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One of the greatest challenges facing biographers of Bacon is to reconcile his political and philosophical careers. Francis Bacon was a skillful political operator who fell from grace and who was ultimately charged with corruption. He was also a serious philosophical and scientific writer. Many early biographers preferred to gloss over his unsavory reputation, or rigorously separate the two parts of his life.
The truth is perhaps not so simple; Bacon's two lives were always linked. Francis Bacon was born in in London. He had many important family connections amongst the upper strata of Elizabethan society. At his father's death in , Bacon was penniless and he decided to follow a legal career. He became an MP in , in , and ; the next decades of his life were a constant search for patronage and position.
His patron the Earl of Essex unsuccessfully campaigned to have him made Solicitor General in After Essex's rebellion in , Bacon escaped prosecution. He was knighted by James I in , and began to gain favor with the new King; he became a Privy Councillor in Bacon acquired James's favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, as a patron.
Albans in Later that year he was impeached by the House of Commons for accepting bribes. Disgraced, Bacon retired to the country. He died in A persistent rumor claims that he died after catching cold from stuffing a chicken with snow to investigate the effects of freezing.
Many of Bacon's major works were written whilst he held public office, but his most productive period came after his fall from power. His Essays appeared in , and in later enlarged editions in and The Advancement of Learning was published in ; Bacon intended to gain favor with James by dedicating the work to him. It appeared in Latin translation in De Sapientia Veterum Wisdom of the Ancients appeared in The New Organon was first published in Bacon's chaplain William Rawley published many of his papers posthumously.
Bacon's most immediate philosophical context is that of Aristotelian philosophy, which was still one of the prevalent intellectual currents of Bacon's day. Aristotle's Physics, which emphasized the role of a complex system of causes, form and matter, offered a theoretical rather than experimental picture of the natural world. Medieval Aristotelian philosophers, collectively known as the scholastics, sought to interpret and update Aristotle's system. However, absolute consensus around Aristotle clearly did not exist, even in the universities.
When Bacon was at Cambridge, attacks on Aristotle's logic by the French thinker Ramus were being debated. Recent scholarship emphasizes the wide range of opinions that can be classed as Aristotelian. Bacon was by no means the first thinker to react against Aristotle, but to understand his reaction one must recognize the importance of Aristotle in early modern intellectual life.
This reaction was indeed a severe one; Bacon's key aim throughout The New Organon was to replace what he believed to be Aristotle's universal truths with the idea that truth had to be discovered. Bacon's involvement with contemporary experimental philosophy is also important.
From comments in The New Organon itself, and from his letters, we know that Bacon took a keen interest in scientific developments and discoveries, despite his criticism of purely empirical philosophy. His discussions of Galileo's theory of tides, Gilbert's concept of magnetism, and of the use of the recently-developed microscope, show a philosopher in touch with contemporary developments.
Bacon also performed and directed his own experiments, some of which were more successful than the chicken-freezing enterprise that hastened his demise. The modern view of Bacon emphasizes the. Open navigation menu. Close suggestions Search Search. User Settings. Because humans reason through the use of words they are particularly dangerous, because the received definitions of words, which are often falsely derived, can cause confusion.
He outlines two subsets of this kind of idol and provides examples Aphorism These idols manifest themselves in the unwise acceptance of certain philosophical dogmas, namely Aristotle's sophistical natural philosophy named specifically in Aphorism 63 which was corrupted by his passion for logic, and Plato's superstitious philosophy, which relied too heavily on theological principles.
After enumerating the shortcomings of the current and past natural philosophies, Bacon can now present his own philosophy and methods. Bacon retains the Aristotelian causes, but redefines them in interesting ways. While traditionally the final cause was held as most important among the four material, formal, efficient, and final , Bacon claims that it is the least helpful and in some cases actually detrimental to the sciences aph.
For Bacon, it is the formal cause which is both the most illusive and most valuable, although each of the causes provides certain practical devices. By forms and formal causes, Bacon means the universal laws of nature. To these Bacon attaches an almost occult like power:.
But he who knows forms grasps the unity of nature beneath the surface of materials which are very unlike. Thus is he able to identify and bring about things that have never been done before, things of the kind which neither the vicissitudes of nature, nor hard experimenting, nor pure accident could ever have actualised, or human thought dreamed of.
And thus from the discovery of the forms flows true speculation and unrestricted operation aphorism 3. In this second book, Bacon offers an example of the process that of what he calls true induction. In this example, Bacon attempts to grasp the form of heat.
The first step he takes is the surveying of all known instances where the nature of heat appears to exist. To this compilation of observational data Bacon gives the name Table of Essence and Presence. The next table, the Table of Absence in Proximity , is essentially the opposite—a compilation of all the instances in which the nature of heat is not present.
Because these are so numerous, Bacon enumerates only the most relevant cases. Lastly, Bacon attempts to categorise the instances of the nature of heat into various degrees of intensity in his Table of Degrees. The aim of this final table is to eliminate certain instances of heat which might be said to be the form of heat, and thus get closer to an approximation of the true form of heat. Such elimination occurs through comparison. For example, the observation that both a fire and boiling water are instances of heat allows us to exclude light as the true form of heat, because light is present in the case of the fire but not in the case of the boiling water.
Through this comparative analysis, Bacon intends to eventually extrapolate the true form of heat, although it is clear that such a goal is only gradually approachable by degrees. Indeed, the hypothesis that is derived from this eliminative induction, which Bacon names The First Vintage , is only the starting point from which additional empirical evidence and experimental analysis can refine our conception of a formal cause.
The "Baconian method" does not end at the First Vintage. Bacon described numerous classes of Instances with Special Powers, cases in which the phenomenon one is attempting to explain is particularly relevant. These instances, of which Bacon describes 27 in Novum Organum , aid and accelerate the process of induction. They are "labour-saving devices or shortcuts intended to accelerate or make more rigorous the search for forms by providing logical reinforcement to induction.
Aside from the First Vintage and the Instances with Special Powers, Bacon enumerates additional "aids to the intellect" which presumably are the next steps in his "method. These additional aids, however, were never explained beyond their initial limited appearance in Novum Organum. It is likely that Bacon intended them to be included in later parts of Instauratio magna and simply never got to writing about them. As mentioned above, this second book of Novum organum was far from complete and indeed was only a small part of a massive, also unfinished work, the Instauratio magna.
Both thinkers were, in a sense, some of the first to question the philosophical authority of the ancient Greeks. Bacon and Descartes both believed that a critique of preexisting natural philosophy was necessary, but their respective critiques proposed radically different approaches to natural philosophy. Two over-lapping movements developed; "one was rational and theoretical in approach and was headed by Rene Descartes; the other was practical and empirical and was led by Francis Bacon.
On the one hand, Descartes begins with a doubt of anything which cannot be known with absolute certainty and includes in this realm of doubt the impressions of sense perception, and thus, "all sciences of corporal things, such as physics and astronomy.
In this method of deduction, the philosopher begins by examining the most general axioms such as the Cogito , and then proceeds to determine the truth about particulars from an understanding of those general axioms. Conversely, Bacon endorsed the opposite method of Induction, in which the particulars are first examined, and only then is there a gradual ascent to the most general axioms. While Descartes doubts the ability of the senses to provide us with accurate information, Bacon doubts the ability of the mind to deduce truths by itself as it is subjected to so many intellectual obfuscations, Bacon's "Idols.
So, in a basic sense the central difference between the philosophical methods of Descartes and those of Bacon can be reduced to an argument between deductive and inductive reasoning and whether to trust or doubt the senses. However, there is another profound difference between the two thinkers' positions on the accessibility of Truth.
Descartes professed to be aiming at absolute Truth. It is questionable whether Bacon believed such a Truth can be achieved. In his opening remarks, he proposes "to establish progressive stages of certainty. An interesting characteristic of Bacon's apparently scientific tract was that, although he amassed an overwhelming body of empirical data , he did not make any original discoveries. Indeed, that was never his intention, and such an evaluation of Bacon's legacy may wrongfully lead to an unjust comparison with Newton.
Bacon never claimed to have brilliantly revealed new unshakable truths about nature—in fact, he believed that such an endeavour is not the work of single minds but that of whole generations by gradual degrees toward reliable knowledge. In many ways, Bacon's contribution to the advancement of human knowledge lies not in the fruit of his scientific research but in the reinterpretation of the methods of natural philosophy. His innovation is summarised in The Oxford Francis Bacon :. Before Bacon where else does one find a meticulously articulated view of natural philosophy as an enterprise of instruments and experiment, and enterprise designed to restrain discursive reason and make good the defects of the senses?
Where else in the literature before Bacon does one come across a stripped-down natural-historical programme of such enormous scope and scrupulous precision, and designed to serve as the basis for a complete reconstruction of human knowledge which would generate new, vastly productive sciences through a form of eliminative induction supported by various other procedures including deduction?
Where else does one find a concept of scientific research which implies an institutional framework of such proportions that it required generations of permanent state funding to sustain it? And all this accompanied by a thorough, searching, and devastating attack on ancient and not-so-ancient philosophies, and by a provisional natural philosophy anticipating the results of the new philosophy?
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For new musical instruments, see Experimental musical instrument. Main article: Baconian method. Perspectives on Science. Oxford: Clarendon, Seventeenth-Century Rationalism: Bacon and Descartes. Massachusetts: Blaisdell, Francis Bacon.
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These I call Idols of the Theater, because in my judgment all the received systems are but so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion. Nor is it only of the systems now in vogue, or only of the ancient sects and philosophies, that I speak; for many more plays of the same kind may yet be composed and in like artificial manner set forth; seeing that errors the most widely different have nevertheless causes for the most part alike.
Neither again do I mean this only of entire systems, but also of many principles and axioms in science, which by tradition, credulity, and negligence have come to be received. But of these several kinds of Idols I must speak more largely and exactly, that the understanding may be duly cautioned. The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds. And though there be many things in nature which are singular and unmatched, yet it devises for them parallels and conjugates and relatives which do not exist.
Hence the fiction that all celestial bodies move in perfect circles, spirals and dragons being except in name utterly rejected. Hence too the element of fire with its orb is brought in, to make up the square with the other three which the sense perceives. Hence also the ratio of density of the so-called elements is arbitrarily fixed at ten to one. And so on of other dreams. And these fancies affect not dogmas only, but simple notions also.
The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.
But with far more subtlety does this mischief insinuate itself into philosophy and the sciences; in which the first conclusion colors and brings into conformity with itself all that come after, though far sounder and better. Besides, independently of that delight and vanity which I have described, it is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human intellect to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives; whereas it ought properly to hold itself indifferently disposed toward both alike.
Indeed, in the establishment of any true axiom, the negative instance is the more forcible of the two. The human understanding is moved by those things most which strike and enter the mind simultaneously and suddenly, and so fill the imagination; and then it feigns and supposes all other things to be somehow, though it cannot see how, similar to those few things by which it is surrounded.
But for that going to and fro to remote and heterogeneous instances by which axioms are tried as in the fire, the intellect is altogether slow and unfit, unless it be forced thereto by severe laws and overruling authority. The human understanding is unquiet; it cannot stop or rest, and still presses onward, but in vain. Therefore it is that we cannot conceive of any end or limit to the world, but always as of necessity it occurs to us that there is something beyond.
Neither, again, can it be conceived how eternity has flowed down to the present day, for that distinction which is commonly received of infinity in time past and in time to come can by no means hold; for it would thence follow that one infinity is greater than another, and that infinity is wasting away and tending to become finite. The like subtlety arises touching the infinite divisibility of lines, from the same inability of thought to stop.
But this inability interferes more mischievously in the discovery of causes; for although the most general principles in nature ought to be held merely positive, as they are discovered, and cannot with truth be referred to a cause, nevertheless the human understanding being unable to rest still seeks something prior in the order of nature. And then it is that in struggling toward that which is further off it falls back upon that which is nearer at hand, namely, on final causes, which have relation clearly to the nature of man rather than to the nature of the universe; and from this source have strangely defiled philosophy.
But he is no less an unskilled and shallow philosopher who seeks causes of that which is most general, than he who in things subordinate and subaltern omits to do so. The human understanding is no dry light, but receives an infusion from the will and affections; whence proceed sciences which may be called "sciences as one would.
Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should seem to be occupied with things mean and transitory; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless, in short, are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections color and infect the understanding.
But by far the greatest hindrance and aberration of the human understanding proceeds from the dullness, incompetency, and deceptions of the senses; in that things which strike the sense outweigh things which do not immediately strike it, though they be more important.
Hence it is that speculation commonly ceases where sight ceases; insomuch that of things invisible there is little or no observation. Hence all the working of the spirits enclosed in tangible bodies lies hid and unobserved of men. So also all the more subtle changes of form in the parts of coarser substances which they commonly call alteration, though it is in truth local motion through exceedingly small spaces is in like manner unobserved. And yet unless these two things just mentioned be searched out and brought to light, nothing great can be achieved in nature, as far as the production of works is concerned.
So again the essential nature of our common air, and of all bodies less dense than air which are very many , is almost unknown. For the sense by itself is a thing infirm and erring; neither can instruments for enlarging or sharpening the senses do much; but all the truer kind of interpretation of nature is effected by instances and experiments fit and apposite; wherein the sense decides touching the experiment only, and the experiment touching the point in nature and the thing itself.
The human understanding is of its own nature prone to abstractions and gives a substance and reality to things which are fleeting. But to resolve nature into abstractions is less to our purpose than to dissect her into parts; as did the school of Democritus, which went further into nature than the rest. Matter rather than forms should be the object of our attention, its configurations and changes of configuration, and simple action, and law of action or motion; for forms are figments of the human mind, unless you will call those laws of action forms.
Such then are the idols which I call Idols of the Tribe , and which take their rise either from the homogeneity of the substance of the human spirit, or from its preoccupation, or from its narrowness, or from its restless motion, or from an infusion of the affections, or from the incompetency of the senses, or from the mode of impression. The Idols of the Cave take their rise in the peculiar constitution, mental or bodily, of each individual; and also in education, habit, and accident.
Of this kind there is a great number and variety. But I will instance those the pointing out of which contains the most important caution, and which have most effect in disturbing the clearness of the understanding. Men become attached to certain particular sciences and speculations, either because they fancy themselves the authors and inventors thereof, or because they have bestowed the greatest pains upon them and become most habituated to them.
But men of this kind, if they betake themselves to philosophy and contemplation of a general character, distort and color them in obedience to their former fancies; a thing especially to be noticed in Aristotle, who made his natural philosophy a mere bond servant to his logic, thereby rendering it contentious and well-nigh useless. The race of chemists, again out of a few experiments of the furnace, have built up a fantastic philosophy, framed with reference to a few things; and Gilbert also, after he had employed himself most laboriously in the study and observation of the loadstone, proceeded at once to construct an entire system in accordance with his favorite subject.
There is one principal and as it were radical distinction between different minds, in respect of philosophy and the sciences, which is this: that some minds are stronger and apter to mark the differences of things, others to mark their resemblances. The steady and acute mind can fix its contemplations and dwell and fasten on the subtlest distinctions; the lofty and discursive mind recognizes and puts together the finest and most general resemblances.
Both kinds, however, easily err in excess, by catching the one at gradations, the other at shadows. There are found some minds given to an extreme admiration of antiquity, others to an extreme love and appetite for novelty; but few so duly tempered that they can hold the mean, neither carping at what has been well laid down by the ancients, nor despising what is well introduced by the moderns.
This, however, turns to the great injury of the sciences and philosophy, since these affectations of antiquity and novelty are the humors of partisans rather than judgments; and truth is to be sought for not in the felicity of any age, which is an unstable thing, but in the light of nature and experience, which is eternal.
These factions therefore must be abjured, and care must be taken that the intellect be not hurried by them into assent. Contemplations of nature and of bodies in their simple form break up and distract the understanding, while contemplations of nature and bodies in their composition and configuration overpower and dissolve the understanding, a distinction well seen in the school of Leucippus and Democritus as compared with the other philosophies.
For that school is so busied with the particles that it hardly attends to the structure, while the others are so lost in admiration of the structure that they do not penetrate to the simplicity of nature. These kinds of contemplation should therefore be alternated and taken by turns, so that the understanding may be rendered at once penetrating and comprehensive, and the inconveniences above mentioned, with the idols which proceed from them, may be avoided.
Let such then be our provision and contemplative prudence for keeping off and dislodging the Idols of the Cave , which grow for the most part either out of the predominance of a favorite subject, or out of an excessive tendency to compare or to distinguish, or out of partiality for particular ages, or out of the largeness or minuteness of the objects contemplated. And generally let every student of nature take this as a rule: that whatever his mind seizes and dwells upon with peculiar satisfaction is to be held in suspicion, and that so much the more care is to be taken in dealing with such questions to keep the understanding even and clear.
For men believe that their reason governs words; but it is also true that words react on the understanding; and this it is that has rendered philosophy and the sciences sophistical and inactive. Now words, being commonly framed and applied according to the capacity of the vulgar, follow those lines of division which are most obvious to the vulgar understanding. And whenever an understanding of greater acuteness or a more diligent observation would alter those lines to suit the true divisions of nature, words stand in the way and resist the change.
Whence it comes to pass that the high and formal discussions of learned men end oftentimes in disputes about words and names; with which according to the use and wisdom of the mathematicians it would be more prudent to begin, and so by means of definitions reduce them to order. Yet even definitions cannot cure this evil in dealing with natural and material things, since the definitions themselves consist of words, and those words beget others.
So that it is necessary to recur to individual instances, and those in due series and order, as I shall say presently when I come to the method and scheme for the formation of notions and axioms. The idols imposed by words on the understanding are of two kinds. They are either names of things which do not exist for as there are things left unnamed through lack of observation, so likewise are there names which result from fantastic suppositions and to which nothing in reality corresponds , or they are names of things which exist, but yet confused and ill-defined, and hastily and irregularly derived from realities.
Of the former kind are Fortune, the Prime Mover, Planetary Orbits, Element of Fire, and like fictions which owe their origin to false and idle theories. And this class of idols is more easily expelled, because to get rid of them it is only necessary that all theories should be steadily rejected and dismissed as obsolete. But the other class, which springs out of a faulty and unskillful abstraction, is intricate and deeply rooted.
Let us take for example such a word as humid and see how far the several things which the word is used to signify agree with each other, and we shall find the word humid to be nothing else than a mark loosely and confusedly applied to denote a variety of actions which will not bear to be reduced to any constant meaning.
For it both signifies that which easily spreads itself round any other body; and that which in itself is indeterminate and cannot solidize; and that which readily yields in every direction; and that which easily divides and scatters itself; and that which easily unites and collects itself; and that which readily flows and is put in motion; and that which readily clings to another body and wets it; and that which is easily reduced to a liquid, or being solid easily melts.
Accordingly, when you come to apply the word, if you take it in one sense, flame is humid; if in another, air is not humid; if in another, fine dust is humid; if in another, glass is humid. So that it is easy to see that the notion is taken by abstraction only from water and common and ordinary liquids, without any due verification.
There are, however, in words certain degrees of distortion and error. One of the least faulty kinds is that of names of substances, especially of lowest species and well-deduced for the notion of chalk and of mud is good, of earth bad ; a more faulty kind is that of actions, as to generate, to corrupt, to alter ; the most faulty is of qualities except such as are the immediate objects of the sense as heavy, light, rare, dense , and the like.
Yet in all these cases some notions are of necessity a little better than others, in proportion to the greater variety of subjects that fall within the range of the human sense. But the Idols of the Theater are not innate, nor do they steal into the understanding secretly, but are plainly impressed and received into the mind from the playbooks of philosophical systems and the perverted rules of demonstration. To attempt refutations in this case would be merely inconsistent with what I have already said, for since we agree neither upon principles nor upon demonstrations there is no place for argument.
And this is so far well, inasmuch as it leaves the honor of the ancients untouched. For as the saying is, the lame man who keeps the right road outstrips the runner who takes a wrong one. Nay, it is obvious that when a man runs the wrong way, the more active and swift he is, the further he will go astray. But the course I propose for the discovery of sciences is such as leaves but little to the acuteness and strength of wits, but places all wits and understandings nearly on a level.
For as in the drawing of a straight line or a perfect circle, much depends on the steadiness and practice of the hand, if it be done by aim of hand only, but if with the aid of rule or compass, little or nothing; so is it exactly with my plan. But though particular confutations would be of no avail, yet touching the sects and general divisions of such systems I must say something; something also touching the external signs which show that they are unsound; and finally something touching the causes of such great infelicity and of such lasting and general agreement in error; that so the access to truth may be made less difficult, and the human understanding may the more willingly submit to its purgation and dismiss its idols.
Idols of the Theater, or of Systems, are many, and there can be and perhaps will be yet many more. For as on the phenomena of the heavens many hypotheses may be constructed, so likewise and more also many various dogmas may be set up and established on the phenomena of philosophy. And in the plays of this philosophical theater you may observe the same thing which is found in the theater of the poets, that stories invented for the stage are more compact and elegant, and more as one would wish them to be, than true stories out of history.
In general, however, there is taken for the material of philosophy either a great deal out of a few things, or a very little out of many things; so that on both sides philosophy is based on too narrow a foundation of experiment and natural history, and decides on the authority of too few cases.
For the Rational School of philosophers snatches from experience a variety of common instances, neither duly ascertained nor diligently examined and weighed, and leaves all the rest to meditation and agitation of wit. There is also another class of philosophers who, having bestowed much diligent and careful labor on a few experiments, have thence made bold to educe and construct systems, wresting all other facts in a strange fashion to conformity therewith.
And there is yet a third class, consisting of those who out of faith and veneration mix their philosophy with theology and traditions; among whom the vanity of some has gone so far aside as to seek the origin of sciences among spirits and genii. The most conspicuous example of the first class was Aristotle, who corrupted natural philosophy by his logic: fashioning the world out of categories; assigning to the human soul, the noblest of substances, a genus from words of the second intention; doing the business of density and rarity which is to make bodies of greater or less dimensions, that is, occupy greater or less spaces , by the frigid distinction of act and power; asserting that single bodies have each a single and proper motion, and that if they participate in any other, then this results from an external cause; and imposing countless other arbitrary restrictions on the nature of things; being always more solicitous to provide an answer to the question and affirm something positive in words, than about the inner truth of things; a failing best shown when his philosophy is compared with other systems of note among the Greeks.
Nor let any weight be given to the fact that in his books on animals and his problems, and other of his treatises, there is frequent dealing with experiments. For he had come to his conclusion before; he did not consult experience, as he should have done, for the purpose of framing his decisions and axioms, but having first determined the question according to his will, he then resorts to experience, and bending her into conformity with his placets, leads her about like a captive in a procession.
So that even on this count he is more guilty than his modern followers, the schoolmen, who have abandoned experience altogether. But the Empirical school of philosophy gives birth to dogmas more deformed and monstrous than the Sophistical or Rational school. For it has its foundations not in the light of common notions which though it be a faint and superficial light, is yet in a manner universal, and has reference to many things , but in the narrowness and darkness of a few experiments.
To those therefore who are daily busied with these experiments and have infected their imagination with them, such a philosophy seems probable and all but certain; to all men else incredible and vain. Of this there is a notable instance in the alchemists and their dogmas, though it is hardly to be found elsewhere in these times, except perhaps in the philosophy of Gilbert.
Nevertheless, with regard to philosophies of this kind there is one caution not to be omitted; for I foresee that if ever men are roused by my admonitions to betake themselves seriously to experiment and bid farewell to sophistical doctrines, then indeed through the premature hurry of the understanding to leap or fly to universals and principles of things, great danger may be apprehended from philosophies of this kind, against which evil we ought even now to prepare.
But the corruption of philosophy by superstition and an admixture of theology is far more widely spread, and does the greatest harm, whether to entire systems or to their parts. For the human understanding is obnoxious to the influence of the imagination no less than to the influence of common notions. For the contentious and sophistical kind of philosophy ensnares the understanding; but this kind, being fanciful and tumid and half poetical, misleads it more by flattery.
For there is in man an ambition of the understanding, no less than of the will, especially in high and lofty spirits. Of this kind we have among the Greeks a striking example in Pythagoras, though he united with it a coarser and more cumbrous superstition; another in Plato and his school, more dangerous and subtle.
It shows itself likewise in parts of other philosophies, in the introduction of abstract forms and final causes and first causes, with the omission in most cases of causes intermediate, and the like. Upon this point the greatest caution should be used. For nothing is so mischievous as the apotheosis of error; and it is a very plague of the understanding for vanity to become the object of veneration.
Yet in this vanity some of the moderns have with extreme levity indulged so far as to attempt to found a system of natural philosophy on the first chapter of Genesis, on the book of Job, and other parts of the sacred writings, seeking for the dead among the living; which also makes the inhibition and repression of it the more important, because from this unwholesome mixture of things human and divine there arises not only a fantastic philosophy but also a heretical religion.
Very meet it is therefore that we be sober-minded, and give to faith that only which is faith's. So much, then, for the mischievous authorities of systems, which are founded either on common notions, or on a few experiments, or on superstition. It remains to speak of the faulty subject matter of contemplations, especially in natural philosophy.
Now the human understanding is infected by the sight of what takes place in the mechanical arts, in which the alteration of bodies proceeds chiefly by composition or separation, and so imagines that something similar goes on in the universal nature of things. From this source has flowed the fiction of elements, and of their concourse for the formation of natural bodies. Again, when man contemplates nature working freely, he meets with different species of things, of animals, of plants, of minerals; whence he readily passes into the opinion that there are in nature certain primary forms which nature intends to educe, and that the remaining variety proceeds from hindrances and aberrations of nature in the fulfillment of her work, or from the collision of different species and the transplanting of one into another.
To the first of these speculations we owe our primary qualities of the elements; to the other our occult properties and specific virtues; and both of them belong to those empty compendia of thought wherein the mind rests, and whereby it is diverted from more solid pursuits. Nor are powers of this kind I do not say the same, but similar to be sought for only in the medicines of the human body, but also in the changes of all other bodies.
But it is a far greater evil that they make the quiescent principles, wherefrom , and not the moving principles, whereby , things are produced, the object of their contemplation and inquiry. For the former tend to discourse, the latter to works. Nor is there any value in those vulgar distinctions of motion which are observed in the received system of natural philosophy, as generation, corruption, augmentation, diminution, alteration, and local motion.
What they mean no doubt is this: if a body in other respects not changed be moved from its place, this is local motion ; if without change of place or essence, it be changed in quality, this is alteration ; if by reason of the change the mass and quantity of the body do not remain the same, this is augmentation or diminution ; if they be changed to such a degree that they change their very essence and substance and turn to something else, this is generation and corruption.
But all this is merely popular, and does not at all go deep into nature; for these are only measures and limits, not kinds of motion. What they intimate is how far , not by what means , or from what source. For they do not suggest anything with regard either to the desires of bodies or to the development of their parts.
It is only when that motion presents the thing grossly and palpably to the sense as different from what it was that they begin to mark the division. Even when they wish to suggest something with regard to the causes of motion, and to establish a division with reference to them, they introduce with the greatest negligence a distinction between motion natural and violent, a distinction which is itself drawn entirely from a vulgar notion, since all violent motion is also in fact natural; the external efficient simply setting nature working otherwise than it was before.
Nor again is it a lesser evil that in their philosophies and contemplations their labor is spent in investigating and handling the first principles of things and the highest generalities of nature; whereas utility and the means of working result entirely from things intermediate. Hence it is that men cease not from abstracting nature till they come to potential and uninformed matter, nor on the other hand from dissecting nature till they reach the atom; things which, even if true, can do but little for the welfare of mankind.
A caution must also be given to the understanding against the intemperance which systems of philosophy manifest in giving or withholding assent, because intemperance of this kind seems to establish idols and in some sort to perpetuate them, leaving no way open to reach and dislodge them. This excess is of two kinds: the first being manifest in those who are ready in deciding, and render sciences dogmatic and magisterial; the other in those who deny that we can know anything, and so introduce a wandering kind of inquiry that leads to nothing; of which kinds the former subdues, the latter weakens the understanding.
For the philosophy of Aristotle, after having by hostile confutations destroyed all the rest as the Ottomans serve their brothers , has laid down the law on all points; which done, he proceeds himself to raise new questions of his own suggestion, and dispose of them likewise, so that nothing may remain that is not certain and decided; a practice which holds and is in use among his successors.
The school of Plato, on the other hand, introduced Acatalepsia , at first in jest and irony, and in disdain of the older sophists, Protagoras, Hippias, and the rest, who were of nothing else so much ashamed as of seeming to doubt about anything.
But the New Academy made a dogma of it, and held it as a tenet. And though theirs is a fairer seeming way than arbitrary decisions, since they say that they by no means destroy all investigation, like Pyrrho and his Refrainers, but allow of some things to be followed as probable, though of none to be maintained as true; yet still when the human mind has once despaired of finding truth, its interest in all things grows fainter, and the result is that men turn aside to pleasant disputations and discourses and roam as it were from object to object, rather than keep on a course of severe inquisition.
But, as I said at the beginning and am ever urging, the human senses and understanding, weak as they are, are not to be deprived of their authority, but to be supplied with helps. So much concerning the several classes of Idols and their equipage; all of which must be renounced and put away with a fixed and solemn determination, and the understanding thoroughly freed and cleansed; the entrance into the kingdom of man, founded on the sciences, being not much other than the entrance into the kingdom of heaven, whereinto none may enter except as a little child.
But vicious demonstrations are as the strongholds and defenses of idols; and those we have in logic do little else than make the world the bondslave of human thought, and human thought the bondslave of words. Demonstrations truly are in effect the philosophies themselves and the sciences.
For such as they are, well or ill established, such are the systems of philosophy and the contemplations which follow. Now in the whole of the process which leads from the sense and objects to axioms and conclusions, the demonstrations which we use are deceptive and incompetent.
This process consists of four parts, and has as many faults. In the first place, the impressions of the sense itself are faulty; for the sense both fails us and deceives us. But its shortcomings are to be supplied, and its deceptions to be corrected. Secondly, notions are ill-drawn from the impressions of the senses, and are indefinite and confused, whereas they should be definite and distinctly bounded.
Thirdly, the induction is amiss which infers the principles of sciences by simple enumeration, and does not, as it ought, employ exclusions and solutions or separations of nature. Lastly, that method of discovery and proof according to which the most general principles are first established, and then intermediate axioms are tried and proved by them, is the parent of error and the curse of all science. Of these things, however, which now I do but touch upon, I will speak more largely when, having performed these expiations and purgings of the mind, I come to set forth the true way for the interpretation of nature.
But the best demonstration by far is experience, if it go not beyond the actual experiment. For if it be transferred to other cases which are deemed similar, unless such transfer be made by a just and orderly process, it is a fallacious thing. But the manner of making experiments which men now use is blind and stupid. And therefore, wandering and straying as they do with no settled course, and taking counsel only from things as they fall out, they fetch a wide circuit and meet with many matters, but make little progress; and sometimes are full of hope, sometimes are distracted; and always find that there is something beyond to be sought.
For it generally happens that men make their trials carelessly, and as it were in play; slightly varying experiments already known, and, if the thing does not answer, growing weary and abandoning the attempt. And even if they apply themselves to experiments more seriously and earnestly and laboriously, still they spend their labor in working out some one experiment, as Gilbert with the magnet, and the chemists with gold; a course of proceeding not less unskillful in the design than small in the attempt.
For no one successfully investigates the nature of a thing in the thing itself; the inquiry must be enlarged so as to become more general. And even when they seek to educe some science or theory from their experiments, they nevertheless almost always turn aside with overhasty and unseasonable eagerness to practice; not only for the sake of the uses and fruits of the practice, but from impatience to obtain in the shape of some new work an assurance for themselves that it is worth their while to go on; and also to show themselves off to the world, and so raise the credit of the business in which they are engaged.
Thus, like Atalanta, they go aside to pick up the golden apple, but meanwhile they interrupt their course, and let the victory escape them. But in the true course of experience, and in carrying it on to the effecting of new works, the divine wisdom and order must be our pattern.
Now God on the first day of creation created light only, giving to that work an entire day, in which no material substance was created. So must we likewise from experience of every kind first endeavor to discover true causes and axioms; and seek for experiments of Light, not for experiments of Fruit.
For axioms rightly discovered and established supply practice with its instruments, not one by one, but in clusters, and draw after them trains and troops of works. Of the paths, however, of experience, which no less than the paths of judgment are impeded and beset, I will speak hereafter; here I have only mentioned ordinary experimental research as a bad kind of demonstration.
But now the order of the matter in hand leads me to add something both as to those signs which I lately mentioned signs that the systems of philosophy and contemplation in use are in a bad condition , and also as to the causes of what seems at first so strange and incredible. The sciences which we possess come for the most part from the Greeks. For what has been added by Roman, Arabic, or later writers is not much nor of much importance; and whatever it is, it is built on the foundation of Greek discoveries.
Now the wisdom of the Greeks was professorial and much given to disputations, a kind of wisdom most adverse to the inquisition of truth. Thus that name of Sophists, which by those who would be thought philosophers was in contempt cast back upon and so transferred to the ancient rhetoricians, Gorgias, Protagoras, Hippias, Polus, does indeed suit the entire class: Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus, Theophrastus, and their successors Chrysippus, Carneades, and the rest.
There was this difference only, that the former class was wandering and mercenary, going about from town to town, putting up their wisdom to sale, and taking a price for it, while the latter was more pompous and dignified, as composed of men who had fixed abodes, and who opened schools and taught their philosophy without reward. Still both sorts, though in other respects unequal, were professorial; both turned the matter into disputations, and set up and battled for philosophical sects and heresies; so that their doctrines were for the most part as Dionysius not unaptly rallied Plato "the talk of idle old men to ignorant youths.
And therefore they were in my judgment more successful; only that their works were in the course of time obscured by those slighter persons who had more which suits and pleases the capacity and tastes of the vulgar; time, like a river, bringing down to us things which are light and puffed up, but letting weighty matters sink.
Still even they were not altogether free from the failing of their nation, but leaned too much to the ambition and vanity of founding a sect and catching popular applause. But the inquisition of truth must be despaired of when it turns aside to trifles of this kind. And therefore the signs which are taken from the origin and birthplace of the received philosophy are not good. Nor does the character of the time and age yield much better signs than the character of the country and nation. For at that period there was but a narrow and meager knowledge either of time or place, which is the worst thing that can be, especially for those who rest all on experience.
And of the regions and districts of the world they knew but a small portion, giving indiscriminately the name of Scythians to all in the North, of Celts to all in the West; knowing nothing of Africa beyond the hither side of Ethiopia, of Asia beyond the Ganges. Much less were they acquainted with the provinces of the New World, even by hearsay or any well-founded rumor; nay, a multitude of climates and zones, wherein innumerable nations breathe and live, were pronounced by them to be uninhabitable; and the travels of Democritus, Plato, and Pythagoras, which were rather suburban excursions than distant journeys, were talked of as something great.
In our times, on the other hand, both many parts of the New World and the limits on every side of the Old World are known, and our stock of experience has increased to an infinite amount. Wherefore if like astrologers we draw signs from the season of their nativity or birth, nothing great can be predicted of those systems of philosophy. Of all signs there is none more certain or more noble than that taken from fruits. For fruits and works are as it were sponsors and sureties for the truth of philosophies.
Now, from all these systems of the Greeks, and their ramifications through particular sciences, there can hardly after the lapse of so many years be adduced a single experiment which tends to relieve and benefit the condition of man, and which can with truth be referred to the speculations and theories of philosophy.
And Celsus ingenuously and wisely owns as much when he tells us that the experimental part of medicine was first discovered, and that afterwards men philosophized about it, and hunted for and assigned causes; and not by an inverse process that philosophy and the knowledge of causes led to the discovery and development of the experimental part.
And therefore it was not strange that among the Egyptians, who rewarded inventors with divine honors and sacred rites, there were more images of brutes than of men; inasmuch as brutes by their natural instinct have produced many discoveries, whereas men by discussion and the conclusions of reason have given birth to few or none.
Some little has indeed been produced by the industry of chemists; but it has been produced accidentally and in passing, or else by a kind of variation of experiments, such as mechanics use, and not by any art or theory. For the theory which they have devised rather confuses the experiments than aids them.
They, too, who have busied themselves with natural magic, as they call it, have but few discoveries to show, and those trifling and imposture-like. Wherefore, as in religion we are warned to show our faith by works, so in philosophy by the same rule the system should be judged of by its fruits, and pronounced frivolous if it be barren, more especially if, in place of fruits of grape and olive, it bear thorns and briers of dispute and contention.
Signs also are to be drawn from the increase and progress of systems and sciences. For what is founded on nature grows and increases, while what is founded on opinion varies but increases not. If therefore those doctrines had not plainly been like a plant torn up from its roots, but had remained attached to the womb of nature and continued to draw nourishment from her, that could never have come to pass which we have seen now for twice a thousand years; namely, that the sciences stand where they did and remain almost in the same condition, receiving no noticeable increase, but on the contrary, thriving most under their first founder, and then declining.
Whereas in the mechanical arts, which are founded on nature and the light of experience, we see the contrary happen, for these as long as they are popular are continually thriving and growing, as having in them a breath of life, at the first rude, then convenient, afterwards adorned, and at all times advancing. There is still another sign remaining if sign it can be called, when it is rather testimony, nay, of all testimony the most valid. I mean the confession of the very authorities whom men now follow.
For even they who lay down the law on all things so confidently, do still in their more sober moods fall to complaints of the subtlety of nature, the obscurity of things, and the weakness of the human mind. Now if this were all they did, some perhaps of a timid disposition might be deterred from further search, while others of a more ardent and hopeful spirit might be whetted and incited to go on farther.
But not content to speak for themselves, whatever is beyond their own or their master's knowledge or reach they set down as beyond the bounds of possibility, and pronounce, as if on the authority of their art, that it cannot be known or done; thus most presumptuously and invidiously turning the weakness of their own discoveries into a calumny of nature herself, and the despair of the rest of the world.
Hence the school of the New Academy, which held Acatalepsia as a tenet and doomed men to perpetual darkness. Hence the opinion that forms or true differences of things which are in fact laws of pure act are past finding out and beyond the reach of man. By this sign, therefore, men will easily take warning not to mix up their fortunes and labors with dogmas not only despaired of but dedicated to despair.
Neither is this other sign to be omitted: that formerly there existed among philosophers such great disagreement, and such diversities in the schools themselves, a fact which sufficiently shows that the road from the senses to the understanding was not skillfully laid out, when the same groundwork of philosophy the nature of things to wit was torn and split up into such vague and multifarious errors.
And although in these times disagreements and diversities of opinion on first principles and entire systems are for the most part extinguished, still on parts of philosophy there remain innumerable questions and disputes, so that it plainly appears that neither in the systems themselves nor in the modes of demonstration is there anything certain or sound.
But in the times which followed, when on the inundation of barbarians into the Roman empire human learning had suffered shipwreck, then the systems of Aristotle and Plato, like planks of lighter and less solid material, floated on the waves of time and were preserved.
Upon the point of consent also men are deceived, if the matter be looked into more keenly. For true consent is that which consists in the coincidence of free judgments, after due examination. But far the greater number of those who have assented to the philosophy of Aristotle have addicted themselves thereto from prejudgment and upon the authority of others; so that it is a following and going along together, rather than consent.
But even if it had been a real and widespread consent, still so little ought consent to be deemed a sure and solid confirmation, that it is in fact a strong presumption the other way. For the worst of all auguries is from consent in matters intellectual divinity excepted, and politics where there is right of vote. For nothing pleases the many unless it strikes the imagination, or binds the understanding with the bands of common notions, as I have already said. We may very well transfer, therefore, from moral to intellectual matters the saying of Phocion, that if the multitude assent and applaud, men ought immediately to examine themselves as to what blunder or fault they may have committed.
This sign, therefore, is one of the most unfavorable. And so much for this point; namely, that the signs of truth and soundness in the received systems and sciences are not good, whether they be drawn from their origin, or from their fruits, or from their progress, or from the confessions of their founders, or from general consent.
Now, in the first place, those so many ages, if you weigh the case truly, shrink into a very small compass. For out of the five and twenty centuries over which the memory and learning of men extends, you can hardly pick out six that were fertile in sciences or favorable to their development.
In times no less than in regions there are wastes and deserts. For only three revolutions and periods of learning can properly be reckoned: one among the Greeks, the second among the Romans, and the last among us, that is to say, the nations of Western Europe. And to each of these hardly two centuries can justly be assigned. The intervening ages of the world, in respect of any rich or flourishing growth of the sciences, were unprosperous.
For neither the Arabians nor the Schoolmen need be mentioned, who in the intermediate times rather crushed the sciences with a multitude of treatises, than increased their weight. And therefore the first cause of so meager a progress in the sciences is duly and orderly referred to the narrow limits of the time that has been favorable to them.
In the second place there presents itself a cause of great weight in all ways, namely, that during those very ages in which the wits and learning of men have flourished most, or indeed flourished at all, the least part of their diligence was given to natural philosophy. Yet this very philosophy it is that ought to be esteemed the great mother of the sciences. For all arts and all sciences, if torn from this root, though they may be polished and shaped and made fit for use, yet they will hardly grow.
Now it is well known that after the Christian religion was received and grew strong, by far the greater number of the best wits applied themselves to theology; that to this both the highest rewards were offered, and helps of all kinds most abundantly supplied; and that this devotion to theology chiefly occupied that third portion or epoch of time among us Europeans of the West, and the more so because about the same time both literature began to flourish and religious controversies to spring up.
In the age before, on the other hand, during the continuance of the second period among the Romans, the meditations and labors of philosophers were principally employed and consumed on moral philosophy, which to the heathen was as theology to us. Moreover, in those times the greatest wits applied themselves very generally to public affairs, the magnitude of the Roman empire requiring the services of a great number of persons.
Again, the age in which natural philosophy was seen to flourish most among the Greeks was but a brief particle of time; for in early ages the Seven Wise Men, as they were called all except Thales , applied themselves to morals and politics; and in later times, when Socrates had drawn down philosophy from heaven to earth, moral philosophy became more fashionable than ever, and diverted the minds of men from the philosophy of nature.
Nay, the very period itself in which inquiries concerning nature flourished, was by controversies and the ambitious display of new opinions corrupted and made useless. Seeing therefore that during those three periods natural philosophy was in a great degree either neglected or hindered, it is no wonder if men made but small advance in that to which they were not attending.
To this it may be added that natural philosophy, even among those who have attended to it, has scarcely ever possessed, especially in these later times, a disengaged and whole man unless it were some monk studying in his cell, or some gentleman in his country house , but that it has been made merely a passage and bridge to something else.
And so this great mother of the sciences has with strange indignity been degraded to the offices of a servant, having to attend on the business of medicine or mathematics, and likewise to wash and imbue youthful and unripe wits with a sort of first dye, in order that they may be the fitter to receive another afterwards.
Because after these particular sciences have been once distributed and established, they are no more nourished by natural philosophy, which might have drawn out of the true contemplation of motions, rays, sounds, texture and configuration of bodies, affections, and intellectual perceptions, the means of imparting to them fresh strength and growth.
And therefore it is nothing strange if the sciences grow not, seeing they are parted from their roots. Again there is another great and powerful cause why the sciences have made but little progress, which is this. It is not possible to run a course aright when the goal itself has not been rightly placed. Now the true and lawful goal of the sciences is none other than this: that human life be endowed with new discoveries and powers.
But of this the great majority have no feeling, but are merely hireling and professorial; except when it occasionally happens that some workman of acuter wit and covetous of honor applies himself to a new invention, which he mostly does at the expense of his fortunes. But in general, so far are men from proposing to themselves to augment the mass of arts and sciences, that from the mass already at hand they neither take nor look for anything more than what they may turn to use in their lectures, or to gain, or to reputation, or to some similar advantage.
And if any one out of all the multitude court science with honest affection and for her own sake, yet even with him the object will be found to be rather the variety of contemplations and doctrines than the severe and rigid search after truth. And if by chance there be one who seeks after truth in earnest, yet even he will propose to himself such a kind of truth as shall yield satisfaction to the mind and understanding in rendering causes for things long since discovered, and not the truth which shall lead to new assurance of works and new light of axioms.
If then the end of the sciences has not as yet been well placed, it is not strange that men have erred as to the means. And as men have misplaced the end and goal of the sciences, so again, even if they had placed it right, yet they have chosen a way to it which is altogether erroneous and impassable.
And an astonishing thing it is to one who rightly considers the matter, that no mortal should have seriously applied himself to the opening and laying out of a road for the human understanding direct from the sense, by a course of experiment orderly conducted and well built up, but that all has been left either to the mist of tradition, or the whirl and eddy of argument, or the fluctuations and mazes of chance and of vague and ill-digested experience.
Now let any man soberly and diligently consider what the way is by which men have been accustomed to proceed in the investigation and discovery of things, and in the first place he will no doubt remark a method of discovery very simple and inartificial, which is the most ordinary method, and is no more than this. When a man addresses himself to discover something, he first seeks out and sets before him all that has been said about it by others; then he begins to meditate for himself; and so by much agitation and working of the wit solicits and as it were evokes his own spirit to give him oracles; which method has no foundation at all, but rests only upon opinions and is carried about with them.
The piece is the great and short statement of what is often called 'Baconian' philosophy. The Great Instauration is a systematic plan for a complete revolution in learning and intellectual reform. Initially intended as a massive treatise, the work was never finished but istill had a major impact. The published work is merely an outline divided into six parts: i the division of the sciences, ii the new organon or directions concerning the interpretation of nature, iii the phenomena of the universe, iv the ladder of intellect, v the forerunners of Bacon's view and vi his new philosophy.
The first part describes the divisions of science in Bacon's time and suggests that there are further branches that should be added. Part two developed a new method of scientific inquiry which is, in effect, an early sketch of the scientific method. It contains a new epistemology, ontology, and form of logic.
The logic is intended to understand and command nature and not to win arguments. It is inductive. The subsequent parts were never completed. Part three was meant to contain a history of nature and experiments about nature. Part four was intended to link natural history and Bacon's new science. Part five discusses forerunners of his new philosophy and emphasizes that the larger plan of the Instauration will take a long time to complete.
Part six was to contain a detailed description of Bacon's new philosophy. The New Atlantis is effectively a work of utopian fiction published in Bacon introduces an Atlantis-like island called Bensalem, whose inhabitants are unusually well-behaved, chaste, scientific and civilized.
The narrator, a sailor on a boat with others that land on the island due to a storm, describes the great generosity and enlightenment of the people. However, the narrative is largely a shell meant to build up the introduction of the Father of Salomon's House, a priest who is in fact a modern scientist. Salomon's House, a house of research and science created thousands of years ago, contains a coterie of scientists of many types.
The Father's long description of the activities of the house represents Bacon's extraordinary vision of the modern research university centuries before its time. The New Atlantis is subject to many interpretations however, and there is no settled view about Bacon's complete intent in the latter work. Read more from the Study Guide. Browse all BookRags Study Guides.
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