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Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and the renewal of Philosophy. Important Baconian ideas:. Reliance on the evidence of the senses and instruments (e.g. telescope, microscope); Progress through technology;

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important baconian ideas
Important Baconian ideas:
  • Reliance on the evidence of the senses and instruments (e.g. telescope, microscope);
  • Progress through technology;
  • Technological transformation of nature to make it useful to humanity: ‘relief of man’s estate’ (AL);
  • State Institutions of science: institutes, centralization, technocratic expertise (N.B. no democratization of knowledge!)
bacon s life
Bacon’s Life
  • Son of an important official in the government of Elizabeth I and a very well-educated mother
  • Studied law, became a barrister and entered House of Commons, legal advisor to Elizabeth I (reigned until 1603)
  • Attorney General and Lord Chancellor under James I (starting 1613); forced out of office in 1621
  • Bacon retired to his estate to write and study
  • Tried to convince Elizabeth I and James I to embrace natural philosophy as statecraft: advancement of learning advances the state
bacon s major works
Bacon’s Major Works
  • 1594 Essays
  • 1605 Advancement of Learning: blueprint for how to improve learning in the realm (natural philosophy = statecraft)
  • 1620 Great Instauration (or Renewal) and

Novum Organon (cf. Organon of Aristotle)

  • New Atlantis (posthumous): blueprint for state scientific institutions and their goals
lead up to bacon
Lead-up to Bacon

Recall our thesis that the emergence of early-modern science and philosophy

  • was a long process beginning with
  • the revival of ancient learning in the Renaissance and
  • the development of practical skills from the Middle Ages onwards: navigation, architecture, optics, hydraulics, herbal medicine, alchemy (evolves into chemistry).
philosophy before bacon
Philosophy before Bacon:
  • Scholastic philosophy—logic, deduction, syllogism, medieval version of Aristotle’s physics and cosmology, overturned by Galileo and others
the ship of the new learning
“Many shall pass to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”

The ship passes between the Pillars of Hercules, traditional symbol of limits of learning

Frontispiece, Great Instauration (1620)

The Ship of the New Learning:
bacon s attack on aristotle
Bacon’s Attack on Aristotle:
  • Bacon discredits Aristotle in order to press for his own ‘total reconstruction of sciences, arts and all human knowledge, raised upon proper foundations’ (‘Proœmium’)
  • “Aristotle…spoils natural philosophy with his dialectic” (NO, I, lxiii).
  • “As the sciences in their present state are useless for the discovery of works, so logic in its present state is useless for the discovery of sciences” (emph. added; NO, I, xi).
general attack on the ancients
General Attack on the Ancients
  • … the wisdom of the Greeks was rhetorical and prone to disputation, a genus inimical to the search for truth. And so the term ‘Sophists”, which was rejected by those who wanted to be regarded as philosophers and applied with contempt to the orators…is also applicable to the whole tribe—Plato, Aristotle … and the rest” (emph. added; Bacon, NO, Bk I, LXXI).
ancient exceptions
Ancient Exceptions

Bacon did exempt some ancient philosophers,

  • who did not found schools (Plato had the Academy, Aristotle the Lyceum) and
  • quietly went to work investigating nature, “with less affectation” (NO I, lxxi)
  • Democritus (atomic theory)
  • Pre-Socratics: Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Parmenides, Heraclitus
bacon s attack on aristotle s method of investigation
Bacon’s attack on Aristotle’s method of investigation:
  • Aristotle did not practice a trueinductive method based on experience:

-he lacked “a store of things sufficiently large to formulate true axioms” (Bacon, Outline of a natural and experimental history, 224);

-“…no one should be impressed because in Aristotle’s books On Animals and in his Problems and other treatises there is often discussion of experiments. He had in fact made up his mind beforehand, and did not properly consult experience …” (emph. added; NO, Bk I, LXIII).

breakdown of bacon s attack
Breakdown of Bacon’s attack

Aristotle’s defects show the path to follow:

  • True method
    • Examine an indefinitely large number of cases (‘store of things’)
    • Using Induction [WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?]
    • Using experiments, instruments
    • Employing no pre-judgement, i.e. not theory- or hypothesis-driven (extreme formulation modified in practice)
  • True goal: not arguments (scholastic), but arts, i.e. the art of transforming nature for the use of man
the method of bacon s new operational natural philosophy
The method of Bacon’s new operational natural philosophy:

Induction corrects Aristotle’s error of

“…premature human reasoning, which anticipates inquiry, and is abstracted from the facts rashly and sooner than is fit…” (emph. added; GI, 17).

“The art which I introduce…is a kind of logic, though the difference between it and the ordinary logic is great, indeed immense” (emph. added; GI, 21).

defects of syllogism
Defects of Syllogism

“The syllogism consists of propositions; propositions of words, and words are the tokens and signs of notions. Now if the very notions of the mind…be improperly and overhastily abstracted from facts, vague, not sufficiently definite…the whole edifice tumbles. I therefore reject the syllogism…not only as regards principles, but also as regards middle propositions; which…are barren of works” (emph. added; GI, 21-2).

“…logicians borrow the principles of each science from the science itself; secondly, they hold in reverence the first notions of the mind…” (GI, 22).

role of sense data
Role of Sense-data:

-“I perform the office of a true priest of the sense (from which all knowledge in nature must be sought…)” (GI, 24)

-We may not use our senses well: “observation [can be] careless, irregular and led by chance” (GI, 26).

-“…but then at the same time [the senses] supply the means of discovering their own errors” (GI, 24).

obstacles to using the senses
Obstacles to using the Senses

Idols of the tribe (all humans): we

-think nature is more orderly than it actually is, and presuppose order where it is not to be found “…the universe to the eye of the human understanding is framed like a labyrinth; presenting as it does on every side so many ambiguities of way, such deceitful resemblances of objects and signs, natures so irregular in their lines, and so knotted and entangled” (GI, 13).

Bacon hereby questions an assumption considered self-evident for centuries by natural philosophers and theologians.

obstacles and idols cont
Obstacles and Idols, cont.

Idols of the tribe, cont.

-refuse to accept potential truth of counter-examples (e.g elliptical orbits, heliocentrism)

-extrapolate from a few cases (Aristotle)

- rely on abstractions

-believe to be true what we want to be true

-Idols of the cave (particular mentality of each person): being a grouper or splitter, liking old things or new ones, preferring form or matter;

-Idols of the market-place (deficiencies of language): multiple names for things; fictitious names.

aids to the senses
Aids to the senses:

“Neither the bare hand nor the unaided intellect has much power; the work is done by tools…” [cf. scholastic logic] (NO, I, ii).

-Navigation: magnetic compass

-Medicine: herbal, chemical (Paracelsians), anatomy

-Optics, e.g. telescopes, microscopes

-Alchemy (ancestor of chemistry): laboratory technique, apparatus

(also has transformation of nature as its goal)

-Hydraulics: use of water power, e.g. water wheels,

canal construction, diversions

goal of the new philosophy the conquest of nature
Goal of the new philosophy—the conquest of nature:

“…the end which this science…proposes…is the invention not of arguments [cf. the scholastics] but of arts…”. [which ones?]

“a history [i.e. description]…of nature under constraint and vexed…when by art and the hand of man she is forced out of her natural state, and squeezed and moulded” (GI, 28; emph. added).

“The End of our Foundation [Salomon’s House] is the Knowledge of Causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible” (emph. added; NA, 71). [what is possible?]

bacon and christianity
Bacon and Christianity
  • Bacon’s enlargement of man’s dominion—does it usurp the role of God the Creator, or simply
  • restore man’s dominion over nature, lost at the Fall (Genesis 1-3)?

-restoration of the “commerce between the mind of man and the nature of things…to its perfect and original condition” (Proœmium)

-”confine the sense w/n the limit of things divine”, yet avoid thinking “the inquisition [investigation] of nature is…interdicted or forbidden” (GI, 16)

-”true ends of knowledge”: “benefit and use of life” (a work of charity, chief Christian virtue) (GI, 16)

institutions of the new operational natural philosophy
Institutions of the new operational natural philosophy
  • “…in the manners and customs of the schools, universities, colleges and similar institutions…everything is found to be inimical to the progress of the sciences”

(emph. added; Bacon, New Organon, xc)

The solution? New academies (like Salomon’s House):

-Royal Society, 1666 (London)

-Royal Academy of Sciences, 1669 (Paris)