Category Archives: Philosophy

Durant 1926: Epilogue (Francis Bacon)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter III, Section 6 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.

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VI. Epilogue  

“Men in great place are thrice servants; servants to the sovereign or state, servants of fame, and servants of business, so as they have no freedom, neither in their persons nor in their action, nor in their time. … The rising unto place is laborious, and by pains men come to greater pains; and it is sometimes base, and by indignities men come to dignities. The standing is slippery, and the regress is either a downfall or at least an eclipse.” What a wistful summary of Bacon’s epilogue! 

Francis Bacon was a man of his time.

“A man’s shortcomings,” said Goethe, “are taken from his epoch; his virtues and greatness belong to himself.” This seems a little unfair to the Zeitgeist, but it is exceptionally just in the case of Bacon. Abbott, after a painstaking study of the morals prevalent at Elizabeth’s court, concludes that all the leading figures, male and female, were disciples of Machiavelli. Roger Ascham described in doggerel the four cardinal virtues in demand at the court of the Queen: 

Cog, lie, flatter and face,
Four ways in Court to win men grace. 
If thou be thrall to none of these, 
Away, good Piers! Home, John Cheese!

In those times, man were beholden to their status.

It was one of the customs of those lively days for judges to take “presents” from persons trying cases in their courts. Bacon was not above the age in this matter; and his tendency to keep his expenditure several years in advance of his income forbade him the luxury of scruples. It might have passed unnoticed, except that he had made enemies in Essex’ case, and by his readiness to sabre foes with his speech. A friend had warned him that “it is too common in every man’s mouth in Court that … as your tongue hath been a razor to some, so shall theirs be to you.” But he left the warnings unnoticed. He seemed to be in good favor with the King; he had been made Baron Verulam of Verulam in 1618, and Viscount St. Albans in 1621; and for three years he had been Chancellor.

Bacon was extravagant and accepted bribes to support his lifestyle. He was caustic and had made enemies.

Then suddenly the blow came. In 1621 a disappointed suitor charged him with taking money for the despatch of a suit; it was no unusual matter, but Bacon knew at once that if his enemies wished to press it they could force his fall. He retired to his home, and waited developments. When he learned that all his foes were clamoring for his dismissal, he sent in his “confession and humble submission” to the King. James, yielding to pressure from the now victorious Parliament against which Bacon had too persistently defended him, sent him to the Tower. But Bacon was released after two. days; and the heavy fine which had been laid upon him was remitted by the King. His pride was not quite broken. “I was the justest judge that was in England these fifty years,” he said; “but it was the justest judgment that was in Parliament these two hundred years.”

Bacon was finally dismissed under the pressure of his enemies for something not so unusual.

He spent the five years that remained to him in the obscurity and peace of his home, harassed by an unwonted poverty, but solaced by the active pursuit of philosophy. In these five years he wrote his greatest Latin work, De Augmentis Scientiarum, published an enlarged edition of the Essays, a fragment called Sylva Sylvarum, and a History of Henry VII. He mourned that he had not sooner abandoned politics and given all his time to literature and science. To the very last moment he was occupied with work, and died, so to speak, on the field of battle. In his essay “Of Death” he had voiced a wish to die ”in an earnest pursuit, which is like one wounded in hot blood, who for the time scarce feels the hurt.” Like Caesar, he was granted his choice. 

Bacon lived the last five years of his life in poverty but happy in the pursuit of philosophy till his last breath.

In March, 1626, while riding from London to Highgate, and turn.ing over in his mind the question how far flesh might be preserved from putrefaction by being covered with snow, he resolved to put the matter to a test at once. Stopping off at a cottage, he bought a fowl, killed it, and stuffed it with snow. While he was doing this he was seized with chills and weakness; and finding himself too ill to ride back to town, he gave directions that he should be taken to the nearby home of Lord Arundel, where he took to bed. He did not yet resign life; he wrote cheerfully that “the experiment … succeeded excellently well.” But it was his last. The fitful fever of his varied life had quite consumed him; he was all burnt out now, too weak to fight the disease that crept up slowly to his heart. He died on the ninth of April, 1626, at the age of sixty-five. 

He had written in his will these proud and characteristic words: “1 bequeath my soul to God. … My body to be buried obscurely. My name to the next ages and to foreign nations.” The ages and the nations have accepted him. 

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Durant 1926: Criticism (Francis Bacon)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy 

This paper presents Chapter III, Section 5 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.

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V. Criticism 

And now how shall we appraise this philosophy of Francis Bacon’s?

Is there anything new in it? Macaulay thinks that induction as described by Bacon is a very old-fashioned affair, over which there is no need of raising any commotion, much less a monument. “Induction has been practiced from morning till night by every human being since the world began. The man who infers that mince pies disagreed with him because he was ill when he ate them, well when he ate them not, most ill when he ate most and least ill when he ate least, has employed, unconsciously but sufficiently, all the tables of the Novum Organum.” But John Smith hardly handles his “‘table of more or less” so accurately, and more probably will continue his mince-pies despite the seismic disturbances of his lower strata. And even were John Smith so wise, it would not shear Bacon of his merit; for what does logic do but formulate the experience and methods of the wise?—what does any discipline do but try by rules to turn the art of a few into a science teachable to all? 

Bacon gave a precise definition to the method of induction in logic and made it more applicable. 

But is the formulation Bacon’s own? Is not the Socratic method inductive? Is not Aristotle’s biology inductive? Did not Roger Bacon practice as well as preach the inductive method which Francis Bacon merely preached? Did not Galileo formulate better the procedure that science has actually used? True of Roger Bacon, less true of Galileo, less true yet of Aristotle, least true of Socrates. Galileo outlined the aim rather than the method of science, holding up before its followers the goal of mathematical and quantitative formulation of all experience and relationships; Aristotle practiced induction when there was nothing else for him to do, and where the material did not lend itself to his penchant for the deduction of specific conclusions from magnificently general assumptions; and Socrates did not so much practice induction—the gathering of data—as analysis—the definition and discrimination of words and ideas. 

Induction has been practiced and preached by other philosophers but not in such inspiring terms as Bacon did.

Bacon makes no claim to parthenogenetic originality; like Shakespeare he takes with a lordly hand, and with the same excuse, that he adorns whatever he touches. Every man has his sources, as every organism has its food; what is his is the way in which he digests them and turns them into flesh and blood. As Rawley puts it, Bacon “contemned no man’s observations, but would light his torch at every man’s candle.” But Bacon acknowledges these debts: he refers to “that useful method of Hippocrates,”—so sending us at once to the real source of inductive logic among the Greeks; and “Plato,” he writes (where less accurately we write “Socrates”), “giveth good example of inquiry by induction and view of particulars; though in such a wandering manner as is of no force or fruit.” He would have disdained to dispute his obligations to these predecessors; and we should disdain to exaggerate them. 

Bacon does acknowledge Hippocrates as the source of inductive logic.

But then again, is the Baconian method correct? Is it the method most fruitfully used in modern science? No: generally, science has used, with best result, not the accumulation of data (“natural history”) and their manipulation by the complicated tables of the Novum Organum, but the simpler method of hypothesis, deduction and experiment. So Darwin, reading Malthus’ Essay on Population, conceived the idea of applying to all organisms the Malthusian hypothesis that population tends to increase faster than the means of subsistence; deduced from this hypothesis the probable conclusion that the pressure of population on the food-supply results in a struggle for existence in which the fittest survive, and by which in each generation every species is changed into closer adaptation to its environment; and finally (having by hypothesis and deduction limited his problem and his field of observation) turned to “the unwithered face of nature” and made for twenty years a patient inductive examination of the facts. Again, Einstein conceived, or took from Newton, the hypothesis that light travels in curved, not straight lines; deduced from it the conclusion that a star appearing to be (on the straight~line theory) in a certain position in the heaven, is really a little to one side of that position; and he invited experiment and observation to test the conclusion. Obviously the function of hypothesis and imagination is greater than Bacon supposed; and the procedure of science is more direct and circumscribed than in the Baconian scheme. Bacon himself anticipated the superannuation of his method; the actual practice of science would discover better modes of investigation than could be worked out in the interludes of statesmanship. “These things require some ages for the ripening of them.” 

Science actually uses the method of hypothesis, deduction and experiment, which is simpler than the Baconian scheme.

Even a lover of the Baconian spirit must concede, too, that the great Chancellor, while laying down the law for science, failed to keep abreast of the science of his time. He rejected Copernicus and ignored Kepler and Tycho Brahe; he depreciated Gilbert and seemed unaware of Harvey. In truth, he loved discourse better than research; or perhaps he had no time for toilsome investigations. Such work as he did in philosophy and science was left in fragments and chaos at his death; full of repetitions, contradictions, aspirations, and introductions. Ars longa, vita brevis—art is long and time is fleeting: this is the tragedy of every great soul. 

Bacon was really not very aware of the scientific research of his time.

To assign to so overworked a man, whose reconstruction of philosophy had to be crowded into the crevices of a harassed and a burdened political career, the vast and complicated creations of Shakespeare, is to waste the time of students with the parlor controversies of idle theorists. Shakespeare lacks just that which distinguishes the lordly Chancellor—erudition and philosophy. Shakespeare has an impressive smattering of many sciences, and a mastery of none; in all of them he speaks with the eloquence of an amateur. He accepts astrology: “This huge state … whereon the stars in secret influence comment.” He is forever making mistakes which the learned Bacon could not possibly have made: his Hector quotes Aristotle and his Coriolanus alludes to Cato; he supposes the Lupercalia to be a hill; and he understands Caesar about as profoundly as Caesar is understood by H. G. Wells. He makes countless references to his early life and his matrimonial tribulations. He perpetrates vulgarities, obscenities and puns natural enough in the gentle roisterer who could not quite out-live the Stratford rioter and the butcher’s son, but hardly to be expected in the cold and calm philosopher. Carlyle calls Shakespeare the greatest of intellects; but he was rather the greatest of imaginations, and the keenest eye. He is an inescapable psychologist, but he is not a philosopher: he has no structure of thought unified by a purpose for his own life and for mankind. He is immersed in love and its problems, and thinks of philosophy, through Montaigne’s phrases, only when his heart is broken. Otherwise he accepts the world blithely enough; he is not consumed with the reconstructive vision that ennobled Plato, or Nietzsche, or Bacon. 

But Bacon single-handedly reconstructed the whole field of philosophy. He was very different from Shakespeare.

Now the greatness and the weakness of Bacon lay precisely in his passion for unity, his desire to spread the wings of his coordinating genius over a hundred sciences. He aspired to be like Plato, “a man of sublime genius, who took a view of everything as from a lofty rock.” He broke down under the weight-of the tasks he had laid upon himself; he failed forgivably because he undertook so much. He could not enter the promised land of science, but as Cowley’s epitaph expressed it, he could at least stand upon its border and point out its fair features in the distance.

If Bacon appears to have failed it was because he undertook so much. He could at least stand upon the border of science and point out its fair features in the distance.

His achievement was not the less great because it was indirect. His philosophical works, though little read now, “moved the intellects which moved the world.” He made himself the eloquent voice of the optimism and resolution of the Renaissance. Never was any man so great a stimulus to other thinkers. King James, it is true, refused to accept his suggestion for the support of science, and said of the Novum Orgaum, that “it was like the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” But better men, in 1662, founding that Royal Society which was to become the greatest association of scientists in the world, named Bacon as their model and inspiration; they hoped that this organization of English research would lead the way toward that Europe-wide association which the Advancement of Learning had taught them to desire. And when the great minds of the French Enlightenment undertook that masterpiece of intellectual enterprise, the Encyclopedie, they dedicated it to Francis Bacon. “If,” said Diderot in the Prospectus, “we have come of it successfully, we shall owe most to the Chancellor Bacon, who threw out the plan of a universal dictionary of sciences and arts, at a time when, so to say, neither arts nor sciences existed. That extraordinary genius, when it was impossible to write a history of what was known, wrote one of what it was necessary to learn.” D’Alembert called Bacon “the greatest, the most universal, and the most eloquent of philosophers.” The Convention published the works of Bacon at the expense of the state. The whole tenor and career of British thought have followed the philosophy of Bacon. His tendency to conceive the world in Democritean mechanical terms gave to his secretary, Hobbes, the starting-point for a thorough-going materialism; his inductive method gave to Locke the idea of an empirical psychology, bound by observation and freed from theology and metaphysics; and his emphasis on “commodities” ‘and “fruits” found formulation in Bentham’s identification of the useful and the good. 

Bacon’s philosophical works, though little read now, “moved the intellects which moved the world.” 

Wherever the spirit of control has overcome the spirit of resignation, Bacon’s influence has been felt. He is the voice of all those Europeans who have changed a continent from a forest into a treasure-land of art and science, and have made their little peninsula the center of the world. “Men are not animals erect,” said Bacon, “but immortal gods.” “The Creator has given us souls equal to all the world, and yet satiable not even with a world.” Everything is possible to man. Time is young; give us some little centuries, and we shall control and remake all things. We shall perhaps at last learn the noblest lesson of all, that man must not fight man, but must make war only on the obstacles that nature offers to the triumph of man. “It will not be amiss,” writes Bacon, in one of his finest passages, “to distinguish the three kinds, and as it were grades, of ambition in mankind. The first is of those who desire to extend their power in their native country; which kind is vulgar and degenerate. The second is of those who labor to extend the power of their country and its dominion among men; this certainly has more dignity, but not less covetousness. But if a man endeavor to establish and extend the power and dominion of the human race itself over the universe, his ambition is without doubt both a more wholesome thing and a nobler than the other two.” It was Bacon’s fate to be torn to pieces by these hostile ambitions struggling for his soul. 

Bacon is the voice of all those Europeans who have changed a continent from a forest into a treasure-land of art and science, and have made their little peninsula the center of the world. 

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Durant 1926: The Utopia of Science (Francis Bacon)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter III, Section 4 (Part 3) 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.

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IV.3 The Utopia of Science

To perfect science so, and then to perfect social order by putting science in control, would itself be utopia enough. Such is the world described for us in Bacon’s brief fragment and last work, The New Atlantis, published two years before his death. Wells thinks it Bacon’s “greatest service. to science” to have drawn for us, even so sketchily, the picture of a society in which at last science has its proper place as the master of things; it was a royal act of imagination by which for three centuries one goal has been held in view by the great army of warriors in the battle of knowledge and invention against ignorance and poverty. Here in these few pages we have the essence and the “form” of Francis Bacon, the law of his being and his life, the secret and continuous aspiration of his soul. 

Bacon’s utopia was to perfect science so, and then to perfect social order by putting science in control.

Plato in the Timaeus had told of the old legend of Atlantis, the sunken continent in the Western seas. Bacon and others identified the new America of Columbus and Cabot with this old Atlantis; the great continent had not sunk after all, but only men’s courage to navigate the sea. Since this old Atlantis was now known, and seemed inhabited by a race vigorous enough, but not quite like the brilliant Utopians of Bacon’s fancy, he conceived of a new Atlantis, an isle in that distant Pacific which only Drake and Magellan had traversed, an isle distant enough from Europe and from knowledge to give generous scope to the Utopian imagination. 

Bacon though of America as the place where his utopia could be fulfilled.

The story begins in the most artfully artless way, like the great tales of Defoe and Swift. “We sailed from Peru (where we had continued for the space of one whole year), for China and Japan by the South Sea.” Came a great calm, in which the ships for weeks lay quietly on the boundless ocean like specks upon a mirror, while, the provisions of the adventurers ebbed away. And then resistless winds drove the vessels pitilessly north and north and north, out of the island-dotted south into an endless wilderness of sea. The rations were reduced, and reduced again, and again reduced; and disease took hold of the crew. At last, when they had resigned themselves to death, they saw, almost unbelieving, a fair island looming up under the sky. On the shore, as their vessel neared it, they saw not savages, but men simply and yet ‘beautifully clothed, clean, and manifestly of developed intelligence. They were permitted to land, but were told that the island government allowed no strangers to remain. Nevertheless, since some of the’ crew were sick, they might all stay till these were well again. 

The story starts with a long sea voyage, when the desperately lost crew suddenly comes upon this fair island inhabited by intelligent people.

During the weeks of convalescence the wanderers unraveled, day by day, the mystery of the New Atlantis; “There reigned in this island about nineteen hundred years ago,” one of the inhabitants tells them, “a King whose memory above all others we most adore. … His name was Solamona, and we esteem him as the Law-giver of our nation. This King had a large heart . … and was wholly bent to make his kingdom and people happy.” “Among the excellent acts of that King one above all hath the preeminence. It was the creation and institution of the Order, or Society, which is called Solomon’s House; the noblest foundation, as we think, that was ever upon the earth; and the lantherne of this kingdom.” 

Nineteen hundred years ago, an institution of the Order, or Society, called Solomon’s House was created.

There follows a description of Solomon’s House, too complicated for a quoted abstract, but eloquent enough to (draw from the hostile Macaulay the judgment that “there is not to be found in any human composition a passage more eminently distinguished by profound and serene wisdom.” Solomon’s House takes the place, in the New Atlantis, of the Houses of Parliament in London; it is the home of the island government. But there are no politicians there, no insolent “elected persons,” no “national palaver,” as Carlyle would say; no parties, caucuses, primaries, conventions, campaigns, buttons, lithographs, editorials, speeches, lies, and elections; the idea of filling public office by such dramatic methods seems never to have entered the heads of these Atlantans. But the road to the heights of scientific repute is open to all, and only those who have traveled the road sit in the councils of the state. It is a government of the people and for the people by the selected best of the people; a government by technicians, architects, astronomers, geologists, biologists, physicians, chemists, economists, sociologists, psychologists and philosophers. Complicated enough; but think of a government without politicians! 

Solomon’s House is the home of the island government; but there are no elected politicians there. only those who have traveled the road to the heights of scientific repute sit in the councils of the state. 

Indeed there is little government at all in the New Atlantis; these governors are engaged rather in controlling nature than in ruling man. “The End of Our Foundation 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.” This is the key-sentence of the book, and of Francis Bacon. We find the governors engaged in such undignified tasks as studying the stars, arranging to utilize for industry the power of falling water, developing gases for the cure of various ailments, experimenting on animals for surgical knowledge, growing new varieties of plants and animals by cross-breeding, etc. “We imitate the flights of birds; we have some degree of flying in the air. We have ships and boats for going under water.” There is foreign trade, but of an unusual sort; the island produces what it consumes, and consumes what it produces; it does not go to war for foreign markets. “We maintain a trade, not of gold, silver, or jewels, nor for silks, nor for spices, nor for any other commodity or matter; but only for God’s first creature, which was light; to have light of the growth of all parts of the world.” These “Merchants of Light” are members of Solomon’s House who are sent abroad every twelve years to live among foreign peoples of every quarter of the civilized globe; to learn their language and study their sciences and industries and literatures; and to return, at the end of the twelve years, to report their findings to the leaders of Solomon’s House; while their places abroad are taken by a new group of scientific explorers. In this way the best of all the world comes soon to the New Atlantis.

The goal of the government is defined by this key sentence: “The End of Our Foundation 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.”


Brief as the picture is, we see in it again the outline of every philosopher’s utopia—a people guided in peace and modest plenty by their wisest men. The dream of every thinker is to replace the politician by the scientist; why does it remain only a dream after so many incarnations? Is it because the thinker is too dreamily intellectual to go out into the arena of affairs and build his concept into reality? Is it because the hard ambition of the narrowly acquisitive soul is forever destined to overcome the gentle and scrupulous aspirations of philosophers and saints? Or is it that science is not yet grown to maturity and conscious power?—that only in our day do physicists and chemists and technicians begin tosee that the rising role of science in industry and war gives them a pivotal position in social strategy, and points to the time when their organized strength will persuade the world to call them to leadership? Perhaps science has not yet merited the mastery of the world; and perhaps in a little while it will. 

We see in this picture again the outline of every philosopher’s utopia—a people guided in peace and modest plenty by their wisest men.

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Durant 1926: The New Organon (Francis Bacon)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy 

This paper presents Chapter III, Section 4 (Part 2) 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.

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IV.2 The New Organon

“Bacon’s greatest performance,” says his bitterest critic, “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. “This part of human philosophy which regards logic is disagreeable to the taste of many, as appearing to them no other than a net, and a snare of thorny subtlety. … But if we would rate things according to their real worth, the rational sciences are the keys to all the rest.”

Logic has a great value. Bacon recognized it and expressed it the best.

Philosophy has been barren so long, says Bacon, because she needed a new method to make her fertile. The great mistake of the Greek philosophers was that they spent so much time in theory, so little in observation. But thought should be the side of observation, not its substitute. “Man,” says the first aphorism of the Novum Organum, as if flinging a challenge to all metaphysics,—“Man, as the minister and interpreter of nature, does and understands as much as his observations on the order of nature … permit him; and neither knows nor is capable of more.” The predecessors of Socrates were in this matter sounder than his followers; Democritus, in particular, had a nose for facts, rather than an eye for the clouds. No wonder that philosophy has advanced so little since Aristotle’s day; it has been using Aristotle’s methods. “To go beyond Aristotle by the light of Aristotle is to think that a borrowed light can increase the original light from which it is taken.” Now, after two thousand years of logic-chopping with the machinery invented by Aristotle, philosophy has fallen so low that none will do her reverence. All these medieval theories, theorems and disputations must be cast out and forgotten; to renew herself philosophy must begin again with a clean slate and a cleansed mind. 

The great mistake of the Greek philosophers was that they spent so much time in theory, so little in observation. 

The first step, therefore, is the Expurgation of the Intellect. We must become as little children, innocent of isms and abstractions, washed clear of prejudices and preconceptions. We must destroy the Idols of the mind. 

We must get rid of prejudices and preconceptions.

An idol, as Bacon uses the word (reflecting perhaps the Protestant rejection of image-worship), is a picture taken for a reality, a thought mistaken for a thing. Errors come under this head; and the first problem of logic is to trace and dam the sources of these errors. Bacon proceeds now to a justly famous analysis of fallacies; “no man,” said Condillac, “has better known than Bacon the causes of human error.” 

An idol is a picture taken for a reality, a thought mistaken for a thing. The first problem of logic is to trace and dam the sources of these errors.

These errors are, first, Idols of the Tribe,—fallacies natural to humanity in general. “For man’s sense is falsely asserted” (by Protagoras’ “Man is the measure of all things”) “to be the standard of things: on the contrary, all the perceptions, both of the senses and the mind, bear reference to man and not to the universe; and the human mind resembles those uneven mirrors which impart their own properties to different objects … and distort and disfigure them.” Our thoughts are pictures rather of ourselves than of their objects. For example, “the human understanding, from its peculiar nature, easily supposes a greater degree of order and regularity in things than it really finds. … Hence the fiction that all celestial bodies move in perfect circles.” Again, 

Idols of the Tribe = fallacies natural to humanity in general.

the human understanding, when any proposition has been once laid down (either from general admission and belief, or from the pleasure it affords), forces everything else to add fresh support and confirmation: and although most cogent and abundant instances may exist to the contrary, yet either does not observe, or despises them, or it gets rid of and rejects them by some distinction, with violent and injurious prejudice, rather than sacrifice the authority of its first conclusions. It was well answered by him who was shown in a temple the votive tablets suspended by such as had escaped the peril of shipwreck, and was pressed as to whether he would then recognize the power of the gods. … “But where are the portraits of those that have perished in spite of their vows?” All superstition is much the same, whether it be that of astrology, dreams, omens, retributive judgment, or the like, in all of which the deluded believers observe events which are fulfilled, but neglect and pass over their failure, though it be much more common.

The human mind resembles those uneven mirrors which impart their own properties to different objects and distort and disfigure them.

“Having first determined the question according to his will, man then resorts to experience; and bending her into conformity with his placets, leads her about like a captive in a procession.” In short, “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.’ … For what a man had rather were true, he more readily believes.” Is it not so? 

What a man had rather were true, he more readily believes.

Bacon gives at this point a word of golden counsel. “In general 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.” “The understanding must not be allowed to jump and fly from particulars to remote axioms and of almost the highest generality; … it must not be supplied with wings, but rather hung with weights to keep it from leaping and flying.” The imagination may be the greatest enemy of the intellect, whereas it should be only its tentative and experiment. 

RULE: The understanding must not be allowed to jump and fly from particulars to remote axioms and of almost the highest generality.

A second class of errors Bacon calls Idols of the Cave—errors peculiar to the individual man. “For everyone … has a cave or den of his own, which refracts and discolors the light of nature”; this is his character as formed by nature and nurture, and by his mood or condition of body and mind. Some minds, e. g., are constitutionally analytic, and see differences everywhere; others are constitutionally synthetic, and see resemblances; so we have the scientist and the painter on the one hand, and on the other hand the poet and the philosopher. Again, “some dispositions evince an unbounded admiration for antiquity, others eagerly embrace.novelty; only a few can preserve the just medium, and neither tear up what the ancients have correctly established, nor despise the just innovations of the moderns.” Truth knows no parties. 

Idols of the Cave = errors peculiar to the individual man.

Thirdly, Idols of the Market-place, arising “from the commerce and association of men with one another. For men converse by means of language; but words are imposed according to the understanding of the crowd; and there arises from a bad and inapt formation of words, a wonderful obstruction to the mind.” Philosophers deal out infinites with the careless assurance of grammarians handling infinitives; and yet does any man know what this “infinite” is, or whether it has even taken the precaution of existing? Philosophers talk about “first cause uncaused,” or “first mover unmoved”; but are not these again fig-leaf phrases used to cover naked ignorance, and perhaps indicative of a guilty conscience in the user? Every clear and honest head knows that no cause can be causeless, nor any mover unmoved. Perhaps the greatest reconstruction in philosophy would be simply this—that we should stop lying. 

Idols of the Market-place = errors arising from the commerce and association of men with one another. Ideas like “first cause uncaused,” or “first mover unmoved,” are but fig-leaf phrases used to cover naked ignorance.

“Lastly, there are idols which have migrated into men’s minds from the various dogmas of philosophers, and also from wrong laws of demonstration. These I call Idols of the Theatre, because in my judgment all the received systems of philosophy are but so many stage-plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion. … And in the plays of this philosophic 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 we would wish them to be, than true stories out of history.” The world as Plato describes it is merely a world constructed by Plato, and pictures Plato rather than the world. 

Idols of the Theatre = idols which have migrated into men’s minds from the various dogmas of philosophers.

We shall never get far along towards the truth if these idols are still to trip us up, even the best of us, at every turn. We need new modes of reasoning, new tools for the understanding. “And as the immense regions of the West Indies had never been discovered, if the use of the compass had not first been known, it is no wonder that the discovery and advancement of arts hath made no greater progress, when the art of inventing and discovering of the sciences remains hitherto unknown.” “And surely it would be disgraceful, if, while the regions of the material globe … have been in our times laid widely open and revealed, the intellectual globe should remain shut up within the narrow limits of old discoveries.”

We need new modes of reasoning, new tools for the understanding.

Ultimately, our troubles are due to dogma and deduction; we find no new truth because we take some venerable but questionable proposition as an indubitable starting-point, and never think of putting this assumption itself to the test of observation or experiment. Now “if a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin in doubts he shall end in certainties” (alas, it is not quite inevitable). Here is a note common in the youth of modern philosophy, part of its declaration of independence; Descartes too would presently talk of the necessity of “methodic doubt” as the cobweb-clearing pre-requisite of honest thought. 

We find no new truth because we take some venerable but questionable proposition as an indubitable starting-point, and never think of putting this assumption itself to the test of observation or experiment. 

Bacon proceeds to give an admirable description of the scientific method of inquiry. “There remains simple experience; which, if taken as it comes, is called accident” (“empirical”), “if sought for, experiment. … The true method of experience first lights the candle” (hypothesis), “and then by means of the candle shows the way” (arranges and delimits the experiment) ; “commencing as it does with experience duly ordered and digested, not bungling nor erratic, and from it educing axioms, and from established axioms again new experiments.” (We have here—as again in a later passage which speaks of the results of initial experiments as a “first vintage” to guide further research—an explicit, though perhaps inadequate, recognition of that need for hypothesis, experiment and deduction which some of Bacon’s critics suppose him to have entirely overlooked.) We must go to nature instead of to books, traditions and authorities; we must “put nature on the rack and compel her to bear witness” even against herself, so that we may control her to our ends. We must gather together from every quarter a “natural history” of the world, built by the united research of Europe’s scientists. We must have induction. 

We must go to nature instead of to books, traditions and authorities. We must have the scientific method of inquiry. We must have induction.

But induction does not mean “simple enumeration” of all the data; conceivably, this might be endless, and useless; no mass of material can by itself make science. This would be like “chasing a quarry over an open country”; we must narrow and enclose our field in order to capture our prey. The method of induction must include a technique for the classification of data and the elimination of hypotheses; so that by the progressive canceling of possible explanations one only shall at last remain. Perhaps the most useful item in this technique is the “table of more or less,” which lists instances in which two qualities or conditions increase or decrease together, and so reveals, presumably, a causal relation between the simultaneously varying phenomena. So Bacon, asking, What is heat?—seeks for some factor that increases with the increase of heat, and decreases with its decrease; he finds, after long analysis, an exact correlation between heat and motion; and his conclusion that heat is a form of motion constitutes one of his few specific contributions to natural science. 

The method of induction must include a technique for the classification of data and the elimination of hypotheses; so that by the progressive canceling of possible explanations one only shall at last remain.

By this insistent accumulation and analysis of data we come, in Bacon’s phrase, to the form of the phenomenon which we study,—to its secret nature and its inner essence. The theory of forms in Bacon is very much like the theory of ideas in Plato: a metaphysics of science. “When we speak of forms we mean nothing else than those laws and regulations of simple action which arrange and constitute any simple nature. … The form of heat or the form of light, therefore, means no more than the law of heat or the law of light.” (In a similar strain Spinoza was to say that the law of the circle is its substance.)”For although nothing exists in nature except individual bodies exhibiting clear individual effects according to particular laws; yet, in each branch of learning, those. very laws—their investigation, discovery and development—are the foundation both of theory and of practice.” Of theory and of practice; one without the other is useless and perilous; knowledge that does not generate achievement is a pale and bloodless thing, unworthy of mankind. We strive to learn the forms of things not for the sake of the forms but because by knowing the forms, the laws, we may remake things in the image of our desire. So we study mathematics in order to reckon quantities and build bridges; we study psychology in order to find our way in the jungle of society. When science has sufficiently ferreted out the forms of things, the world will be merely the raw material of whatever utopia man may decide to make. 

“When we speak of forms we mean nothing else than those laws and regulations of simple action which arrange and constitute any simple nature.” We arrive at the final form by resolving anomalies and confirming the law of continuity, consistency and harmony. Knowledge must generate achievement.

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Durant 1926: The Advancement of Learning (Francis Bacon)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter III, Section 4 (Part 1) 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.

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IV.1 The Advancement of Learning

To produce works, one must have knowledge. “Nature cannot be commanded except by being obeyed.” Let us learn the laws of nature, and we shall be her masters, as we are now, in ignorance, her thralls; science is the road to utopia. But in what condition this road is—tortuous, unlit, turning back upon itself, lost in useless by-paths, and leading not to light but to chaos. Let us then begin by making a survey of the state of the sciences, and marking out for them their proper and distinctive fields; let us “seat the sciences each in its proper place”; examine their defects, their needs, and their possibilities; indicate the new problems that await their light; and in general “open and stir the earth a little about the roots” of them.

Let us “seat the sciences each in its proper place”.

This is the task which Bacon set himself in The Advancement of Learning. “It is my intention,” he writes, like a king entering his realm, “to make the circuit of knowledge, noticing what parts lie waste and uncultivated, and abandoned by the industry of man; with a view to engage, by a faithful mapping out of the deserted tracts, the energies of public and private persons in their improvement.” He would be the royal surveyor of the weed-grown soil, making straight the road, and dividing the fields among the laborers. It was a plan audacious to the edge of immodesty; but Bacon was still young enough (forty-two is young in a philosopher) to plan great voyages. “I have taken all knowledge to be my province,” he had written to Burghley in 1592; not meaning that he would make himself a premature edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, but implying merely that his work would bring him into every field, as the critic and coordinator of every science in the task of social reconstruction. The very magnitude of his purpose gives a stately magnificence to his style, and brings him at times to the height of English prose. 

Bacon implied that his work would bring him into every field, as the critic and coordinator of every science in the task of social reconstruction. 

So he ranges over the vast battle-ground in which human research struggles with natural hindrance and human ignorance; and in every field he sheds illumination. He attaches great importance to physiology and medicine; he exalts the latter as regulating “a musical instrument of much and exquisite workmanship easily put out of tune.” But he objects to the lax empiricism of contemporary doctors, and their facile tendency to treat all ailments with the same prescription—usually physic. “Our physicians are like bishops, that have the keys of binding and loosing, but no more.” They rely too much on mere haphazard, uncoordinated individual experience; let them experiment more widely, let them illuminate human with comparative anatomy, let them dissect and if necessary vivisect; and above all, let them construct an easily accessible and intelligible record of experiments and results. Bacon believes that the medical profession should be permitted to ease and quicken death (euthanasy) where the end would be otherwise only delayed for a few days and at the cost of great pain; but he urges the physicians to give more study to the art of prolonging life. “This is a new part” of medicine, “and deficient, though the most noble of all; for if it may be supplied, medicine will not then be wholly versed in sordid cures, nor physicians be honored only for necessity, but as dispensers of the greatest earthly happiness that could well be conferred on mortals.” One can hear some sour Schopenhauerian protesting, at this point, against the assumption that longer life would be a boon, and urging, on the contrary, that the speed with which some physicians put an end to our ill-nesses is a consummation devoutly to be praised. But Bacon, worried and married and harassed though he was, never doubted that life was a very fine thing after all. 

Bacon attached great importance to physiology and medicine.

In psychology he is almost a “behaviorist”: he demands a strict study of cause and effect in human action, and wishes to eliminate the word chance from the vocabulary of science. “Chance is the name of a thing that does not exist.” And “what chance is in the universe, so will is in man.” Here is a world of meaning, and a challenge of war, all in a little line: the Scholastic doctrine of free will is pushed aside as beneath discussion; and the universal assumption of a “will” distinct from the “intellect” is discarded. These are leads which Bacon does not follow up; it is not the only case in which he puts a book into a phrase and then passes blithely on. 

Bacon pushed aside the Scholastic doctrine of free will; and discarded the universal assumption of a “will” distinct from the “intellect”.

Again in a few words, Bacon invents a new science—social psychology. “Philosophers should diligently inquire into the powers and energy of custom, exercise, habit, education, example, imitation, emulation, company, friendship, praise, reproof, exhortation, reputation, laws, books, studies etc.; for these are the things that reign in men’s morals; by these agents the mind is formed and subdued.” So closely has this outline been followed by the new science that it reads almost like a table of contents for the works of Tarde, Le Bon, Ross, Wallas, and Durkheim. 

Bacon invented the science of social psychology.

Nothing is beneath science, nor above it. Sorceries, dreams, predictions, telepathic communications, “psychical phenomena” in general must be subjected to scientific examination; “for it is not known in what cases, and how far, effects attributed to superstition participate of natural causes.” Despite his strong naturalistic bent he feels the fascination of these problems; nothing human is alien to him. Who knows what unsuspected truth, what new science, indeed, may grow out of these investigations, as chemistry budded out from alchemy? “Alchemy may be compared to the man who told his sons he had left them gold buried somewhere in his vineyard; where they, by digging, found no gold, but by turning up the mould about the roots of the vines, procured a plentiful vintage. So the search and endeavors to make gold have brought many useful inventions and instructive experiments to light.”

Modern “subject clearing” carries out what Bacon calls scientific examination. No subject is off limits for subject clearing.

Still another science grows to form in Book VIII: the science of success in life. Not yet having fallen from power, Bacon offers some preliminary hints on how to rise in the world. The first requisite is knowledge: of ourselves and of others. Gnothe Seauton is but half; know thyself is valuable chiefly as a means of knowing others. We must diligently 

inform ourselves of the particular persons we have to deal with—their tempers, desires, views, customs, habits; the assistances, helps and assurances whereon they principally rely, and whence they received their power; their defects and weaknesses, whereat they chiefly lie open and are accessible; their friends, factions, patrons, dependents, enemies, enviers, rivals; their times and manners of access. … But the surest key for unlocking the minds of others turns upon searching and sifting either their tempers and natures, or their ends and designs; and the more weak and simple are best judged by their temper, but the more prudent and close by their designs. … But the shortest way to this whole inquiry rests upon three particulars; viz.—l. In procuring numerous friendships. … 2. In observing a prudent mean and moderation between freedom of discourse and silence. … But above all, nothing conduces more to the well-representing of a man’s self, and securing his own right, than not to disarm one’s self by too much sweetness and good-nature, which exposes a man to injuries and reproaches; but rather … at times to dart out some sparks of a free and generous mind, that have no less of the sting than the honey.

The first requisite is knowledge: of ourselves and of others. Gnothe Seauton is but half; know thyself is valuable chiefly as a means of knowing others. 

Friends are for Bacon chiefly a means to power; he, shares with Machiavelli a point of view which one is at first inclined to attribute to the Renaissance, till one thinks of the fine and uncalculating friendships of Michelangelo and Cavalieri, Montaigne and La Boetie, Sir Philip Sidney and Hubert Languet. Perhaps this very practical assessment of friendship helps to explain Bacon’s fall from power, as similar views help to explain Napoleon’s; for a man’s friends will seldom practice a higher philosophy in their relations with him than that which he professes in his treatment of them. Bacon goes on to quote Bias, one of the Seven Wise Men of ancient Greece: “Love your friend as if he were to become your enemy, and your enemy as if he were to become your friend.” Do not betray even to your friend too much of your real purposes and thoughts; in conversation, ask questions oftener than you express opinions; and when you speak, offer data and information rather than beliefs and judgments. Manifest pride is a help to advancement; and “ostentation is a fault in ethics rather than in politics.”  Here again one is reminded of Napoleon; Bacon, like the little Corsican, was a simple man enough within his walls, but outside them he affected a ceremony and display which he thought indispensable to public repute. 

Friends are for Bacon chiefly a means to power. Bacon was a simple man enough within his walls, but outside them he affected a ceremony and display which he thought indispensable to public repute. 

So Bacon runs from field to field, pouring the seed of his thought into every science. At the end of his survey he comes to the conclusion that science by itself is not enough: there must be a force and discipline outside the sciences to coordinate them and point them to a goal. “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.” What science needs is philosophy—the analysis of scientific method, and the coordination of scientific purposes and results; without this, any science must be superficial. “For as no perfect view of a country can be taken from a flat; so it is impossible to discover the remote and deep parts of any science by standing upon the level of the same science, or without ascending to a higher.” He condemns the habit of looking at isolated facts out of their context, without considering the unity of nature; as if, he says, one should carry a small candle about the corners of a room radiant with a central light.

At the end of his survey Bacon comes to the conclusion that science by itself is not enough: there must be a force and discipline outside the sciences to coordinate them and point them to a goal. That force comes from the context of unity of nature.

Philosophy, rather than science, is in the long run Bacon’s love; it is only philosophy which can give even to a life of turmoil and grief the stately peace that comes of understanding. “Learning conquers or mitigates the fear of death and adverse fortune.” He quotes Virgil’s great lines: 

Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,
Quique metus omnes, et inexorabile fatum,
Subjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis avari—

“happy the man who has learned the causes of things, and has put under his feet all fears, and inexorable fate, and the noisy strife of the hell of greed.” It is perhaps the best fruit of philosophy that through it we unlearn the lesson of endless acquisition which an industrial environment so insistently repeats. “Philosophy directs us first to seek the goods of the mind, and the rest will either be supplied, or not much wanted.” A bit of wisdom is a joy forever. 

It is only philosophy which can give even to a life of turmoil and grief the stately peace that comes of understanding. 

Government suffers, precisely like science, for lack of philosophy. Philosophy bears to science the same relationship which statesmanship bears to politics: movement guided by total knowledge and perspective, as against aimless and individual seeking. Just as the pursuit of knowledge becomes scholasticism when divorced from the actual needs of men and life, so the pursuit of politics becomes a destructive bedlam when divorced from science and philosophy. “It is wrong to trust the natural body to empirics, who commonly have a few receipts whereon they rely, but who know neither the cause of the disease, nor the constitution of patients, nor the danger of accidents, nor the true methods of cure. And so it must needs be dangerous to have the civil body of states managed by empirical statesmen, unless well mixed with others who are grounded in learning. … Though he might be thought partial to his profession who said, ‘States would then be happy, when either kings were philosophers or philosophers kings,’ yet so much is verified by experience, that the best times have happened under wise and: learned princes.” And he reminds. us of the great emperors who ruled Rome after Domitian and before Commodus. 

Government suffers, precisely like science, for lack of philosophy. Philosophy bears to science the same relationship which statesmanship bears to politics: movement guided by total knowledge and perspective, as against aimless and individual seeking. 

So Bacon, like Plato and us all, exalted his hobby, and offered it as the salvation of man. But he recognized, much more clearly than Plato (and the distinction announces the modern age), the necessity of specialist science, and of soldiers and armies of specialist research. No one mind, not even Bacon’s, could cover the whole field, though he should look from Olympus’ top itself. He knew he needed help, and keenly felt his loneliness in the mountain-air of his unaided enterprise. “What comrades have you in your work?” he asks a friend. “As for me, I am in the completest solitude.” He dreams of scientists coordinated in specialization by constant communion and cooperation, and by some great organization holding them together to a goal. “Consider what may be expected from men abounding in leisure, and from association of labors, and from successions of ages; the rather because it is not a way over which only one man can pass at a time (as is the case with that of reasoning), but within which the labors and industries of men (especially as regards the collecting of experience) may with the best effort be collected and distributed, and then combined. For then only will men begin to know their strength when, instead of great numbers doing all the same things, one shall take charge of one thing, and another of another.” Science, which is the organization of knowledge, must itself be organized. 

Bacon dreams of scientists coordinated in specialization by constant communion and cooperation, and by some great organization holding them together to a goal. Science, which is the organization of knowledge, must itself be organized. 

And this organization must be international; let it pass freely aver the frontiers, and it may make Europe intellectually one. “The next want I discover is the little sympathy and correspondence which exists between colleges and universities, as well throughout Europe as in the same state and kingdom.” Let all these universities allot subjects and problems among themselves, and cooperate both in research and in publication. So organized and correlated, the universities might be deemed worthy of such royal support as would make them what they shall be in Utopia—centers of impartial learning ruling the world. Bacon notes “the mean salaries apportioned to public lectureships, whether in the sciences or the arts”; and he feels that this will continue till governments take aver the great tasks of education. “The wisdom of the ancientest and best times always complained that states were too busy with laws, and too remiss in point of education.” His great dream is the socialization of science for the conquest of nature and the enlargement of the power of man. 

The universities shall be centers of impartial learning ruling the world. Bacon’s great dream is the socialization of science for the conquest of nature and the enlargement of the power of man.

And so he appeals to James I, showering upon him the flattery which, he knew his Royal Highness loved to sip. James was a scholar as well as a monarch, prouder of his pen than of his sceptre or his sward; something might be expected of so literary and erudite a king. Bacon tells James that the plans he has sketched are “indeed opera basilica,”—kingly tasks—“towards which the endeavors of one man can be but as an image on a cross-road, which points out the way but cannot tread it.” Certainly these royal undertakings will involve expense; but “as the secretaries and spies of princes and states bring in bills for intelligence, so you must allow the spies and intelligencers of nature to bring in their bills if you would not be ignorant of many things worthy to be known. And if Alexander placed so large a treasure at Aristotle’s command for the support of hunters, fowlers, fishers, and the like, in much more need do they stand of this beneficence who unfold the labyrinths of nature.” With such royal aid the Great Reconstruction can be completed in a few years; without it the task will require generations. 

Bacon tells James that the plans he has sketched are kingly tasks—“towards which the endeavors of one man can be but as an image on a cross-road, which points out the way but cannot tread it.”

What is refreshingly new in Bacon is the magnificent assurance with which he predicts the conquest of nature by man: “I stake all on the victory of art over nature in the race.” That which men have done is “but an earnest of the things they shall do.” But why this great hope? Had not men been seeking truth, and exploring the paths of science, these two thousand years? Why should one hope now for such great success where so long a time had given so modest a result?—Yes, Bacon answers; but what if the methods men have used have ‘been wrong and useless? What if the road has been lost, and research has gone into by-paths ending in the air? We need a ruthless revolution in our methods of research and thought, in our system of science and logic; we need a new Organon, better than Aristotle’s, fit for this larger world. 

What is refreshingly new in Bacon is the magnificent assurance with which he predicts the conquest of nature by man. We need a ruthless revolution in our methods of research and thought.

And so Bacon offers us his supreme book The New Organon.

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