Francis Bacon – The Renaissance Man!

Analyzes Francis Bacon, his life, his works, and his achievements.

Francis Bacon the Renaissance Man

            Francis Bacon was a Renaissance man. He had interests in a plethora of subjects ranging from philosophy to physics. Francis Bacon is important because he had an extremely significant impact on the world during the Renaissance Era through his creation of the Scientific Method, formerly known as the “Baconian Method” (University of Illinois at Chicago). He also wrote many books about his methods of scientific deduction, such as Novum Organum (1620), Instauratio Magna (1620), and The Advancement of Learning (1605), and even wrote a book about his idea of a Utopia called New Atlantis (1624). Although Bacon never fully finished some of the previously mentioned works, he did complete enough of them for future thinkers to complete and perfect his works. Francis Bacon’s effect on the scientific community, not only of his time but also today, is remarkable since much of our current knowledge was gained thanks to his works.

            Bacon was born on January 22, 1561, at York House near the Strand in London (Juergen). According to American historian Perez Zagorin, Bacon was homeschooled as a boy because of his poor health conditions (Zagorin 3). David Simpson, graduate of Columbia University with a PhD in English and Comparative Literature, found that Bacon began attending Trinity College in Cambridge at the age of twelve. Just three years later in 1576 he started

attending Gray’s Inn, a law school in London. Bacon received his law degree in 1582, and in 1588 Bacon was named lecturer in legal studies at Gray’s Inn. In 1603, James I became king which led to Bacon being able to climb the social ladder and eventually become Lord Chancellor in 1618. With this power came a tragic downfall. In 1621 Bacon was arrested and charged with bribery. He was heavily fined and sentenced to a prison term in the Tower of London. Although he only spent four days in jail and his fine was dismissed, he was never allowed to serve in Parliament or hold political office again (Simpson). After this tragic downfall, Bacon spent the rest of his years developing a method to improve knowledge (University of Illinois at Chicago).

            Bacon criticized many of the philosophers that are now known for their revolutionary thinking and contributions such as Plato, Aristotle, and even Renaissance scholars like Paracelsus and Bernardino Telesio. Bacon believed that the methods of scientific deduction during his time were wrong. Although Aristotle had written axioms for nearly every scientific discipline, Bacon found that Aristotle lacked a general theory of science, or a theory that could be applied to all fields of science, not just specific ones. Even though he had a deep respect for Aristotle, he regarded Aristotle’s philosophy as erroneous (Simpson).  Voltaire and Diderot, two enlightenment writers, considered Bacon to be the father of modern science (University of Illinois at Chicago). Bacon’s “project for the reconstruction of philosophy” contained a new vision of science and its place in society (Zagorin 3). Bacon was often limited by the dogmas of his time and fought to overcome these intellectual blockades (Juergen).  Even with these

limitations, Bacon still managed to produce many works which would change the way the world looked at science and the ways of using science to make discoveries.

            Although Bacon never produced any works that were strictly literary, he did write many books about science and deductive reasoning.  Instauratio Magna also known as The Great Instauration in English, was Bacon’s main work. It was published in 1620 as Franciscus de Verulamio Summi Angliae Cancellaris Instauratio magna (Juergen). It was never fully finished; only the first two parts of it were completed such as Parts One, The Divisions of the Sciences, which contains pieces from The Advancement of Learning (1605), Novum Organum, and De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum (1623), and Part Two, The New Organon; or Directions

concerning the Interpretation of Nature. Part one includes a general description of the sciences and their divisions during Bacon’s time. Part two introduces Bacon’s new method of scientific investigation, called the Novum Organum, which would produce a radical new version of the methods of knowledge. He sought to develop a new art, the Interpretatio Naturae, which is a logic of research that goes beyond ordinary logic. Part two, the Novum Organum, was the only part of his main work that was almost completed (Juergen). Parts three through six were never fully completed, though they were outlined and partially begun. Part three, The Phenomena of the Universe; or a Natural and Experimental History for the foundation of Philosophy, was to contain a record of the phenomena of the universe. This part was meant to serve as a “foundation for the reconstruction of the sciences in order to produce physical and metaphysical knowledge” (Juergen). Part four, The Ladder of Intellect, was supposed to deal with the state of science and the sciences of the future. Bacon also included in this part that superstition, religion, and false authorities should not have a place in scientific affairs. Part five, The Forerunners; of Anticipations of the New Philosophy, was supposed to contain insights on the positive and negative effects of anticipation in science. Bacon wrote that anticipations can cause people to neglect using the Novum Organum, or scientific process, to come up with results. Part six, the final part of the Great Instauration, was called The New Philosophy; or Active Science. This part was supposed to contain information about new philosophy. This is the only part of his major work that contains no text at all (Simpson). Another one of Bacon’s works, The Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605), had a profound influence on his later work, Great Instauration. Bacon believed that the intellectual life in Europe had become stagnated and that he could stimulate the intellectuals to open their minds to the world if he introduced them with new ways of thinking. In this book, Bacon states that the only knowledge of importance was that which could be discovered by observation- ‘empirical’ knowledge rooted in the natural world (Simpson). One of his earlier ideas, The Idols, played a big part in this theory.  Bacon believed that our minds were like “crooked mirrors” which were full of misconceptions about the world (Juergen). Bacon thought our minds were biased and we needed to learn the Idols in order to purge our minds of the idiosyncrasies that pollute it.

            Another one of Bacon’s works, New Atlantis (1624), is the closest he ever got to writing a literary piece, rather than a scientific or philosophical work. New Atlantis is a book about Bacon’s idea of a Utopia. He envisioned a land which would contain greater rights for women, the abolition of slavery, elimination of debtors’ prisons, separation of church and state, and freedom of religious and political expression. This work describes a lot of the features that are included in the Constitution of the United States such as the first amendment rights, and later equal rights bills. New Atlantis is a novel that depicts an island called Bensalem, which a European crew finds as they are lost in the Pacific Ocean. After the travelers land on the island, the plot begins to fade and the text becomes more of a manuscript for a Utopia rather than to continue to develop into a literary piece. Bacon also includes his idea of an ideal college, which he calls “Salomon’s House” (Simpson). Salomon’s House is Bacon’s vision of a research university that studied both applied sciences as well as pure sciences. Only the smartest individuals of the island are allowed into Salomon’s House. In Salomon’s House, research is conducted using Bacon’s newly developed Baconian Method. New Atlantis had a profound historical impact because it not only served as a basis for the British Royal Society, but also as an early outline of the modern research center (Juergen). New Atlantis also revealed that Bacon understood that science, much like literature, required analysis and should not just be an accumulation of observations (Oregon State). Unlike most of his other works, New Atlantis was a narrative fiction that is could be classified as a literary piece instead of a scientific or philosophical piece, though it could belong to both categories (Simpson).

            Novum Organum, Latin for “New Instrument,” was published in 1620. In this piece Bacon develops his “Baconian Method” in detail so that his method could be applied to all stages of knowledge (University of Illinois at Chicago). Bacon created a rule for interpreting nature, even if he provides no complete or universal theory (Juergen). Novum Organum is divided into two books. In Book I, Bacon criticizes natural philosophy and syllogism by comparing it to that of true induction. Bacon also believed that in order to effectively utilize the skill of inductive reasoning, one would have to overcome four fallacies, which Bacon called Idols. Bacon defined these idols as “images held in the mind which receives veneration but is without substance in itself,” but thought of the idols as fixations rather than symbols, according to Canadian author Manly P. Hall. These Idols consisted of the “Idols of the Tribe” (idola tribus), the “Idols of the Cave” (idola specus), the “Idols of the Marketplace” (idola fori), and the “Idols of the Theatre” (idola theatri) (Bacon XXXIX). The Idols of the Tribe include the misconceptions that the entire human race holds, such as errors derived from exaggerations of common events (Bacon XLI). Idols of the Cave are the misconceptions that are held inside the mind of an individual. This consists of many examples such as one where a physicist who devotes his mind to studying physics begins to see the applications of physics in everything, and his mind is essentially clouded by physics (Bacon XLII). The Idols of the Marketplace include the errors that individuals make in their use of words. Men will often try to communicate their opinions and use words without paying attention to the true meanings. This causes misunderstandings and fallacies to form, and will obscure the meaning of what the words were intended to portray (Bacon XLIII). The final idol, the Idols of the Theatre, are the errors that are caused by sophistry and fallacious learning. Students will accept false information without question because the information is defended by people who are taught the same, false information. False information that has been learned throughout the world for many generations is now accepted as truth and is no longer disputed (Bacon XLIV). Only after one rids oneself of these idols is he ready to begin inductive reasoning. At the conclusion of Book I, Bacon begins introducing the second part to his work, Novum Organum. In Book II, Bacon begins to introduce the concepts of true inductive reasoning and provides many examples. In one example, Bacon attempts to understand heat. He begins by making observations about heat, and where it is present. He then observes instances where heat is not present. Bacon then breaks up the heat into categories of varying intensities. He was able to deduct that light is not a source of heat from the example of boiling water and a fire. A fire emits a bright light, yet boiling water does not, so it is apparent that light does not cause heat. This, however, was only one example of his many deductions. Novum Organum provides many more examples in much greater detail, providing the reader with charts and calculations to prove his deductions. Book II also provides a set of steps to follow in order to achieve proper induction. Bacon lays out these steps in aphorism XXI of his Novum Organum

I propose to treat, then, in the first place, of Prerogative Instances; secondly, of the Supports of Induction; thirdly, of the Rectification of Induction; fourthly, of Varying the Investigation according to the nature of the Subject; fifthly, of Prerogative Natures with respect to Investigation, or of what should be inquired first and what last; sixthly, of the Limits of Investigation, or a synopsis of all natures in the universe; seventhly, of the Application to Practice, or of things in their relation to man; eighthly, of Preparations for Investigation; and lastly, of the Ascending and Descending Scale of Axioms.

Although Bacon introduced these steps, he did not elaborate on them. It is evident, however, that it was his intention to include these works in his Instauration Magna. The title also glances at Aristotle’s Organum and thus suggests a “new instrument” destined to transcend or replace the older, no longer serviceable one (Simpson).

            One of Bacon’s most famous pieces, The Essays (1601), was about many topics such as death, revenge, envy, love, nobility, and studying. His Essays are not considered literary because they contain his opinions on certain topics and present the opinions in a very unique, scientific way. This way is unique because instead of just presenting the argument that he prefers, he provides counter-arguments and tries to give all viewpoints on a particular issue. Included in his Essays are over 60 pieces each of which contain many axioms. An axiom is a generally accepted principle that requires no proof and usually makes a positive statement (Oregon State). In this work Bacon gives his opinions on many topics using references from many sources such as the Bible or previous philosophers to support his claims. Bacon coined many unique phrases that we use today, such as the phrase “hostages to fortune,” which appears in his essay “Of Marriage and Single Life”. Another common phrase, “If the Hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill,” is derived from Bacon’s essay, “Of Boldness” (Bacon).

            Francis Bacon took place in what is now known as the “Scientific Revolution” that occurred during the Renaissance. Bacon represents an above average “enlightenment thinker,” much like other significant scientists of the era: Johannes Kepler, Galileo, Tycho Brahe, and Copernicus. He could be considered a Renaissance man because of his enthusiasm in many different subjects. While Bacon aspired to become a master of all areas of study, sadly, he could not; Bacon did however make significant contributions to “a wide range of subjects such as natural philosophy, physics, chemistry, biology, physiology, astronomy, meteorology, acoustics, hydrography, botany, economics, political science, theology, mythology, and literature” (Zagorin 26). Bacon is accredited with one of the most significant developments of the time period (Simpson). Rather than make a specific discovery, Bacon developed a means to make better discoveries, now called the Scientific Method (University of Illinois at Chicago).

            There are many theories that are floating around amongst historians and critics about the legitimacy of Shakespeare’s works. One of these fanatical theories says that Francis Bacon was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. These claims are almost certainly false since Bacon’s

writing style does not even remotely match up with the writing style of Shakespearean works (Simpson). It is also thought that Bacon was involved with secret societies, and there are even theories about Bacon faking his own death (University of Illinois at Chicago).

            Francis Bacon was an extremely influential man of his time. He created what is now known as the “scientific method” as well as made contributions to many other fields of science. He created an extensive method for using inductive reasoning and examined many different fields of study to provide examples. He made many contributions to literature in his works New Atlantis and his well known Essays which provided future generations with his remarkable ideas. Without Bacon’s augmentation of the scientific method the modern world may have been a completely different place.

Works Cited

Bacon, Francis. “Francis Bacon | Francis Bacon’s Essays.” The Homepage Du Jour of S. Morgan           Friedman. Westegg, 12 Jan. 2006. Web. 29 Dec. 2011.             <http://www.westegg.com/bacon/index.essays.html>.

Bacon, Francis, James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis, and Douglas Denon Heath. Novum             Organum Scientarium. St. Clair Shores, MI: Scholarly, 1863. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Daniel W. Smith. Francis Bacon: the Logic of Sensation. London:             Continuum, 2008. Print.

“Francis Bacon – Philosopher – Biography.” The European Graduate School – Media and             Communication – Graduate & Postgraduate Studies Program. Web. 8 Dec. 2011.             <http://www.egs.edu/library/francis-bacon/biography/>.

“Francis Bacon.” Oregon State University. Web. 8 Dec. 2011.             <http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/philosophers/bacon.html>.

“Francis Bacon.” University of Illinois at Chicago – UIC. Web. 8 Dec. 2011.             <http://www.uic.edu/depts/quic/history/francis_bacon.html>.

Hall, Manly P. “ The Four Idols of Francis Bacon & The New Instrument of Knowledge.” Sir       Bacon. Web. 19 Jan. 2012. <http://www.sirbacon.org/links/4idols.htm>.

Juergen, Klein. “Francis Bacon (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 8 Dec. 2011. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/francis-bacon/>.

Simpson, David. “Bacon, Francis [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy].” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 8 Dec. 2011. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/bacon/>.

Zagorin, Perez. Francis Bacon. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1998. Print.

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