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Episode #3 – Dr. Eric Daniels on The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin didn’t accept things on tradition or by authority. He screened every behaviour and action to see what worked for him and what produced its desired effect.

For Episode #3 I’m joined by Dr. Eric Daniels to discuss The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and how you can learn to do the same.

Dr. Daniels teaches at LePort Schools – a network of private schools based on the Montessori program in southern California. Prior to moving to LePort, Eric was a professor at Clemson University’s Institute for the Study of Capitalism, as well as Duke University, and Georgetown University — completing his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin.

Eric’s 2013 talk at The 21 Convention, “The Self Made Man” (embedded below), is one of my all-time favourite lectures – a talk that I’ve watched upwards of eight times.

We cover a lot of ground here, and it’s an all-around fascinating discussion.

In the first part of our conversation we cover:

– The incredible degree of self-awareness Franklin displayed, and the systematic approach he used to gain such clarity of thought;
– The concept of “moral ambitiousness” – defining what you want, figuring out the means of getting it, and going after an outcome with everything you’ve got;
– A reality-check on the hardships of success, and what you need to do to ready yourself as a young and ambitious person.

In the second we explore:

–The culture of ‘self-making’ and the ingredients that allowed for the breakthrough of social mobility in the American 18th Century;
–The dangers of societal inertia and the necessity for growth and continual improvement;
–Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, and what it means to have self-directed success.

It was a great honour to conduct this interview.

My hope is that it will cause you to consider what you want out of live more deeply than you ever have before, reset your “internal compass”, and inspire you to formulate your own code of virtues and values to live by. A tall order indeed!

For context in the second half of questioning, for those unfamiliar with Objectivism, here’s a definition from the back cover of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

Objectivism: an uncompromising defence of self-interest as the engine of progress.

Without further a do, here is the episode…


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[*] Follow Eric on Twitter @ProfDaniels

[*] Pick up your copy of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Resources mentioned

– Eric’s talk, “The Self Made Man” (which I HIGHLY recommend watching)

Matt Ridley – Waterloo or railways

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Flow

Alex Epstein – The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

– A quote from Emerson which I think sums up the “crabs in a bucket” solution wonderfully: “Envy is the tax which all distinction must pay.”


To wrap up, I’d love to hear a) what you thought of the episode, and b) what peculiar rituals this has inspired you to embrace to make yourself a more effective person. Leave a note in the comments below!


  1. This is an excellent interview — virtually up to BBC Radio 4 standards: well done!

  2. It’s clear as day how much both you and Eric have considered these ideas, and this podcast episode is the perfect compliment to Eric’s 21C talk which I watched after the announcement.

  3. I’ve listened to the whole thing and think that it is very well researched and well put together. My weird habit would have to be watching an obscene number of documentaries (but rarely reading books!)

  4. Great interview! Though I did not find the America-specific stuff that interesting.. But what you discussed about moral ambitiousness was very inspiring! I started a few weeks ago to create a list of values that I want to create for myself. After listening to your interview, I will add one more: I don´t want to have a crab mentality, so if I see someone doing something great I want to show my honest appreciation and encourage him to give his best, instead of feeling threatened of what he can/does that I can´t

  5. Great interview!
    I wasn’t very fond at first how the talk deviated from Franklin’s biography to a 1:1 between you two.
    But: I can still read it myself!
    ..It’s one of my pitfalls: Concentrate on the content instead of building the bridge to my own life, opinion and how to apply it..
    I’m a fan of the ‘personal development on steroids’ article of yours.
    The intellectual masturbation-thing: Nailed it.

    I did like how Prof. Daniels talked about the motivation of Agassi’s actions, in a very human way, and the importance of individualism.
    He gives a history lecture in a nutshell and is very sympathetic so I liked listening to him.

    What I want to embrace more:
    Ambivalence. It’s not a ritual. More a way of coping with opposite traits, habits and rituals I have:
    I love kindness but feel a strong need, and think it would be healthy to be a bit more of a bitch sometimes.
    I’m a chaotic person and still put a huge effort in getting organized.
    I’ve been keeping, writing down and categorizing every receipt for a year now, taking control of my bank accounts, expenses and savings. Even paying someone to find a system.
    Might seem odd to some, but I’m more and more convinced it’s not stupid.
    I’ve learned to have an overview, save, and determine what for.
    I can be very meticulous in description, but tend to leave something out e.g. notes on pics of places I’ve been – but not put a date on it; write about experiences I’ve made – but not mention where I was exactly.
    I now put a date on everything!
    Helps me to track back and stay on track.
    I also date books. When I bought them. When I start/continue my reading.
    I have a calendar AND a keep track booklet as a control panel for thoughts, to do lists, what I do instead – down to people I meet and ideas to be transferred into my ideas-book. It’s all messy, but I’m happy I keep trying!
    As I’m a very forth and back thinker, I try to state an opinion with conviction and confidence once a day.
    Many people don’t get it, I stopped that game of mine in the past but start to pick it up again.
    It’s more to get a grip, discuss something, grow, get challenged. And feel free to change my mind if needs be.
    The people who do get it are the ones I’d miss out on some really good conversations if I didn’t do it.
    Thanks for inviting to share,
    kind regards.

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