Authors born between 1550 and 1600 CE
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Francis Bacon (1561-1626 CE) was born in
central London. His father was a successful lawyer and his mother was a scholar, translating
ecclesiastical material from Italian and Latin into English. At age twelve,
Bacon entered Trinity College, Cambridge, with a desire for learning and
knowledge. He found himself "amidst men of sharp and strong wits, and
abundance of leisure, and small variety of reading, their wits being shut up
in the cells of a few authors, chiefly Aristotle, their dictator. . . and
knowing little history, either of nature or time, did, out of no great
quantity of matter, and infinite agitation of wit, spin cobwebs of learning,
admirable for the fineness of thread and work, but of no substance or
profit." One notices an
antipathy to Aristotle in Bacon's subsequent writings.
Matriculating two years
later, Bacon left Cambridge to become an attache to the English Ambassador in
Paris. In 1579 his father died,
and Bacon, having only a small income, returned to London to study law, being
admitted to the bar in 1582. In 1584 he was elected to Parliament, and became
known for his knowledge and strength in debates. He actively sought political
preferment until in 1595 he was made a Queen's Counsel and employed on
government business. By 1619 he had risen to the position of Lord Chancellor
with the title Baron Verulam. In the same year he was found guilty of taking
bribes in the exercise of his duties. Speaking of his trial by the House of
Lords, Bacon, who denied that the bribes swayed his judgment, said "I was
the justest judge that was in England these fifty years; but it was the
justest censure that was in Parliament these two hundred years". Bacon
died in 1626 from a fever, developing from a cold caught while testing the
preservative properties of snow.
Bacon's ambition was to
produce a new beginning for the investigation of
nature, entitled in Latin, Magna Instauratio. This was to be in
six parts, but only the first two, The Advancement of Learning and the Novum
Organum were completed. When published in 1605, the former was the first
great prose work in English devoted to a secular subject, and surveyed the
whole field of knowledge to identify deficits and hindrances to advancement,
and to emphasize the dignity of knowledge and its true value. Bacon also
published an expanded version in Latin, De Augmentis Scientiarum. In Novum Organum, published in 1620, Bacon set out his new method of advancing
knowledge, specifically, by systematic observation, experiment, and the
development of conclusions leading to intermediate principles that could be
built upon by the same process to yield more basic principles. While he did
not complete this ambitious project nor make significant scientific advances
himself, his powerful advocacy of the scientific method opened the way for a
renaissance in science in England. I have included extracts from these major
works and also from non-scientific material.
Francis of Verulam thought thus, and such is the method which he
determined within himself, and which he thought it concerned the living and
posterity to know.
convinced, by a careful observation, that the human understanding perplexes
itself, or makes not a sober and advantageous use of the really helpful
concepts within its reach, whence manifold ignorance and inconveniences arise,
he was determined to employ his utmost endeavors towards restoring or
cultivating a just and legitimate familiarity betwixt the mind and things. . .
[suggested in The Great Learning]
[suggested in The Great Learning]
And whilst men agree
to admire and magnify the false powers of the mind, and neglect or destroy
those that might be rendered true, there is no other course left but with
better assistance to begin the work anew, and raise or rebuild the sciences,
arts, and all human knowledge from a firm and solid basis.
however, whether these reflections would occur to another, and observing
that he had never met any person disposed to apply his mind to similar
thoughts, he determined to publish whatsoever he found time to perfect. Nor is
this the haste of ambition, but anxiety, that if he should die
there might remain behind him some outline and determination of the matter his
mind had embraced, as well as some mark of his sincere and earnest affection
to promote the happiness of mankind.
The idols and false notions which have already preoccupied the human
understanding, and are deeply rooted in it, not only so dominate men's minds
that they become difficult of access, but even when access is obtained will
again meet and trouble us in the renovation of the sciences, unless mankind
when forewarned guard themselves with all possible care against them.
The idols of the tribe are inherent in human nature and the very tribe
or race of man; for man's sense is falsely asserted to be the standard of
things; on the contrary, all the perceptions both of the senses and the mind
bear reference to man and not to the universe, and the human mind resembles
those uneven mirrors which impart their own properties to different objects,
from which rays are emitted and distort and disfigure them.
The idols of the den are those of each individual; for everybody (in
addition to the errors common to the race of man) has his own individual den
or cavern, which intercepts and corrupts the light of nature, either from his
own peculiar and singular disposition, or from his education and intercourse
with others, or from his reading and the authority acquired by those whom he
reverences and admires, or from the different impressions produced on the
mind, as it happens to be preoccupied and predisposed, or equable and
tranquil, and the like; so that the spirit of man (according to its several dispositions) is variable, confused, and, as it were, actuated by chance;
and Heraclitus said truly that men search for knowledge in lesser worlds,
and not in the greater or common world.
There are also idols formed by the reciprocal intercourse and society
of man with man, which we call idols of the market, from the commerce and
association of men with each other; for men converse by means of language, but
words are formed at the will of the generality, and there arises from a bad
and unapt formation of words a wonderful obstruction to the mind. Nor can the
definitions and explanations with which learned men guard and protect
themselves in some instances afford a complete remedy—words still
manifestly force the understanding, throw everything into confusion, and lead
mankind into vain and innumerable controversies and fallacies.
Lastly, there are idols which have crept into men's minds from the
various dogmas of peculiar systems of philosophy, and also from the
perverted rules of demonstration, and these we denominate idols of the
theatre: for we regard all the systems of philosophy hitherto received or
imagined, as so many plays brought out and performed, creating fictitious and
theatrical worlds. Nor do we speak only of the present systems, or of the
philosophy and sects of the ancients, since numerous other plays of a
similar nature can be still composed and made to agree with each other, the
causes of the most contradictory errors being generally the same. Nor, again,
do we allude merely to general systems, but also to many elements and axioms
of sciences which have become inveterate by tradition, implicit credence, and
Some men become attached to particular sciences and contemplations,
either from supposing themselves the authors and inventors of them, or from
having bestowed the greatest pains upon such subjects, and thus become most
committed to them. If men of this description apply themselves to philosophy
and contemplations of a universal nature, they wrest and corrupt them by their
preconceived fancies—of which Aristotle affords us a signal instance, who
made his natural philosophy completely subservient to his logic, and thus
rendered it little more than useless and disputatious.
Credulity in respect of certain authors, and making them dictators
instead of consuls, is a principal cause that the sciences are no further
advanced. For hence, though in mechanical arts, the first inventor falls
short, time adds perfection; whilst in the sciences, the first author goes
furthest, and time only abates or corrupts. Thus artillery, sailing, and
printing, were grossly managed at first, but received improvement by time;
whilst the philosophy and the sciences of Aristotle, Plato, Democritus,
Hippocrates, Euclid, and Archimedes, flourished most in the original authors,
and degenerated with time. The reason is that in the mechanic arts, the
capacities and industry of many are collected together; whereas in sciences,
the capacities and industry of many have been spent upon the invention of some
one man, who has commonly been thereby rather obscured than illuminated. For
as water ascends no higher than the level of the first spring, so knowledge
derived from Aristotle will at most rise no higher again than the knowledge of
The human understanding, when any proposition has been once laid down
(either from general admission and belief, or from the pleasure it affords),
forces everything else to add fresh support and confirmation; and although
most cogent and abundant instances may exist to the contrary, yet either does
not observe or despises them, or gets rid of and rejects them by some
distinction, with violent and injurious prejudice, rather than sacrifice the
authority of its first conclusions. It was well answered by him who has shown
in a temple the votive tablets suspended by such as had escaped the peril of
shipwreck, and was pressed as to whether he would then recognize the power of
the gods, by an inquiry, "But where are the portraits of those who have
perished in spite of their vows?" All superstition is much the same,
whether it be that of astrology, dreams, omens, retributive judgment, or the
like, in all of which the deluded believers observe events which are
fulfilled, but neglect and pass over their failure, though it be much more
The human understanding is, by its own nature, prone to abstraction,
and supposes that which is fluctuating to be fixed. But it is better to
dissect nature than to deal with it in the abstract; such was the method
employed by the school of Democritus, which made greater progress in
penetrating nature than the rest. It is best to consider matter, its
conformation, and the changes of that conformation, its own action, and the
law of this action or motion; for forms are a mere fiction of the human mind,
unless you will call the laws of action by that name.
The corruption of philosophy by the mixing of it up with superstition
and theology, is of a much wider extent, and is most injurious to it both as a
whole and in parts. For the human understanding is no less vulnerable to the
impressions of fancy, than to those of vulgar notions. The disputatious and
sophistic school entraps the understanding, whilst the fanciful, bombastic
and, as it were, poetical school, rather flatters it. There is a clear example
of this among the Greeks, especially in Pythagoras—where, however, the
superstition is coarse and overcharged—but it is more dangerous and refined
in Plato and his school.
Another error is an impatience of doubting and a blind hurry of
asserting without a mature suspension of judgment. For the two ways of
contemplation are like the two ways of action so frequently mentioned by the
ancients: the one plain and easy at first, but in the end impassable; the
other rough and fatiguing in the entrance, but soon after fair and even. So in
contemplation: if we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if
we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties.
Another error lies in the manner of delivering knowledge, which is
generally magisterial and peremptory, not ingenuous and open, but suited to
gain belief without reflection. And in compendious treatises for practice,
this form should not be disallowed; but in the true delivering of knowledge,
both extremes are to be avoided: namely, that of Velleius the Epicurean, who
feared nothing as much as the non-appearance of doubting ; and that of
Socrates and the Academics, who ironically doubted of all things. But the true
way is to propose things candidly, with more or less assurance, as they stand
in a man's own judgment.
14 But the greatest error of
all is mistaking the ultimate end of knowledge; for some men covet knowledge
out of a natural curiosity and inquisitive temper; some to entertain the mind
with variety and delight; some for ornament and reputation; some for victory
and contention; many for profit and a livelihood; and only a few for
employing the divine gift of reason to the use and benefit of mankind.
Knowledge and human power are synonymous, since the ignorance of the
cause frustrates the effect; for nature is only subdued by submission, and
that which in contemplative philosophy corresponds with the cause in
practical science becomes the rule.
16 Dignity of command is
always proportional to the dignity of the commanded. To have command over
brutes as a herdsman is a mean thing; to have command over children as a
schoolmaster is a matter of small honor; and to have command over slaves is
rather a disgrace than an honor. . . But
the command of knowledge is higher than the command over a free people, as
being a command over the reason, opinion, and understanding of men, which are
the noblest faculties of the mind that govern the will itself; for there is no
power on earth that can set up a throne in the spirits of men but knowledge
To conclude. The dignity and excellence of knowledge and learning are
what human nature most aspires to for the securing of immortality, which is
also endeavored after by raising and ennobling families, by buildings,
foundations, and monuments of fame, and is in effect the bent of all other
human desires. But we see how much more durable the monuments of genius and
learning are than those of the hand. The verses of Homer have continued above
five and twenty hundred years without loss, in which time numberless palaces,
temples, castles, and cities have been demolished and are fallen to ruin. It
is impossible to have the true pictures or statues of Cyrus, Alexander, Caesar
or the great personages of much later date, for the originals cannot last,
and the copies must lose life and truth; but the images of men's knowledge
remain in books, exempt from the injuries of time, and capable of perpetual
The unassisted hand and the understanding left to itself possess but
little power. Effects are produced by the means of instruments and helpful
mental concepts, which the understanding requires no less than the hand; and
as instruments either promote or regulate the motion of the hand, so those
that are applied to the mind prompt or protect the understanding.
The sole cause and root of almost every defect in the sciences is this,
that while we falsely admire and extol the powers of the human mind, we do not
search for its real aids to its working.
The subtilty of nature is far beyond that of sense or of the
understanding; so that the specious meditations, speculations, and theories
of mankind are but a kind of insanity, only there is no one to stand by and
21 And as the immense regions
of the West Indies had never been discovered, if the use of the compass had
not first been known, it is no wonder that the discovery and advancement of
arts hath made no greater progress, when the art of inventing and discovering
the sciences remains hitherto unknown.
The present discoveries in science are such as lie immediately
beneath the surface of common notions. It is necessary, however, to
penetrate the more secret and remote parts of nature, in order to abstract
both notions and axioms from things by a more certain and guarded method.
We have no sound notions either in logic or physics; substance,
quality, action, passion, and existence are not clear notions; much less
weight, buoyancy, density, tenuousness, moisture, dryness, generation,
corruption, attraction, repulsion, element, matter, form, and the like. They
are all fantastical and ill-defined.
It is in vain to expect any great progress in the sciences by the
superposition or grafting of new
matters upon old. An renewal must be made from the very foundations, if we do
not wish to revolve forever in a circle, making only some slight and
The present system of logic rather assists in confirming and rendering
inveterate the errors founded on vulgar notions than in searching after truth,
and is therefore more hurtful than useful.
The syllogism consists of propositions, propositions of words; words
are the signs of notions. If, therefore, the notions (which form the basis of
the whole) be confused and carelessly abstracted from things, there is no
solidity in the superstructure. Our only hope, then, is in genuine induction.
The logicians appear scarcely to have thought seriously of induction,
passing it over with some slight notice, and hurrying on to the formulae of
dispute. But we reject the syllogistic demonstration, as being too confused,
and letting nature escape from our hands. For, although nobody can doubt that
those things which agree with the middle term agree with each other, which is
a sort of mathematical certainty, nevertheless, there is this source of error,
namely, that a syllogism consists of propositions, propositions of words, and
words are but the tokens and signs of things. If, therefore, the notions of
the mind (which are as it were the soul of words, and the basis of this whole
structure and fabric) are badly and hastily abstracted from things, and vague,
or not sufficiently defined and limited, or, in short, faulty (as they may
be) in many other respects, the whole falls to the ground.
Although we would leave therefore to the syllogism, and such celebrated
and applauded demonstrations, their jurisdiction over popular and speculative arts (for here we make no alteration) yet, in every thing relating to the
nature of things, we make use of induction, both for our major and minor
propositions. For we consider induction to be that form of demonstration which
assists the senses, closes in upon nature, and presses on, and, as it were,
mixes itself with action.
Hence also the order of demonstration is naturally reversed. For at
present the matter is so managed that from the senses and particular objects
they immediately fly to the greatest generalities, as the axes round which
their disputes may revolve: all the rest is deduced from them intermediately—by
a quick method we allow, but an abrupt one, not revealing nature, though easy
and well suited to disputations. But, by our method, axioms, or principles,
are raised up in gradual succession, so that we do not arrive at generalities
until the end. And that which is most generalized is not merely notional but
well defined, and really acknowledged by nature as well known to her, and
cleaving to the very pith of things.
By far our greatest work, however, lies in the form of induction and
the judgment arising from it. For the form of which the logicians speak, which
proceeds by bare enumeration, is puerile, and its conclusions precarious, is
exposed to danger from one contrary example, only considers what is
habitual, and leads not to any final result.
The sciences, on the contrary, require a form of induction capable of
explaining and separating experiments, and coming to a certain conclusion by a
proper series of rejections and exclusions. If, however, the common judgment
of the logicians has been so laborious, and has exercised such great wits,
how much more must we labor in this which is drawn not only from the recesses
of the mind, but from the very entrails of nature.
Nor is this all, for we go down to a greater depth, and render more
solid the very foundations of the sciences, and we take up the beginning of
our investigation from a higher part than men have yet done, by subjecting
those matters to examination which common logic receives upon the credit of
others. For the logicians borrow the principles of one science from another,
in the next place they worship the first formed notions of their minds, and,
lastly, they rest contented with the immediate information of the senses, if
well directed. But we have resolved that true logic ought to enter upon the
several provinces of the sciences with a greater command than is possessed
by their first principles, and to force those supposed principles to an
account of the grounds upon which they are clearly determined. As regards, the
first notions of the understanding, not any of the materials which the
understanding when left to itself has collected is unsuspected by us; nor will
we confirm them unless they themselves are put on their trial and judged
accordingly. Again, we have many ways of sifting the information of the
senses themselves: for the senses assuredly deceive, though at the same time
they disclose their errors. The errors, however, are close at hand, whilst
discoveries must be sought at a greater distance.
To meet these difficulties, we have everywhere sought and collected
aids for the senses with laborious and faithful service, in order to supply
defects and correct errors: and that not so much by means of instruments as by
experiments. For experiments are much more delicate than the senses
themselves, even when aided by instruments, at least if they are skillfully
and scientifically imagined and applied to the required point. We attribute
but little, therefore, to the immediate and proper perception of the senses.
But reduce the matter to this, that they should decide on the
experiment and the experiment should decide our findings on the subject of it.
And this we say, not to detract from the human mind, or to say that its
work should be ignored, but that proper assistances may be obtained and
provided to the understanding, whereby to conquer the difficulties of things
and the obscurities of nature. What we endeavor is that the mind, by the help
of art, may become equal to things, and that we may find a certain art of
indication or direction to disclose and bring other arts to light, together with their axioms and effects. And this art we, upon just ground,
report as deficient.
35 This art of indication has
two parts; for indication proceeds, one, from experiment to experiment or,
two, from experiments to new principles or axioms, which may in turn point out
new experiments. The former we call learned experience, and the latter the
interpretation of nature, Novum Organum, or new machine for the mind.
Coast of the New Intellectual World
of the Deficiencies of Knowledge, Pointed out in the Preceding Work, to be
Supplied by Posterity
The History of
Monsters, or irregular productions of nature, in all the three kingdoms—vegetable,
animal, and mineral.
The History of Arts,
or nature formed and wrought by human industry.
History of Nature in her extent, or the phenomena of the universe.
or historical matters consequentially deduced from phenomena, facts,
observations, experiments, arts, and the active sciences.
Literary History, or the affairs relating to learning and knowledge, in all
ages and countries of the world. Biography, or the lives of all eminent
The History of
Prophecy, or the accomplishment of divine predictions, to serve as a guide in
the interpretation of prophecies.
The Philosophy of
the Ancient Fables, or a just interpretation of the mythology of the
or a collection of general axioms, subservient to all the sciences.
or a philosophical history of the heavens.
A Just Astrology, or
the real effects of the celestial bodies upon the terrestrial.
A Calendar of
Doubts, or natural problems, to be continued through all ages, along with a
calendar of vulgar errors.
A Collection of the
Opinions of the Ancient Philosophers.
An Inquiry into the
Simple Forms of Things, or that which constitutes their essences and
relative to the doctrine of forms.
An Inventory of
Knowledge, or an account of the stock of learning among mankind.
A Calendar of
leading Experiments, for the better interpretation of nature.
Short and commodious
Methods of Calculation, in business, astronomy, etc.
The Doctrine of
Gesture, or the motions of the body, with a view to their interpretation.
between Different Human Bodies.
A work upon
Incurable Diseases, to lessen their number, and fix a true notion of incurable
The Laudable Means
of procuring easy Deaths.
A set of approved
and effectual Remedies for Diseases.
The Ways of
Imitating Natural Springs and Bath Waters.
Medicinale, or Physician's Clue in Prescription.
A Natural Philosophy
fundamental to Physic.
The Ways of
An Inquiry into the
Nature and Substance of the sensitive Soul.
The Doctrine of
Muscular Motion, or the efficacy of the spirits in moving the body.
The Doctrine of
Sense and Sensibility, or the difference betwixt perception and sense.
An Inquiry into the
Origin and Form of Light, or the foundation of optics.
The Art of Inventing
The True Use of
Induction in Philosophy.
The Art of
Indication or Direction in Philosophy.
A Learned or
Sagacious Kind of Experience, different from the vulgar, and leading to the
direct improvement of arts.
A Particular Topical
Invention, directed by the light of leading questions, or proper heads of
The Doctrine of
Idols, or a detection and confutation of the prejudices, false conceptions,
and errors of the mind.
A New Engine, or
helps for the mind corresponding to those of the hand.
An Appendix to the
Art of Judgment, assigning the kinds of demonstration proper to every subject.
An Interpretation of
the Marks, Signatures, or Impressions of things.
Grammar, or an account of the various properties of different languages, in
order to form one perfect pattern of speech.
The Traditive Lamp,
or the proper method of delivering down the sciences to posterity.
The Doctrine of
Prudence in private discourse, or colors of good and ill.
A collection of
Sophisms, with their confutations.
A collection of
studied Antithets, or short and strong sentences, on both sides of the
question, in a variety of subjects.
A collection of
lesser Forms of Speech, for all the occasions of writing and speaking.
Sober Satire, or the
insides of things.
The Georgics of the
Mind, or the means of procuring the true moral habit of virtue.
An Account of the
Characters or Natures of Persons.
The Doctrine of the
Affections, Passions, or Perturbations of the Mind.
The Secretary to the
Uses of Life, or the doctrine of various occasions.
The Doctrine of
Business, or books upon all kinds of civil employments, arts, trades, etc.
doctrine of rising in life, or the means of advancing a man's private
Statesman, or the political doctrine of enlarging the bounds of empire.
The Doctrine of
Universal Justice, or the fountains of equity.
The Moderator in
Divinity, or the true use of human reason in the business of revelation.
The Degrees of Unity
in Religion adjusted, with a view to preserve the peace of the Church.
The First Flowerings
of the Scriptures, or a set of short, sound, and judicious notes upon
particular texts, tending to use and practice.
In all kinds of speech, either pleasant, grave, severe, or ordinary, it
is convenient to speak leisurely, and drawn out rather than hastily; because
hasty speech confounds the memory and oftentimes, besides unseemliness,
drives a man either to not know what to say or to unseemly stammering, harping
upon that which should follow; whereas a slow speech confirms the memory, adds
a conceit of wisdom to the hearers, besides a seemliness of speech and
countenance. To desire in discourse to hold all arguments is ridiculous,
wanting true judgment; for no man can be exquisite in all things.
To use commonplace
discourse, and to lack variety is both tedious for the listeners, and shows a
shallowness of conceit: therefore it is good to vary, and suit speeches with
the present occasions; and to have a moderation in all our speeches,
especially in jesting of religion, state, great persons, weighty and important
business, poverty, or any thing deserving pity.
It is necessary to
use a steadfast countenance, not wavering with action, as in moving the head
or hand too much—which shows a fanciful, light, and fickle operation of the
spirit, and consequently a mind like the gestures. It is sufficient, with
leisure, to use a modest action in either countenance or gesture. . .
To dwell on many
circumstances before you come to the subject is wearisome; and to use none
at all is only blunt.
I have often thought upon death, and I find it the least of all evils.
All that which is past is as a dream; and he that hopes or depends upon the
future dreams while awake. So much of our life as we have discovered is
already dead; and all those hours which we share—even from the breasts of
our mother until we return to our grandmother the earth—are part of our
dying days; of which even this is one and those that succeed it are of the
same nature, for we die daily. And as others have given place to us, so we
must in the end give way to others.
I know many wise
men, that fear to die; for the change is bitter, and flesh wishes to refuse
to try it: besides the expectation brings terror, and that exceeds the evil.
But I do not believe that any man fears to be dead, but only the stroke of
death: and such are my hopes, that if heaven be pleased, and nature renews my
lease for just another twenty one, I, without asking longer days, shall be
strong enough to acknowledge without mourning that I was conceived as a
I might say much of the commodities that death can sell a man; but
briefly, death is a friend of ours, and he that is not ready to entertain him
is not at home. Whilst I am, my ambition is not to move faster than the tide;
I have but so to make my interest of it, as I may account for it; I would wish
nothing but what might better my days, nor desire any greater place than in
the front of good opinion. I make not love to the continuance of days, but to
the goodness of them; nor wish to die, but refer myself to my hour, which the
great Dispenser of all things hath appointed me.
The text is adapted from the following sources, with minor changes in words to make the meaning clear to contemporary readers:
2-6; 7-26, 34-36 Advancement of Learning and Novum Organum by Francis
Bacon. Revised Edition P.F. Collier and Son, New York, 1900. pp xi; 319; 323,
20, 320, 322, 328, 24, 24, 23, 315, 36, 37, 315, 315, 316, 135, 316, 316, 318,
27-33,37-39 The Works of Francis Bacon, Volume 3, Parry
& McMillan, Philadelphia, 1859. III: p 339: I: p. 131.
The Works of Sir Francis BaconThe Complete Essays of Francis Bacon
Adaptation and selection Copyright © Rex Pay 2000