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Ideas of Francis Bacon, by Text

[English, 1561 - 1626, Born in London. Chancellor of England, but found guilty of corruption. Died in London after experimenting with refrigeration.]

1605 The Advancement of Learning
II.VII.1 p.106 Science moves up and down between inventions of causes, and experiments
     Full Idea: All true and fruitful natural philosophy hath a double scale or ladder, ascendent and descendent, ascending from experiments to the invention of causes, and descending from causes to the invention of new experiments.
     From: Francis Bacon (The Advancement of Learning [1605], II.VII.1)
     A reaction: After several hundred years, I doubt whether anyone can come up with a better account of scientific method than Bacon's.
II.VII.3 p.108 Physics studies transitory matter; metaphysics what is abstracted and necessary
     Full Idea: Physic should contemplate that which is inherent in matter, and therefore transitory; and metaphysic that which is abstracted and fixed
     From: Francis Bacon (The Advancement of Learning [1605], II.VII.3)
     A reaction: He cites the ancients for this view, with which he agrees. One could do worse than hang onto metaphysics as the study of necessities, but must then face the attacks of the Quineans - that knowledge of necessities is beyond us.
II.VII.3 p.108 Essences are part of first philosophy, but as part of nature, not part of logic
     Full Idea: I assign to summary philosophy the operation of essences (as quantity, similitude, diversity, possibility), with this distinction - that they be handled as they have efficacy in nature, and not logically.
     From: Francis Bacon (The Advancement of Learning [1605], II.VII.3)
     A reaction: I take this to be a splendid motto for scientific essentialism, in a climate where modal logicians appear to have taken over the driving seat in our understanding of essences.
II.VII.3 p.109 Physics is of material and efficient causes, metaphysics of formal and final causes
     Full Idea: Physic inquireth and handleth the material and efficient causes; and metaphysic handleth the formal and final causes.
     From: Francis Bacon (The Advancement of Learning [1605], II.VII.3)
     A reaction: Compare Idea 12119. This divides up Aristotle's famous Four Causes (or Explanations), outlined in 'Physics' II.3. The concept of 'matter', and the nature of 'cause' seem to me to fall with the purview of metaphysics. Interesting, though.
II.VII.5 p.110 We don't assume there is no land, because we can only see sea
     Full Idea: They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea.
     From: Francis Bacon (The Advancement of Learning [1605], II.VII.5)
     A reaction: Just the sort of pithy remark for which Bacon is famous. It is an obvious point, but a nice corrective to anyone who wants to apply empirical principles in a rather gormless way.
II.VII.6 p.112 Natural history supports physical knowledge, which supports metaphysical knowledge
     Full Idea: Knowledges are as pyramides, whereof history is the basis. So of natural philosophy, the basis is natural history, the stage next the basis is physic; the stage next the vertical point is metaphysic.
     From: Francis Bacon (The Advancement of Learning [1605], II.VII.6)
     A reaction: The father of modern science keeps a place for metaphysics, as the most abstract level above the physical sciences. I would say he is right. It leads to my own slogan: science is the servant of philosophy.
II.VII.6 p.112 Metaphysics is the best knowledge, because it is the simplest
     Full Idea: That knowledge is worthiest which is charged with least multiplicity, which appeareth to be metaphysic
     From: Francis Bacon (The Advancement of Learning [1605], II.VII.6)
     A reaction: A surprising view, coming from the father of modern science, but essentially correct. Obviously metaphysics aspires to avoid multiplicity, but it is riddled not only with complexity in its researches, but massive uncertainties.
II.VII.7 p.113 Teleological accounts are fine in metaphysics, but they stop us from searching for the causes
     Full Idea: To say 'leaves are for protecting of fruit', or that 'clouds are for watering the earth', is well inquired and collected in metaphysic, but in physic they are impertinent. They are hindrances, and the search of the physical causes hath been neglected.
     From: Francis Bacon (The Advancement of Learning [1605], II.VII.7)
     A reaction: This is the standard rebellion against Aristotle which gave rise to the birth of modern science. The story has been complicated by natural selection, which bestows a sort of purpose on living things. Nowadays we pursue both paths.
II.VIII.1 p.115 People love (unfortunately) extreme generality, rather than particular knowledge
     Full Idea: It is the nature of the mind of man (to the extreme prejudice of knowledge) to delight in the spacious liberty of generalities, as in a champaign region, and not in the inclosures of particularity.
     From: Francis Bacon (The Advancement of Learning [1605], II.VIII.1)
     A reaction: I have to plead guilty to this myself. He may have pinpointed the key motivation behind philosophy. We all want to know things, as Aristotle said, but some of us want the broad brush, and others want the fine detail.
II.VIII.5 p.121 Many different theories will fit the observed facts
     Full Idea: The ordinary face and view of experience is many times satisfied by several theories and philosophies.
     From: Francis Bacon (The Advancement of Learning [1605], II.VIII.5)
     A reaction: He gives as his example that the Copernican system and the Ptolemaic system both seem to satisfy all the facts. He wrote in 1605, just before Galileo's telescope. His point is regularly made in modern discussions. In this case, he was wrong!
1607 Cogitata et Visa
p.7 Empiricists are collecting ants; rationalists are spinning spiders; and bees do both
     Full Idea: Empiricists are like ants; they collect and put to use; but rationalists, like spiders, spin threads out of themselves. (…and bees follow the middle way, of collecting material and transforming it).
     From: Francis Bacon (Cogitata et Visa [1607])
     A reaction: Nice (and so concisely expressed). Bees seem to be just more intelligent and energetic empiricists.
1617 Philosophical Studies 1611-19
p.206 p.123 In hylomorphism all the explanation of actions is in the form, and the matter doesn't do anything
     Full Idea: Prime, common matter seems to be a kind of accessory and to stand as a substratum, whereas any kind of action seems to be a mere emanation of form. So it is that forms are given all the leading parts.
     From: Francis Bacon (Philosophical Studies 1611-19 [1617], p.206), quoted by Robert Pasnau - Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 07.2
     A reaction: This is a very striking criticism of hylomorphism. The revolution was simple - that actually matter seems to do all the real work, and the form can take a back seat.
p.206 p.123 Stripped and passive matter is just a human invention
     Full Idea: Stripped and passive matter seems nothing more than an invention of the human mind.
     From: Francis Bacon (Philosophical Studies 1611-19 [1617], p.206), quoted by Robert Pasnau - Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 07.2
     A reaction: Bacon seems to me to get too little credit in the history of philosophy, because he is just seen as a progenitor of science. His modern views predate most radical 17th C thought by 20 years.
1620 Preface to Great Instauration (Renewal)
p.32 p.492 The senses deceive, but also show their own errors
     Full Idea: It is certain that the senses deceive, but they also testify to their own errors.
     From: Francis Bacon (Preface to Great Instauration (Renewal) [1620], p.32), quoted by Robert Pasnau - Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 22.1
     A reaction: Nice. This is the empiricist view, rather than the rationalist line that reason sorts out the mess created by the senses. Most people know things if you just show them.
Vol.4.14 p.137 Philosophy is like a statue which is worshipped but never advances
     Full Idea: Philosophy and the intellectual sciences stand like statues, worshipped and celebrated, but not moved or advanced.
     From: Francis Bacon (Preface to Great Instauration (Renewal) [1620], Vol.4.14), quoted by Robert Fogelin - Walking the Tightrope of Reason Ch.5
     A reaction: Still the view of most scientists, I suspect. Personally I disagree, because I think philosophy has made enormous advances, in accurate analysis of arguments. The trouble is there is so much of it that it is hard to discern, and we don't live long enough.
Vol.4.95 p.138 Nature is revealed when we put it under pressure rather than observe it
     Full Idea: The secrets of nature reveal themselves more readily under the vexations of art than when they go their own way.
     From: Francis Bacon (Preface to Great Instauration (Renewal) [1620], Vol.4.95), quoted by Robert Fogelin - Walking the Tightrope of Reason Ch.5
     A reaction: This is a splendid slogan for the dawn of the age of science, and pinpoints the reason why we have advanced so much further than the Greeks. You can, of course, overdo the 'vexations of art'. It also justifies the critical approach to philosophy.
1620 The New Organon
p.182 Only individual bodies exist
     Full Idea: Nothing truly exists in nature beyond individual bodies.
     From: Francis Bacon (The New Organon [1620]), quoted by Robert Pasnau - Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 182
     A reaction: [Unusually, Pasnau gives no reference in the text; possibly II:1-2] What this leaves out, from even an auster nominalist ontology, is undifferentiated stuff like water. Even electrons don't seem quite distinct from one another.
38 p.19 Science must clear away the idols of the mind if they are ever going to find the truth
     Full Idea: We must clear away the idols and false notions which are now in possession of the human understanding, and have taken deep root therein, and so beset men's minds that truth can hardly find an entrance.
     From: Francis Bacon (The New Organon [1620], 38), quoted by Mark Wrathall - Heidegger: how to read 2
     A reaction: [He goes on to list the types of idol]
p.103 p.8 There are only individual bodies containing law-based powers, and the Forms are these laws
     Full Idea: Though nothing exists in nature except individual bodies which exhibit pure individual acts [powers] in accordance with law…It is this law and its clauses which we understand by the term Forms.
     From: Francis Bacon (The New Organon [1620], p.103), quoted by Jan-Erik Jones - Real Essence §3
     A reaction: This isn't far off what Aristotle had in mind, when he talks of forms as being 'principles', though there is more emphasis on mechanisms in the original idea. Note that Bacon takes laws so literally that he refers to their 'clauses'.
1625 17: Of Superstition
p.52 p.52 Even without religion, there are many guides to morality
     Full Idea: Atheism leaves a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation; all which may be guides to an outward moral virtue, though religion were not.
     From: Francis Bacon (17: Of Superstition [1625], p.52)
     A reaction: One might add to Bacon's list 'contracts', or 'rational consistency', or 'self-evident human excellence', or 'natural sympathy'. This is a striking idea, which clearly made churchmen uneasy when atheism began to spread.