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Custom Scientific Philosopher: Francis Bacon Essay

The scientific revolution describes the ongoing process of scientific discoveries and philosophical ideas behind them. Specifically, it stands for the time in history, which started in the first half of the 17th century and was marked with the development in the natural knowledge. New scientific views on nature as well as the advanced scientific methods had been introduced. The scientific revolution was propelled by such prominent scientists and philosophers as Nicolas Copernicus, Andres Vesalius, Galileo Galilee, Isaac Newton, and many others. Among those scholars there is also a name of Sir Francis Bacon known.

He expanded the vision, based on the organization of the early academics, who carried out their projects independently and only gathered together to discuss them (Burns, 2001). His new ideas inspired the students of science to reexamine their insights and create the new methods of learning, which had been different from old customs and scientific ways.

Francis Bacon was a prominent figure of his time. He was an ambitious statesman, philosopher, lawyer, writer and scientist. Among his titles, there were a Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, the knight, Baron Verulam and Viscount St. Albans. His name stirred quite a controversy during his time, and he even was considered a spy and a freemason. He used his genuine human emotions, such as friendship, to pursue his own interests. He was born on 22 January 1561 in the family of Sir Nicolas Bacon, a younger son of the two sons in the family.

His mother was a scholar, and his father wanted Francis to become a diplomat. Therefore, at the age of twelve, Francis was sent to study in the college at Cambridge. He enjoyed learning, and after having graduated a Trinity college, he entered Inns of Court, which was the institution for the legal training. When he was 18, his father suddenly died, and Francis was left without any support. However, he practiced as a lawyer and started his carrier as a reader (or a lecturer). He also began his carrier in the Parliament. Quickly, he became a leading lawyer in England and was noticed by the Queen Elizabeth. He made a grave mistake of criticizing the taxation policy, and, therefore, the prospect of the high office had been lost. However, he had a powerful patron Lord Essex, who supported a prominent young man. Later, Essex plotted against the Queen, and, eventually, he was brought to trial and executed. Remarkably, Bacon acted as a prosecutor during the trial. Because of that, he was distrusted by many people.

After the death of Elizabeth, Bacon’s carrier started rising rapidly. During the rule of King James, Bacon reached the position of the Lord Chancellor, was knighted and became a baron. He was widely admired for his legal skills; however, he was considered a tool in the hands of his political masters. Francis Bacon was favored by the king and his court.

Because he was so involved in political intrigues, he was charged of accepting bribes on a number of occasions, however, for sure; he had been made a scapegoat, tried and found guilty. He was to pay a fine and imprisoned. The severe punishment was not executed in its entirety and  a bit later Bacon was allowed to return to the court. However, the disgrace led to his political retirement, and Sir Bacon devoted his time to study and writing.

Science was Bacon’s passion throughout his life. He was particularly interested in philosophy and advancing knowledge. At that time, many scientific ideas were based on the ideas of Aristotle, which Bacon became dissatisfied with, while still being at college. Although some had been revised, the basic way of finding the truth was established as a discussion between the men of knowledge. It was believed that if a matter would be discussed long enough, then the truth may be revealed. Bacon offered a challenge that the truth required the evidence; therefore, it should be found in the real world. These ideas were published in the work known as Novum Organum; that became the most important work of the philosopher, in which he explained his most fundamental principles. It was written as a series of aphorisms, and, significantly, it was titled to highlight that Bacon provided a new tool to replace the old instrument of research, or Organon, established by Aristotle.

Francis Bacon worked on classifying the knowledge. The attempts to do so had been made by Aristotle, who divided the knowledge into “theoretical, productive, and prudent arts/sciences, and subdivided the theoretical into those that deal with what is unchanging and independent (first philosophy), and with what is unchanging but dependent (mathematics), and with what is changing but independent (natural philosophy)” (Gaukroger, 2001). However, this classification had its flaws, and Bacon was looking for the ways of improving it. Therefore, in his work The Advancement of Learning, he criticized the old ways and argued on the need for a new philosophy. He showed the importance of healthy curiosity and learned the ways of obtaining the practical knowledge that would benefit the mankind (Skemp). He realized that “deductive methods have lad men far away from facts into vain imaginings” (Skemp). He explained the Aristotelian method as few observations of nature, which followed with drawing conclusions, often, as generalizations. Many times, this method might prove right, nonetheless, there were the varieties of circumstances while imploring it would lead to some false results. Therefore, Bacon offered to reverse the procedure and to arrive to broad statements but as well to find the evidences to smaller cases. Bacon acknowledged that this method was more complex and cumbersome, but he argued it was also more trustworthy. This is the base for the inductive method.

However, he recognized that those arts and sciences that had been based on experience and practical knowledge advanced greatly. Therefore, if the inductive methods were implored in other fields, the science would have a firm foundation. He argued that the observation and experimentation should be purposeful. Blind theorizing and discussion should be replaced and supplemented. He argued that while learning of the nature of things, a true scientist should strive to get to the core and fundamental principles, rather than to learn only about specialized facts and phenomena.

Going further, Bacon completely rejected Aristotle’s view of experiment as an interference with the course of nature and advocated for the experimental philosophy, which suggested a vast experimentation to the detriment of the purely theoretical knowledge. Although this factor had been underestimated, nevertheless, Bacon realized that experiments involved some theorizing for the purpose of interpretation. The idea of experimental philosophy opened the new ways for scientists to carry out their researches. It allowed the furthering of medicine, physics, chemistry and other sciences.

His classification of human learning includes: history, poetry and philosophy (Skemp). Each of those divisions has the subdivisions, such as divine philosophy, natural philosophy, human philosophy, etc. He argued that the natural philosophy should be esteemed as the mother of all sciences, and that any practical knowledge can only achieve the progress if sciences have the natural philosophy applied to them. Therefore, he himself was a natural philosopher.

He formulated the premises for obtaining the insight into nature: the philosopher “must criticize and correct his own perceptions, conceptions, interferences; he must draw his material from experience” (Skemp). The experience included a systematic experiment and observation. Generalizations should be avoided; instead, the progress should be made from one fact to the other one basing on the experiment. Bacon discussed the importance of intellect and natural reasoning in observations. Senses have to be used for the proper experimentations. Therefore, the senses and intellect have to be sharp in order to achieve the correct results. He argued that the natural senses are not perfect, therefore, cannot be fully relied upon during studies. However, he warned even more about the faults that may occur because of intellect. His doctrine about the idols of mind stemmed from the faultiness of intellect, and he warned against being overly confident. The idols of mind have various stems, and they are such: The idol of tribe, the idol of the cave, the idol of marketplace, and the idol of theater. By calling each one as an idol, Bacon wanted to emphasize the measure of deception which the natural mind provided in the real world.

The idol of tribe is comprised of such weaknesses that are common to the human nature, such as the imaginary order or sequence of events, which Bacon called a “wishful thinking”, and the natural imperfection of human senses. He suggested using the instruments to avoid an influence of this idol. Also, he warned against the human natural tendency to jump to the conclusion and to believe or accept the desired truth. The way to combat with this tendency is to follow the steps of gathering information and evidences and only after that to draw conclusions.

The idol of cave arises from human experiences, culture, traditions and prejudices. At the time that Bacon was writing his work, the main factor that inhibited the people’s ability to learn was religion. It prevented people from thinking in certain ways.

The idol of the market place stems from the people related to each other. The limitations that are imposed by the language should be counterfeited by critical thinking. Later, philosophers developed the topic of language being only a symbolic attempt to communicate the ideas and experience, which, however, often symbolized the things that do not exist. The language also often provides the terms, which try to explain the certain phenomena dependent of senses. The idol of the market place, according to Francis Bacon, has one of the strongest influences of science. 

The idol of the theatre is of the philosophical nature, which might have the little or no evidences, and is based either on the limited observations or on the prejudices all together.

Bacon appealed to students of science not to take the things for granted but to doubt the established knowledge in order to find the proofs in the natural world. Also, the way to knowledge is to disregard the barriers between sciences artificially put by men and to consider the total knowledge as inseparable and continual (Wormald, 1993).

When describing the process of learning, he taught that the world is perceived through senses, and this perception is the experience; whether it is hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, etc. the next stage in learning is thinking about the experience, so called “observing in history”. Only then the time for conclusions comes and, possibly, for an action. (Wormald, 1993)

Bacon used many evangelical principles in his works; however, he had a philosophical approach to them. For example, the principle “by their fruits you shall know them” cannot be denied; however, the fruits do not manifest the full content of the inside. Another principle “judge not so you will not be judged”. He argued that judging others is forbidden, because there is no certainty in doing so. A principle “love you neighbor as you love yourself” he took further to present the logical continuation that if you hate your neighbor, you should hate yourself as much. Being a firm believer, he clearly separated the philosophy and religion. According to him, the faith based on the revelation and irrational reasons could not coexist with philosophy that is based on reasoning.

Bacon suffered from criticism, which was often prejudiced and superficial. At the same time, there were many admirers, such as Decartes, Leibnitz, Voltaire and Kant, although Bacon considered himself mainly a statesman and a practical man. And while he himself did not carry out the significant scientific work, however, his experimental philosophy and literary talent had been acknowledged by many, who furthered his philosophy and built on it. He started using the English language in natural philosophy, because he thought that the existence of the universal language would further develop the science (Burns, 2001). He wrote on the importance of collaboration with investigators. He advocated for gathering the data from various sources before theorizing. Therefore, he emphasized the practical application and not mere attempts to understand the nature.

Criticizing Bacon’s teaching, it is fair to say that his own natural philosophy was influenced by the Aristotelian traditions that he had been so weary of. Francis Bacon, as a scientist, was not so progressive; for example, he doubted the sun’s centrality claimed by Copernicus and rejected Galileo’s discovery of Jupiter’s satellites. He also was very skeptical about mathematics, seeing it more of the exercise for the concentration and magic, than the science for the practical application. On the contrary, he was interested in alchemy, although he saw in it a practical purpose. His teaching, however, made it difficult to connect the facts with the theories, as the fact gathering was emphasized, but not much practical use for them had been provided. (Burns, 2001)

Later, on the base of Francis Bacon’s teaching, the ideology called Baconianism has developed, which is a theory about science rather than a scientific theory.  

Writing to students of science, he listed three common problems, which he called vanities. The first vanity is scholars theorizing without proof; this only gives an audible credibility to scientists, while there are no scientific thoughts behind their ideas. The second vanity is arguing about insignificant details while leaving out major issues. The third problem, according to Bacon, is the scientific works, mainly consisted of the beautiful and poetic language rather than the contained knowledge.

Francis Bacon wrote and published a number of works, which included the philosophical essays and other scientific works. Among his most famous works is Magna Instauratio, which had never been finished in its entirety. However, the parts of it were written and published. The first part, called The Dignity and Advancement of Learning, was published first of all. This work focused on the importance of knowledge and identified the obstacles to learning. The next part, Novum Organum, provided a detailed new methodology for nature investigations. These two major works outlined the core elements of Bacon’s philosophy. Another remarkable work of Francis Bacon is the New Atlantis, which provided the narration on a fictional voyage to the ideal institution of scientific researches, which he called Salomon’s House. This is a sort of the utopian place for the organized researches.

True to his teachings, he conducted the studies of not only philosophical nature. The history retelling the story of his death explains that he was studying the preservation by cold and in the process caught a cold himself. The cold turned in bronchitis, and that became a reason of his death.

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