logo

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

francis baconFrancis Bacon (1561-1626), an English lawyer, politician, essayist, and philosopher was one of the leading figures in natural philosophy and the field of scientific methodology that took place from the Renaissance to the early modern era.

He is often recognized as the founder of modern scientific tradition.

In declaring:

"I have taken all knowledge to be my province", he rejected Aristotle's logic (based on his metaphysical theory), and proposed that we start over with a purely empirical, experimental system using inductive principles.

Rather than merely amass knowledge, he conceived of a plan to totally reorganize and develop it for the purposes of human dignity and greatness.

As an early empiricist, Bacon insisted that by using the right scientific approach, anyone could discover the truth. He stated that effective reasoning must be free of the "idolatrous" influences of personal interest, human nature, social conventions and academic philosophy. Likewise, because our senses are not always trustworthy, faulty perception or various prejudices could lead to false conclusions.

Although he himself was not a scientist, he theorized about it and developed the experimental method that would eventually have so much influence on Galileo. He formulated what would become the textbook version of the "scientific method", which involves careful observation and controlled, methodical experimentation.

His answer to the acquisition of reliable and useful knowledge was that of induction (expounded on in his work Novum organum). Induction is the procedure by which general laws or principles are derived from a number of specific instances. The problem with this hownovum organumever, as noted by Bacon and his contemporaries, is that the mere repetitive occurrence of an incident does not guarantee it will happen again. Bacon's solution was to look for negative instances to disconfirm hypotheses, rather than finding ways of confirming them.

He was more interested in how to generate good inductive hypotheses out of the masses of data collected by observation, than in the problem of justifying inductive generalizations. In his method he illustrated this by stating that one should list all those things in which the property under investigation is present and then all those things in which the property is absent and finally all those cases that admit of varying degrees of the property in question. From such a list, according to Bacon, the natural hypothesis will present itself.

He wrote:

"The greatest change I introduce is in the form itself of induction and the judgment made thereby. For the induction of which the logician speaks, which proceeds by simple enumeration, is a puerile (immature) thing…the greatest change I introduce is in the form of induction which shall analyze experience and take it to pieces, and by a due process of exclusion and rejection lead to an inevitable conclusion."

Even though Bacon did not ultimately find a systematic way of deriving scientific hypotheses from the arrangement of data, he made important contributions to the philosophy of science and the problem of induction by being the first to stress the importance of negative instances.

Francis Bacon had declared to the world that he would concern himself with "all knowledge". He announced that he would carry out nothing less than the complete reform and reorganization of human thought. Of the six parts of the work he planned, only two were completed. Left unfinished was Magna Instauratio or Great Instauration (Restoration), his plan for this ambitious undertaking.

Sir Francis Bacon Quotes
The Life of Man ( Francis Bacon poem )
Back to Philosopher Archives

footer2