Life and Works
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is a london-born philosopher who was the the forerunner of the british empiricism tradition, streching through Locke, Hume, JS Mill and Bertrand Russell, who found time to produce a wide range of theoretical and literary works. In Bacon’s case these include, most notably, his Essays, The Advancement of Learning, a systematic survey of the various branches of existing knowledge leading to a new classification of the sciences, both present and future; the Novum Organum, the title of which recalls the aristotelian Organon; and the New Atlantis. Bacon also produced numerous legal, historical, scientific and aphoristic works.
In general Bacon’s outlook was concrete, practical and utilitarian. His thinging was, moreover, markedly forward-looking, sometimes even apocalyptic in its view of the possibilities form human progress once the allegedly cramping illusions of traditional theories and methods where shaken off. Hence the regular occurence of the word ‘new’ in the titles of so many writings.
He appears to have accepted the doctrines of Christianity as true, though his choice of words when discussing theology sometimes strongly suggests the later ironic postures of Hobbes or Hume.
Philosophically, Bacon is particularly interesting for two reasons :
- In part II of the Novum Organum he tried to improve on existing conception of scientific method by expounding a method of induction which was not simply induction by simple enumeration. During the Enlightenment Bacon was held in highest esteem, especially by the french philosophers : Diderot was largely adopted his classification. He also gravely underestimated the use scientists need to make of imaginative hypotheses. On theis last point his position was critized by Kant.
- In Book 1 of the Novum Organum, Bacon made what was probably the first systematic attempt to expose the psychological motives and human interests that often lie behind various forms of philosophical outlook. He discusses what he calls the ‘idola mentis’ (idols of the mind) which had, he believed up to his own time persistently stood in the way of objective knowledge. This particular critique of philosophical doctrines was taken up and much further extended in the 18th century, notably by Hume and Condillac