gigatos | January 1, 2022
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St. Albans, 1st Baron Verulam († April 9, 1626 at Highgate near London), was an English philosopher, jurist, and statesman who is considered a pioneer of empiricism.
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Francis Bacon was born in London on January 22, 1561, the younger of two sons from the second marriage of Sir Nicholas Bacon, as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal holder of the highest judicial office of state, under Elizabeth I. His mother was Anne Cooke Bacon, whose sister was married to Lord Burghley. His mother was Anne Cooke Bacon, whose sister was married to Lord Burghley. Lady Anne was very religious. She was a follower of Puritanism, which opposed state regulations. She was exceptionally well educated, perfect in Latin and Greek, as well as in the newer languages of French and Italian. She had a great influence on her sons, who were initially educated in the home.
From the first marriage of Nicholas Bacon with Jane Fernley (around 1518 to about 1552) Francis Bacon had three half-brothers. He was on friendly and professional terms with his brother Anthony until his death. His mother”s religiosity and his father”s political life shaped his life and worldview. Both taught him to value his duty to the people more highly than his personal happiness.
At the age of 13, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied medicine and law and lived with his older brother Anthony Bacon (1558-1601). As in other prestigious schools, it was still customary at Trinity College to prefer cramming in the subject matter to thinking for oneself. Even texts by the medieval reformers Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and Roger Bacon were not read. Possibly his aversion to “fruitless” Aristotelian philosophy in the manner of scholasticism dates back to this time.
In 1576, the Bacon brothers were admitted to the societas magistrorum (i.e., faculty) of Gray”s Inn (one of the four law schools in London). A few months later they went abroad to join Sir Amias Paulet, the English ambassador in Paris. The turbulent state of France”s government and society at the time of Henry III”s reign provided valuable political illustrative material for attaché Francis Bacon.
In February 1579, he returned to England because of the sudden death of his father. Sir Nicholas had no longer been able to provide for the financial security of his youngest. It became necessary to take up a profession, and Bacon resumed his law studies at the Inns of Court (Gray”s Inn) as late as 1579. In 1582 he earned a degree and settled as a barrister (solicitor). In 1581 he was first elected as a member of the House of Commons, where he served until 1618. From 1588 he was a lecturer at Gray”s Inn.
Bacon”s life plan at that time was threefold: It consisted of creating better conditions for the production of knowledge in the interest of finding scientifically valid and technically usable truth, of the practical-political desire to serve his country, and of the hope of being able to do something for the Church. In a letter to Queen Elizabeth in 1584, he asked for support for his grand plans. This political memorandum met with little response. Success as a lawyer and parliamentarian seemed more promising in this respect.
By the early 1590s, he had found a patron in Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, whom he served as a political advisor and who promoted him. His objection to the short payment period of three years for triple subsidies from the government caused Bacon to fall out of favor with Queen Elizabeth I in 1593. All of Bacon”s attempts to regain the queen”s favor failed, as did Essex”s interventions in his favor.
Against Bacon”s advice, Essex took command of the campaign against the rebellious Irish in 1598. His failure caused Essex to fall from grace. He was placed under house arrest and his valuable red wine import monopoly confiscated. He then attempted a coup d”état, which failed and resulted in the complete loss of his former favored position with Queen Elizabeth I. Bacon was commissioned by the queen to investigate Essex and attend the trial of the earl in 1601 as “learned counsel” (representative of the crown). Essex attempted to incriminate Bacon before the Crown Council, which Bacon had difficulty preventing.
Bacon”s behavior in the Essex case has caused controversy in the literature. “According to the situation of the extensive documents, the course of events was clear …”, wrote Krohn. A possible attempt to evade Elizabeth I”s order would have made Bacon himself suspect. Even during his lifetime, Bacon was publicly rebuked by his friends and supporters at Essex for acting treacherously and ungratefully toward a friend. His rebuttal was not accepted.
Francis Bacon married Alice Barnham (1592-1650), the fourteen-year-old daughter of London alderman and member of the House of Commons Benedict Barnham (1559-1598), at the age of 45 for financial reasons. Apart from this, a rumor persists about Bacon”s homosexuality. John Aubrey showed his displeasure with Bacon”s sexual orientation, and the Puritan moralist Sir Simonds D”Ewes, who sat with Bacon in Parliament, mentions Bacon”s inclination in his autobiography. In the 1845 print version, however, the relevant passages were censored.
Only under James I did he succeed in rising politically. In the course of the coronation festivities, Bacon was made Knight Bachelor on July 23, 1603 – as one of 300 retainers – probably at the request of his cousin Robert Cecil. In 1607, he was appointed Solicitor General. In this capacity, he indicted Walter Raleigh, among others, which led to his death sentence. Bacon may have been involved in torture himself. However, this is not certain. In his function as Lord Chancellor, he witnessed the torture of the rebellious priest Edmund Peacham and signed – together with several other officials – the recommendation to also interrogate the dissident schoolmaster Samuel Peacock on the rack. Personally, however, he had no confidence in this method, since people would lie to end the pain. In 1613, after the death of his predecessor, he rose to the position of General Treasury (Attorney General). In 1617 he became Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, in 1618 he was appointed Lord Chancellor, and on July 12, 1618, he was raised to hereditary peer as Baron Verulam (also Baron Bacon of Verulam). On 27 January 1621 he was raised to the rank of Viscount St. Albans.
A short time later, he was accused of bribery in connection with the disputed appropriation of budget funds. In this dispute, Bacon represented the interests of the Crown against Parliament, which set up a commission of inquiry to block further funds and reclaim those already disbursed. In this inquiry, 27 witnesses were questioned, accusing Bacon of having accepted funds. The court could not confirm any influence on the granting of funds to individuals. After confessing and being sentenced to a fine and imprisonment, he was banished from court until his death. The sentence, which was at the discretion of the king, was only four days. The fine was never enforced.
At the family seat in Gorhambury, he devoted himself intensively to writing. As a statesman and parliamentarian, he had repeatedly addressed the court in writing. In 1597, he published a collection of political essays. This was followed in 1605 by The Advancement of Learning, an unsuccessful attempt to find supporters for changing the sciences. In 1609, an analysis of classical Greek mythology appeared under the title On the Wisdom of the Ancients.
Some time later, he wrote the well-known Novum Organum (1620) and The History of Henry VII. (1622). Also in 1622 appeared Historia Ventorum and Histora Vitae et Mortis, two scientific publications in which Bacon commented on wind phenomena and put forward ideas for a healthy, life-prolonging lifestyle. Finally, on the reform idea of science, there followed De Augmentis Scientiarum in 1623 and a utopian tale of The New Atlantis in 1624.
On April 9, 1626, he died in Highgate (then near London) as a result of the only empirical experiment he survived: while experimenting to see whether the shelf life of dead chickens could be extended by stuffing them with snow, he caught a cold and succumbed to pneumonia a short time later. He left behind debts amounting to £22,000.
Since he died childless, his titles of nobility became extinct.
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Bacon and Shakespeare
In 1856 it was first asserted by Delia Bacon, and then repeated in her book The Philosophy of Shakespeare”s Plays (1857), the earliest anti-Stratford monograph, that Bacon authored the Shakespeare works. She developed the view that behind the Shakespeare plays was a group of writers including Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Edmund Spenser.
Constance Pott (she founded the Francis Bacon Society in 1885 and published her theory centered on Bacon in 1891 under the title Francis Bacon and His Secret Society. The Bacon Society still holds that Bacon was the actual author of Shakespeare”s works. Scientific Shakespeare research rejects this claim – as well as others about a different authorship of Shakespeare”s works.
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As a result of Francis Bacon”s dual career as a philosopher and politician, he produced numerous philosophical, literary and legal writings, which were not always published immediately. After early political memoranda, including one for Queen Elizabeth, Bacon first published some of his “Essays” in 1597.
He himself considered his two main works to be De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum (On the Dignity and Progress of the Sciences), which can be called a first attempt at a universal encyclopedia, and Novum organon scientiarum (1620), the principles of a methodology of the sciences. De augmentis… is an expanded version of his earlier work Advancement of Learning (1605) and not only presents a systematic survey of the state of knowledge of his time, but also outlines future areas of scientific research. These two writings were intended only as part of a much more comprehensive work that Bacon planned but never completed.
In 1609, his – very popular – interpretation of ancient myths Francisci Baconi De Sapientia Veterum Liber appears in London. He compares them to hieroglyphs or parables, the scientific core of which he wants to reveal and thus make usable for the expansion of the knowledge of his time. The historian and philosopher Kuno Fischer assumes that Bacon misses the actual meaning of the myths with his imaginative interpretations, but the occupation with them was significant for Bacon”s philosophy.
Around 1614, he wrote Nova Atlantis, a utopia of great historical impact, in which he suggested, among other things, the founding of scientific academies according to his ideas (unfinished – first printed in the year of his death). For this purpose, he describes a temple on the island of Bensalem (Son of Peace), where his treasures, his scientific ideas are kept and guarded by wise men, who are scientists and priests in one person.
His essays (first published in 1597, a “long seller” that is still available uninterruptedly from English booksellers) had a special effect on his contemporaries. In 1612, they were expanded from ten to 38 and finally combined into the 1625 version consisting of 58 essays under the title The Essays or Counsels, Civill and Morall;. Bacon is one of the most influential English writers of his time, not only with the essays – Montaigne”s Essayes probably inspired the title – but also with other works; he knows like no other how to combine colorful language with transparency, intellectual richness with clarity. His pictorial language makes the subjects he discusses attractive and vivid. In conjunction with the clarity of his methodological consciousness, this style is also an element of his unusual effect on contemporaries and posterity.
Bacon”s secretary and executor, William Rawley (1588-1667), arranged for the posthumous publication of the many works Bacon wrote but never published in the years following his dismissal from all offices and banishment from London.
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Bacon”s scientific contributions
In Cambridge, the study of various disciplines of the time brings him to the conclusion that in the sciences both the methods applied and the results obtained are flawed. The current philosophy of scholasticism appears to him to be dull, argumentative, and false in its aims. Philosophy, he says, needs a true purpose and new methods to enable new thinking and research and, as a result, socially relevant inventions. “For the benefactions of inventors can benefit the whole human race.” (NO I, Aph. 129.)
Bacon is often quoted with the formula “knowledge is power”. The considerations connected with this are found above all in the First Book of the Novum Organum. He was accused – with a passage taken out of context – of what later largely determined natural science in the Enlightenment: He had knowledge of nature in mind only as instruments of the mastery of nature in the interest of progress. A more comprehensive view of Bacon”s texts allows his intentions to appear in a different light.
Man – according to Bacon – can only master nature if he knows it and follows it. In order to achieve this, he said, it was necessary to find “principles” or “principles” that could support thinking to grasp connections between cause and effect in nature. These connections should be tested in experiments, applied to new cases, and possibly modified. “Thus it goes alternately uphill and downhill from principles to doing and from doing to principles.” (NO I, Aph. 103)
This differentiated view was opposed in his time by the principles of the scholastics, which had been religiously motivated and dialectically-logically derived. They were taken for granted – without experimentally verified connection with the real nature of things – and used as the basis of scholastic science: Bacon considered this approach as a “method of anticipations” unsuitable to bring about anything new in the sciences.
He contrasted the “method of anticipation” with his “method of interpretations” (true directions concerning the interpretation of nature), which aims at the exact and thorough comprehension of natural processes. The anticipatory method applied up to now comes only with logical steps hastily – starting from individual cases and without thorough inclusion of further natural processes – to abstract concepts – and remains there. The new “method of interpretation” starts from different single cases of nature and concludes from them to first generalizations, so-called core propositions. These are again applied to other individual cases, which modify the first core theorems for the case of new facts. This method is applied continuously in a research-like manner.
It also compels submission to nature (scholastic scientists understand themselves in the biblical mandate as divinely commissioned masters of nature): “natura parendo vincitur”. (German: Die Natur wird besiegt, indem man sich von ihr leiten lässt.) For this purpose scientists would have to get rid of their various kinds of prejudices, which Bacon calls idols. Prejudices or idols cloud scientific views or distort them without scientists realizing it. A real insight into the context of things is gained by scientists without mirages or prejudices. Such a kind of research generates a real, genuine picture of nature, which can be generated again and again – changed – under new circumstances.
First, it is not enough to accept a conclusion reached by induction and to keep looking for new, confirming examples for it. Rather, the researcher must examine the unexpected cases, the “negative instances” with special care; these are the cases which prove an exception to a previously valid rule. For in philosophy already one single counterexample is sufficient to disprove the (allegedly already proven) truth of a conclusion (thus he formulated the falsification principle). The certainty of the experience increases in the measure, as it succeeds to consider unexpected experiences with or to refute them. The examination of these “negative instances” should prevent “frivolous assumptions”.
Secondly, Bacon showed himself convinced that human knowledge is increasing or cumulative. He thus distanced himself from the view of the scholastics, who assumed that everything essential that man could know was already contained in the Holy Scriptures as well as in works recognized by the church – such as those of Aristotle. Therefore, facts were not tested by concrete contemplation, but proved by statements of such authorities. He already names numerous areas that could still be scientifically researched in De augmentis … (among others history of literature, history of diseases, trade sciences). The perfection of our knowledge to ever higher degrees is a central goal, still relevant today, that Bacon sets for scientific research; when he treats this topic, his rhetoric reaches an almost poetic height.
As an opponent of pointed discussions, which do not bring any new knowledge, he relies thirdly on detailed observation of nature and the experiment – empiricism. Mysterious forming beings (formae substantiales), or “spirits” must not be accepted as explanation for physical processes, but only laws of nature, which are found by experiments and inductive conclusions. Thereby (especially religious) faith-based conditions, which are outside of an experiment (fines), are to be excluded for conclusions.
Fourth, scientifically useful observations must be repeatable. For this reason, he is a firm opponent of magical or cabalistic practices. For this very reason, Bacon is also critical of intuition: assertions and opinions gained intuitively or by analogy do not belong to a research that systematically works experimentally and gains knowledge from it. Bacon remains methodologically consistently faithful to experimental experience.
Bacon”s system of idols has a model in Cicero”s typology and his conception that we humans wear four kinds of “masks” (in contemporary scientific terminology transferred behaviors) among ourselves. There are acquired and innate prejudices; the latter are inherent in the nature of the intellect. Bacon distinguishes four groups of these idols in the researcher:
With the critique of the idola tribus, Bacon seems to approach Kant”s critical philosophy. For Bacon, however, “nature” is not something unfathomable (transcendental), of which only a humanly possible idea (transcendental) is generated in the mind, but something objective, the true essence of which human intellect is very well able to recognize – if only it succeeds in freeing itself from the spell of deceptive images and conclusions.
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In essence, Bacon followed a trend of the time with his idea of starting from experience to renew science. The difference to other Renaissance scientists resulted from the different meaning of experience in each case. Bacon”s experience is sensualistic experience and excludes any non-sensual experience.
For Agrippa von Nettesheim, for example, a typical and widely read representative of Renaissance science, experience, on the other hand, was a mixture of visible facts and secret forces bound to them, which worked invisibly, i.e. magically. That this was true was confirmed by experience. In his three-volume work “De occulta philosophia” (On the Secret Sciences, 1510), which was received for over 300 years, Nettesheim therefore quite naturally used common beliefs and experiences of the workings of these forces to explain natural phenomena.
The Renaissance philosopher Paracelsus combined his research with the speculative concept of an all-encompassing ensoulment of the organic and the inorganic. He, too, claimed to see the effect of this all-soul confirmed in experience.
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Criticism of Bacon
From his sensualist approach arose Bacon”s criticism of empirical scientists of his time. He rejected those who mixed scientific experience with superstition and theology. Such experiential scientists – like, for example, the alchemists of his time – were doing great harm to the detriment of mankind. Philosophers like Paracelsus extinguished the “light of nature” and thus betrayed “experience,” Bacon wrote. From his point of view, such empiricists even prevented new discoveries, because they followed above all their desire for certainty and resorted “head over heels … to the ultimate reasons of things” instead of persevering in experiments, the testing of very first principles.
In contrast, Bacon explained that the experience of magical powers or other speculative connections between natural phenomena were nothing more than anticipations, i.e. commonly shared erroneous assumptions (prejudices). The latter served only to establish agreement between people. They are scientifically, however, without importance, since these things are invisible and are based exclusively on faith.
Bacon considers these erroneous assumptions, idola, to be the consequences of language acquisition in the family and in social intercourse with others. Words are acquired in social intercourse for things not perceptible to the senses and obscure terms to which people then cling. Also, the acquisition of a certain technical language in the study and practice of science leads to erroneous assumptions and useless results. They should be reduced by improved thinking, by a new logic, which is oriented to the matter instead of the methodical specifications of authorities, such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas.
The researcher, if one follows Bacon, can probably only come “as a child … into the kingdom of heaven” of science, Feuerbach remarked. To become a child, he added, a researcher must free himself from all theories, prejudices and authorities.
According to Perez Zagorin, the study of these idols is Bacon”s most important and independent contribution to philosophy. Comparable things had been mentioned by earlier thinkers only marginally or not at all.
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Bacon dominated the philosophy of experience after him, wrote Kuno Fischer. The naturalism of Hobbes, the sensualism of Locke, the idealism of Berkeley, and the skepticism of Hume were inherent in Bacon”s philosophy and developed in these four philosophers in the course of a necessary historical development that relativized their independent significance. The question whether experience can answer all human questions is answered in the negative from Fischer”s point of view.
Philosophers, like the Neukantian Vorländer or the dialectician of the world spirit Hegel and their successors assume, like Fischer, that experience does not satisfy the philosophical requirements of a foundation of the sciences. Vorländer misses in Bacon the a priori reasoning, as it had been delivered by Kant, and the mathematical one, as Kepler and Galilei had developed it.
Hegel lacks in Bacon”s philosophy the, expected from him, speculative-abstract reasoning. “His practical writings,” he wrote about his reading of Bacon, “are particularly interesting; but great views are not found …”.
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Autodidactic contributions to scientific and practical subjects, especially by artists, can be documented as early as the 15th century. Among them were Ghiberti, Uccello, Piero della Francesca, Leonardo and Dürer. For their theories of art, they too fundamentally assumed that pictorial ideas developed only through the experience of nature.
Possibly, what the French Renaissance artist Bernard Palissy called experience in the 16th century corresponded to what Bacon imagined by experience. Even before Bacon”s publications, Palissy – without school or university education – had, like Leonardo, declared his own experience and thinking to be the maxim for optimizing his diverse knowledge and skills and published this idea.
Palissy demonstrated his learning successes with the new, empirical method to educated representatives of Parisian society in well-attended lectures and discussions between 1575 and 1584. Palissy and Bacon stayed in Paris at the same time for several years. It is therefore possible that they met and that the almost seventy-year-old Palissy inspired the sixteen-year-old Bacon during a lecture.
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The image of Francis Bacon that posterity has drawn is ambivalent: on the one hand, he is described as power-hungry and devious. On the one hand, he is described as power-hungry and devious. Bacon”s actions at times make him appear not only servile to the respective ruler, but downright submissive: for example, in the trial against his former patron, the Earl of Essex (1601), or in the 1621 trial against himself, in which he allowed himself to be made a pawn.His philosophical ideas, on the other hand, show him as an independent thinker, one of the “intellectual founding fathers” of the modern natural sciences, as a stimulator of unprejudiced experimental research.
This ambivalent picture is found in Hegel, among others. Bacon, according to Hegel, was despite “the corruption of his character” a man of spirit, clear-sighted and knowledgeable. He could be called a “leader, authority, and originator for experimental philosophizing.” He lacked, however, the ability to speculate with abstract concepts and thoughts, which was absolutely necessary for a philosopher.
Manfred Buhr considers the ambivalent assessments of Bacon to be the consequence of the erroneous thinking that philosophizing is a “purely intellectual movement”. It ignores its social conditions. He calls Bacon the “true progenitor of English materialism and of all modern experimental science”.
Wolfgang Krohn characterizes Bacon”s philosophy as a philosophy of research. Bacon was convinced that the times of great philosophical systems were over. Only experimental methods and new unprejudiced interpretations of the results could advance philosophical knowledge of the world. His ideas became guiding principles of the scientific movement in England in the mid-17th century. They are also reflected in the founding of scientific academies and societies in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Like Francis Bacon, other Renaissance representatives at the turn of the 17th century demanded research based on experience: Galileo Galilei in Pisa, Venice and Florence, Johannes Kepler in Prague, Christoph Scheiner in Ingolstadt, William Gilbert and William Harvey in London (to name but a few) made precise observations the starting point of their work.
For Voltaire, Bacon is “the father of experimental philosophy,” mention Horkheimer and Adorno. They themselves see in him the representative of an ”instrumental reason” and thus of an enlightenment aiming above all at the mastery of nature:
Today, Bacon – along with Descartes – is considered an empirical-rationalist and theorist of science, as well as one of the founders of modern scientific methodology.
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An Advertisement Controversy
A consistent feature of the history of reception is not only statements about the ambivalence of Bacon”s character. His views on state policy are also occasionally attributed with far-reaching negativity. Interpretations of his 1622 pamphlet An Advertisement Touching an Holy War-four years after the Thirty Years” War had begun-assert ambiguity and vagueness of Bacon”s text with political reference. The question is: Did Bacon advocate a Holy War against Muslims?
In the text, Bacon describes a discussion between six people. The question is: Can a holy war be justified, and how? In the discussion, reference is also made to concrete warfare in the past by Christians: among other things, to the Crusades, to the Inquisition, and to the violent establishment of Christianity. One participant in the panel consistently addresses the need for holy war. There is no consensus on the question of justification. The paper ends with explanations by individuals of their point of view.
Interpreters have made assumptions about what position Bacon took on the question of a possible holy war. They came to different conclusions.J. Max Patrick believed that Bacon saw a Holy War as a solution to domestic problems. Nabil Matar thought that Bacon was driving Protestants to wage a Holy War against Muslims in order to destroy or convert them. Laurence Lampert, on the other hand, believes that Bacon was directed against any kind of religious fundamentalism. This view is also shared by Robert K. Faulkner. According to Faulkner, Bacon was concerned with the war of enlightenment against religion and ultimately with the liberation of humanity from the shackles of religion.
Another even broader interpretation on this question comes from Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. The two historians construct a connection between Bacon”s Advertisement and their intention to write a new history of the conquest of the Atlantic in the 17th century from the perspective of the oppressed and rebellious. In doing so, they impute to Bacon a “theory of monstrosity” – resulting from their hypothesis. Following this hypothesis, they use Advertisement as a consistent argument to support their interpretation. They claim that Bacon proposed to destroy West Indians, Canaanites, pirates, murderers and rebaptizers. The result of their interpretation: in the struggle for the conquest of the Atlantic space between the powerful (Hercules) and the rebellion from below (Hydra), Bacon sided with the powerful with his text. He had thus created the intellectual basis for “his own semantics (such as)…subjugation, extermination, elimination, annihilation, liquidation, eradication extinction.” (S. 14)
There are convictions of Bacon in various other cases, such as the trial of the Earl of Essex or the charges against himself. There are no justifying statements from him on this. As a possible comment by Bacon, one could use a remark from his essay On Followers and Friends: One whose interpreters esteem him because he “appreciates everyone”s merit and worth” has the best interpreters.
First editions and first translations