1724 | Block Island

Principle Versus Inclination

Ben Franklin rationalizes his seafood dinner.

I believe I have omitted mentioning that, in my first voyage from Boston, being becalmed off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many.

Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion I considered, with my master Tryon, the taking of every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and when this came hot out of the frying pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanced some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, “If you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.” So I dined upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

Painting of Benjamin Franklin reading a batch of papers next to a classical bust.

Benjamin Franklin

From his Autobiography. Born the tenth son of seventeen children in 1706, Franklin quit school at the age of ten and became an apprentice printer two years later. He settled in Philadelphia in 1726, printing the state’s currency in 1730 and beginning to publish Poor Richard’s almanac in 1732. Franklin invented, among other things, the lightning rod, bifocal glasses, and the odometer.