection soon persuaded him that this conclusion was absurd.
These, he thought, were less shortcuts to truth than barriers to understanding and peaceful resolution.
Just about any ringing abstract claim invites its equally assertive counterclaim.
Instead, he urged that we focus our attention on whatever lay within our grasp and means.
Caring so deeply about providence, Franklin made it his business to help others try their hand as well.
The colonists' claim of rights elicited the Parliament's claim of its rights; the arguments used by Britain could as well—and as absurdly—be used (in Franklin's famous hoax) by the "King of Prussia" in reasserting his rights against the English descendants of his Saxon subjects.
Franklin's famous "strategy of humility" aimed at getting people off their doctrinal high horses.
Turning to his sundry projects, this savvy man of affairs was well served by his clarity of mind.
In confronting any particular situation, condition, or impasse, he steered clear of the commonplaces and certitudes that were the stuff of ordinary discourse.