FRANCIS BACON: The Great Reconstruction

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter III, Section 4 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below is linked to the original materials.


IV. The Great Reconstruction

Unconsciously, in the midst of his triumphs, his heart was with philosophy. It had been his nurse in youth, it was his companion in office, it was to be his consolation in prison and disgrace. He lamented the ill-repute. into which, he thought, philosophy had fallen, and blamed an arid scholasticism. “People are very apt to contemn truth, on account of the controversies raised about it, and to think those all in a wrong way who never meet.”  “The sciences … stand almost at a stay, without receiving any augmentations worthy of the human race; … and all the tradition and succession of school is still a succession of masters and scholars, not of inventors. … In what is now done in the matter of science there is only a whirling about, and perpetual agitation, ending where it began.” All through the years of his rise and exaltation he brooded over the restoration or reconstruction of philosophy; “Meditor Instaurationem philosophiae.”

All through the years of his rise and exaltation Francis Bacon brooded over the restoration or reconstruction of philosophy.

He planned to centre all his studies around this task. First of all, he tells us in his “Plan of the Work,” he would write some Introductory Treatises, explaining the stagnation of philosophy through the posthumous persistence of old methods, and outlining his proposals for a new beginning. Secondly he would attempt a new Classification of the Sciences, allocating their material to them, and listing the unsolved problems in each field. Thirdly, he would describe his new method for the Interpretation of Nature. Fourthly, he would try his busy hand at actual natural science, and investigate the Phenomena of Nature. Fifthly, he would show the Ladder of the Intellect, by which the writers of the past had mounted towards the truths that were now taking form out of the background of medieval verbiage. Sixthly, he would attempt certain Anticipations of the scientific results which he was confident would come from the use of his method. And lastly, as Second (or Applied) Philosophy, he would picture the utopia which would flower out of all this budding science of which he hoped to be the prophet. The whole would constitute the Magna, Instauratio, the Great Reconstruction of Philosophy.*

*Bacon’s actual works under the foregoing heads are chiefly these:
I. De Interpretatione Naturae Proemium (Introduction to the Interpretation of Nature, 1603); Redargutio Philosophiarum (A Criticism of Philosophies, 1609).
II. The Advancement of Learning (1603-5); translated as De Augmentis Scientiarum, 1622).
III. Cogitata et Visa (Things Thought and Seen, 1607); Filum Labyrinthi (Thread of the Labyrinth, 1606); Novum Organum (The New Organon, 1608-20). 
IV. Historia Naturalis (Natural History, 1622); Descriptio Globi Intellectualis (Description of the Intellectual Globe, 1612). 
V. Sylva Sylvarum (Forest of Forests, 1624). 
VI. De Principiis (On Origins, 1621). 
VII. The New Atlantis (1624).
Note.—All of the above but The New Atlantis and The Advancement of Learning were written in Latin; and the latter was translated into Latin by Bacon and his aides, to win for it a European audience. Since historians and critics always use the Latin titles in their references, these are here given for the convenience of the student. 

The above paragraph should be read for the plan of the work that Bacon set for himself. To read this plan is quite exciting!

It was a magnificent enterprise, and—except for Aristotle—without precedent in the history of thought. It would differ from every other philosophy in aiming at practice rather than at theory, at specific concrete goods rather than at speculative symmetry. Knowledge is power, not mere argument or ornament; “it is not an opinion to be held … but a work to be done; and I … am laboring to lay the foundation not of any sect or doctrine, but of utility and power.” Here, for the first time, are the voice and tone of modern science. 

Francis Bacon is the father of scientific thought indeed!


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