On Lighthouses


“Lighthouses are more useful than churches.”

– Benjamin Franklin


“Were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a light-house.”

Benjamin Franklin wrote this in a letter to his wife on 17 July 1757, after narrowly avoiding a shipwreck. These lines are often misquoted as “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.” Instead, Franklin—who identified himself as a Deist, not as a Christian, let alone a Roman Catholic—rather wittily remarks he is sceptical about the practical value of a chapel at the seaside to prevent shipwreck, as if to say “if I were to do anything to help prevent ships running aground, I would build a tower containing a guiding light and not some place of worship.”

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2 thoughts on “On Lighthouses

  1. Isn’t this one of those rhetorical fallacies mentioned in the other post? It’s like saying “forks are more useful than knives”. Depends for what.

    There is a Russian book of comically “wise” aphorisms by Kozma Prutkov which is a pen name of three rather famous Russian writers.

    If ever asked: What’s more useful, the sun or the moon, respond: The moon. For the sun only shines during daytime, when it’s light anyway, whereas the moon shines at night.

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