"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties." - Sir Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning
I was 16 years old when I first read about Francis Bacon, "the most powerful mind in modern times" in Will Durant's "The Story of Philosophy." He was the first philosopher mentioned after the chapter on Aristotle - a gap of thousand years. What struck me most at that time was the clarity of thought and the striking use of the English Language. In his own way, Bacon was the first scientific philosopher and a literary giant.
Bacon was born in England, in a noble family in the year 1561 - in the Elizabethan era, one of the greatest eras of one of the most powerful of modern nations. He joined Trinity College, Cambridge at age 12 and later described his tutors as "Men of sharp wits, shut up in their cells of a few authors, chiefly Aristotle, their Dictator." Bacon was a philosopher, statesman, and essayist. He wrote in both Latin and English. He is also known as a proponent of the scientific revolution. Bacon was knighted in 1603. He has been credited as the creator of the English essay and is also called "the Father of Modern Science. He is also often credited, arguably, to have created the works of William Shakespeare.
Bacon also delineated the principles of the inductive method, which constituted a breakthrough in the approach to science, even though philosophers and scientists of the day-and seemingly even today-repudiated both his theories and methodology, alike. Bacon, along with Galileo are known in literary circles as "the great anti-Aristotelians who created the 'modern scientific' view of Nature."
Bacon's finest literary product is the Essays, which reveal one of the best and most sophisticated usage of the English language, which is as supreme in prose as Shakespeare's is in verse. Each of these essays elucidates in a couple of pages the distilled subtlety of a genius on almost every major issue of life. And "Bacon's greatest performance," says his bitterest Critic, Macaulay, "is the first book of the Novum Organum." Never did a man put more life into logic, making induction an epic adventure and a conquest. If one must study Logic, let him begin with this book. In the Novum Organum (the new instrumentality for the acquisition of knowledge), Francis Bacon classified the intellectual fallacies of his time under four headings, which he called idols. He distinguished them as idols of the Tribe, idols of the Cave, idols of the Marketplace, and idols of the Theater. An idol is an image, in this case held in the mind, which receives veneration but is without substance in itself. Bacon did not regard idols as symbols, but rather as fixations.
Bacon's first work was The Advancement of Learning (1605). His second came along in 1620-Novum Organum; it was part of his larger philosophical work known as Instauratio Magna, of which he only completed two parts: Novum Organum and De Augmentis Scientarum which were published in 1623, were extensions of his work in 1605. Apothegms came out in 1624. His aphoristic Essays were continually worked on between 1597 and 1625. Bacon's utopian fable about the island of "Bensalem," the New Atlantis, was published in 1627 and appended to Sylva Sylvarum. And his final work, The World, was publishd three years after his death.
- Durant Will, The Story of Philosophy, Simon & Schuster, 1926
- Julian Martin, Francis Bacon: The State and the Reform of Natural Philosophy, 1992
- Crowther, J.G. Francis Bacon, the First Statesman of Science (Cresset, 1960)
[This is a part of a series of posts, titled Open Space, where we talk about things that generally interest us, and hopefully you as well.]