University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
7 occurrences of Dictionary of the History of Ideas
[Clear Hits]
expand section 
expand section 

expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 

7 occurrences of Dictionary of the History of Ideas
[Clear Hits]



The fortunes of Bacon in modern thought are ex-
traordinarily rich in controversies and questionings.
They are closely bound up with a clash, often very
harsh in tone, between diverse and opposed concep-
tions of philosophy and scientific knowledge. Was
Bacon the father of modern philosophy or an heir of
Renaissance naturalism? Was he the father of modern
science or the builder of a huge and useless “logical
machine”? Theorist of the new method of investigating
nature or thinker bound to the most characteristic
themes of the traditional magico-alchemy? Theorist of
progress or the thinker at the source of those processes
of alienation and estrangement present in modern
industrial society?

Confrontation with or discussion of Bacon's ideas is
an integral part not only of the philosophies of Boyle,
Vico, Leibniz, Newton, Diderot, Comte, and Dewey
but of the great currents and movements of modern
culture: the Enlightenment, romantic spiritualism,
positivism, and pragmatism. Controversy over Baco-
nian ideas seems alive even today: the expounders of
the so-called critical theory of society still see in Bacon
or in Baconianism the symbol of the impious Pro-
methean and Faustian ideal of a total instrumental
mechanization of reality.


The impatience of the humanists and English
Ramists with the disputative science of Scholasticism,
the naturalism of Italian thought in the Renaissance,
the practical elements of the magico-alchemical tradi-
tion, the revaluation of technical knowledge in the


works of the mechanists (meccanici) in the sixteenth
century, the ethico-political realism of Machiavelli, the
treatises on rhetoric and on the arts of discourse—all
these had a decisive influence on the cultural develop-
ment of Francis Bacon. But what makes his thought
modern is not so much his adhesion to the most pro-
gressive movements of contemporary culture as the
transformed function which Bacon assigns to learning.
He understands knowledge not as contemplation or
recognition of a given reality, but as a venatio, a hunt,
an exploration of unknown lands, a discovery of the
unknown. Bacon wished to be the buccinator or herald
of a new world, and his true greatness consists precisely
in this function of his as herald. He formulated no
revolutionary scientific hypothesis and contributed to
none of the discoveries destined to alter to any large
extent the horizon of modern science. But he did in-
quire into and wrote on the function of science in
human life, and worked out an ethics of scientific
research flatly opposed to the typically magical men-
tality dominant in his time. He tried to think up a new
technique of approach to nature, and laid the bases
of that encyclopedia of the sciences which was destined
to become one of the most important enterprises of
European culture. With energy and clarity he formu-
lated a number of theses which are now an integral
part of our civilization and which warrant our ranking
him, with Descartes and Galileo, among the founders
of modern thought. These theses are the following:
science can and should transform the condition of
human life on earth; science, even if it is internally
value-free, is not in reality indifferent to the values
of ethics and the reaches of political and social life:
it is an instrument constructed by man with a view
to the realization of the values of fraternity and prog-
ress; these values must be strengthened and reinforced
by that same science in which collaboration, humility
before Nature, and the will to be clear are the rule;
the logic of the humanists, constructed with a view
to persuasion, is to be replaced by a logic of invention
and discovery useful in the construction of works rather
than in the disputations of the learned; the extension
of man's power over nature is never the work of a
single investigator who keeps his results secret, but is
the fruit of an organized collectivity of scientists
financed by the State or by public bodies; in the his-
torical world, science always has a precise practical
function and every reform of learning is always a
reform also of cultural institutions and universities.

Many of these ideas seem familiar to us nowadays.
Nevertheless they were born of a long historical labor
and have had a revolutionary significance. To make
this clear it will be useful to consider briefly five salient
ideas or viewpoints in the Baconian philosophy to
which the later course of thought appealed, positively
or negatively, and which exerted a decisive influence
on the Enlightenment and on positivism. These con-
ceptions may be listed as follows: (1) the evaluation
of tradition; (2) the idea of science; (3) the revaluation
of technology; (4) the search for a method; (5) the
notion of natural history.

(1) Bacon was convinced that culture had entered
a period of radical crisis, had come to a “dead end,”
and that a new epoch was about to be born. However,
the vast change about to happen was not to affect only
philosophy or speculative thought, Bacon believed. It
was rather bound up with a whole series of material
factors which have modified man's way of life and must
consequently modify, too, their way of thinking. The
great inventions of the compass, the printing press, and
gunpowder, the new growth of the mechanical arts,
the voyages of exploration and geographical discover-
ies, and the new political conditions in Europe have
modified the conditions of living. It would be shameful
for men to be confined within the boundaries of the
ancient intellectual world after they have opened out
to infinity the boundaries of the globus mundi. Since
the conditions of the time are ripe, Bacon presents his
works as a child of the time (temporis partus masculus)
rather than of the mind of a genius. The considerations
developed in Temporis partus masculus (1602-03),
Cogitata et visa (1607), Redargutio philosophiarum
(1608), and then restated in different form in the major
works are not interpretable as a kind of invective or
polemical outburst: they are born of the consciousness
that a new age requires a new philosophy and a new
vision of the world, that it requires above all an end
to that attitude of veneration of the past which hitherto
has characterized culture. What Bacon attacks in the
ancient philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Galen, Cicero,
Seneca, Plutarch) and in those of the Middle Ages and
the Renaissance (Thomas, Duns Scotus, Ramus, Cardan,
Paracelsus, Telesio) is not a series of theoretical errors.
These philosophies can all be put on the same level
because they are all in reality products of ages that
had characteristics, purposes, goals different from those
of the modern age. It is not a question of attacking
or denying the glory of the traditional philosophers.
If we followed in their path, Bacon says again and
again, we should certainly come to results inferior to
those they arrived at. It is a question of rejecting their
goals and their methods, showing the historical char-
acter—historical, and therefore not eternal or super-
temporal—of these philosophies, making clear how the
limits of these philosophies are precisely the limits of
Greek civilization, close to the time of the fables of
the poets and poor in history, and of medieval civili-
zation, built by men of acute mind and too ample


leisure (confined moreover to convent cells), who
sought impiously to reduce theology to a science and
wrote commentaries far more obscure than the sacred
texts they professed to interpret.

(2) Science, as Bacon conceives it, must abandon the
terrain of chance, of the arbitrary, of the hasty synthe-
sis, and must proceed on the basis of an experi-
mentalism constructed not ex analogia hominis but ex
analogia universi.
John Dewey has very justly written
that many misunderstandings of Bacon's thought would
have been avoided had proper notice been taken of
the emphasis Bacon places on the social factor both
in the search for knowledge and in the goal of knowl-
edge. Bacon did not succeed in carrying out any of
his numerous projects for a reformation of cultural
institutions, but he insisted at length on the public,
democratic, and collaborative nature of scientific in-
quiry. The conception of science as resulting from a
series of individual contributions to a communal suc-
cess, the patrimony of all, put Bacon in a position of
radical conflict on the one hand with the debater's
science of Scholasticism, on the other with the magical
mentality largely dominant in the culture of the
Renaissance. Against Cardan, against Agrippa, against
many of the Renaissance naturalists Bacon carried on
an unrelenting polemic. In the Redargutio philos-
and then in the general preface to the
Instauratio magna, he struck with singular penetration
and power at the roots of the characteristic attitudes
of magical alchemy. If among innumerable falsities
magic and alchemy come to some results, that still
happens out of love of novelty and for the sake of
exciting wonder, not with a view to the benefit of
humankind. Philosophy tends, through demonstrations,
to make things seem less wonderful and miraculous
than in reality they are; magic and imposture on the
contrary make things seem more wonderful than they
are in reality. Men must continue the attempt charac-
teristic of magic, to make themselves masters of nature,
but must reject the methods and the procedures magic
has linked to these attempts. Every attitude which
would substitute the wisdom of one man for the orga-
nized efforts of humanity is to be rebuffed. Every
doctrine that places science in the service of some one
man rather than in the service of the whole human
race is to be rejected. Bacon accordingly interprets
magic as imposture, as a craving for applause, a mania
for greatness and fame. For technique and its sweat
and laboriousness magic pretends to be able to substi-
tute some easy arrangement of bodies. But the inter-
pretation of the oracles of nature demands an infinite
patience, and the pages of the great book of nature
are to be read with humility and reverence. To learn
to read in this book means renouncing the pretence
of miracle-making to amaze the vulgar; it means to
become as little children. Magicians and alchemists
repeat the same gestures endlessly, put their trust in
an inalterable ritual. Magic and alchemy are by nature
uncollaborative and unprogressive: they cannot take
form as sciences because they assign excessive weight
to individual action and judgment and are incapable
of growing by their own internal strength. The phi-
losophers and scientists and magicians of the Renais-
sance had, it is true, energetically insisted on the value
of “experiments,” as against the bookish culture of late
Scholasticism, and had underlined the practical value
of all research. But they had continued to conceive
the work of science as the fruit of solitary labor, as
the privilege of exceptional personalities, as the prod-
uct of collaboration by the “enlightened” which re-
quired special and secret means of communication and
mysterious initiations. Della Porta, Cardan, Agrippa,
and Paracelsus moved on this terrain. Bacon proposed
a different portrait of the scientist, founded on a differ-
ent conception of science. Science is not a series of
thoughts jotted down, but methodical and systematic
thought. It is not a simple appeal to experience, it is
not only rejection of the authorities, it is not only
observation. Science is not the intuition of a solitary
genius, but is research and the institutionalizing of
research in specific social and linguistic forms.

(3) The course of history was profoundly changed,
according to Bacon, by mechanical inventions. His
protest against the sterility of the traditional culture
appears to be founded on the contrast between the
mechanical arts and speculative philosophy. The sci-
ences, he writes in the Novum Organum (I, Preface),
have remained unchanged for two thousand years
almost, while the mechanical arts, as if pervaded by
a vital spirit, continually grow and advance. In the
dialectical exercises of the medieval schools, in the
rhetorical exercises of the humanists, every assertion
remained what it was, unchanged; and every question
remained unresolved, as if transfixed. The intellectual
sciences stood like statues worshipped and celebrated,
while the progress of the technical arts is so swift that
it even surpasses the desires of men. This progress
depends on the fact that in the mechanical arts there
is no room for the dictatorial power of an individual:
in these arts the minds of many collaborate. The figure
of the master is replaced by that of the inventor, the
image of the sage by that of the investigator who adds
something to the work of those who preceded him (De
augmentis..., Works,
I, 457-58). The Baconian revalu-
ation of technology and the mechanical arts, central
to the new culture, entailed the rejection of that con-
ception of science which, though cracked in a thousand
places, had remained alive and operative for centuries:


a science which is born only when the necessities of
life have already been procured and which then de-
velops into a disinterested contemplation of truth. In
a very large sector of European thought, during an-
tiquity and the Middle Ages, the distinction between
slaves and free men was identified with the contrast
between manual labor and intellectual work, between
practical knowledge and rational knowledge, between
technology and science. Thus the Baconian distinction
between “ancients” and “moderns” takes on, from this
point of view, a more exact meaning; to fall under the
spell of tradition means to accept one of the charac-
teristic dogmas of the past: the transformation of one's
own inadequate technique into a theory of being. The
ancients put “beyond the bounds of possibility...
whatever is beyond their own or their master's knowl-
edge or reach” (Novum Organum, I, 75). The Aristo-
telian philosophy of nature was constructed on the
basis of inadequate and insufficient instruments of con-
trol and guidance. To the “thus far and no further”
of the ancients Bacon opposes the “there is more be-
yond” of the new science; the “inimitable thunderbolt”
(inimitabile fulmen) can now be imitated. Taking the
mechanical arts as a model for culture, it is then possi-
ble to bring to birth a type of learning which, unlike
the ancient kind, is capable of progress. But Bacon
never thought of reducing science to technology. In
the new culture the work of the mechanics and em-
pirics was to unite with that of the theorists so that
“the kind of Mechanics often merely empirical and
operative” would be surpassed (De augmentis...,
Works, I, 572). In any case, collaboration between
science and technical arts was to take the place of
chance and gross observation. For more than twenty
years the Lord Chancellor drove home a double cri-
tique, for which he fought, so to speak, “on two fronts”:
against the inadequacies of the work of the empirics
and against the arbitrariness of the doctrines of the
rationalists. The transformation of reality and the
instauration of the regnum hominis cannot be entrusted
solely to the fire of the laboratories and the work of
the shops, but must depend on reason capable of oper-
ating with the aid of instruments. As he writes in the
Cogitata et visa: “In both the arts and sciences there
is a universally accepted cleavage into the Empirical
and the Rational or Philosophical.” But in Bacon's view
these twin attitudes have not up to now been properly
mingled and combined. The Empirics are like ants;
they gather and consume. The Rationalists are spiders
spinning webs out of themselves. But the bee combines
both functions. It gathers its material from flowers of
garden and field, and digests and transforms them by
a faculty of its own.

This is the type of true philosophy. It takes the
matter furnished by natural history and mechanical
experience and stores it in its memory, but not before
it has been transformed and wrought upon by the
understanding. Bacon is, of course, aware that some
Empirics disclaim the title of Empiric pure and simple,
and some Dogmatists are ambitious to be thought
determined and intelligent experimentalists. But,
whichever group they belong to, these pretensions are
only evidence of their wish to have a reputation above
their fellows. In fact the divorce between the two
activities, speculation and experiment, has always ob-
tained. But if the two could be joined in a closer and
holier union, the prospects of a numerous and happy
issue are bright indeed.

(4) The new logic of the sciences (Novum Organum
), as Bacon conceives it, is not only a
method of inquiry. The interpretation of nature (inter-
pretatio naturae
), which is founded on induction and
its method of elimination and which aims at the deter-
mination of forms, is closely linked with the expurgatio
whose task it is to liberate the human in-
tellect from the prejudices (idola) deriving from the
spontaneous and uncontrolled operations of reason,
language, and traditional philosophies. Many com-
mentators, beginning with Hegel in his History of
have identified the whole work of Bacon
with the second book of the Novum Organum, which
contains the famous doctrine of the Tables (tabulae)
and Instances (instantiae). But rather than expound that
doctrine it will be more useful to set out some consid-
erations of a general nature touching the Baconian
method. Bacon held that one of the essential tasks, if
not indeed the task, of scientific inquiry was to remedy
the poverty of factual information. The draft of a logic
of scientific inquiry, at which Bacon had worked since
1603 and which found expression in the second book
of the Novum Organum, was interrupted because he
was convinced that the construction of perfect tables
was the decisive element for the advancement of sci-
ence. The fourth part of the Instauratio magna, which
was to carry out the work of ordering the varied con-
tents of natural histories, came to seem to Bacon more
important than his new logic itself. The gathering of
materials for research seemed to him more urgent than
any perfecting of the theoretical apparatus of the sci-
ences. But Bacon had reached these conclusions in a
special historical setting. Replacing the traditional
collection of rhetorical topics, applying the art of
memory to ends different from the traditional, con-
ceiving the tabulae as a means of ordering with whose
help memory prepares an organized reality for intel-
lectual work, and making use of Ramus' rules in the
endeavor to determine forms, Bacon introduced into
his logic of science many elements drawn from the


dialectico-rhetorical tradition of the Renaissance. From
the viewpoint of his method he was much closer than
he realized to the conceptions of dialectic entertained
by Ramus or Melancthon when they conceived it as
the means for the orderly disposition of ideas, estab-
lishing order in a reality which presents itself as some-
thing chaotic. The Baconian conception of scientific
method, despite all that is distinctive about it, still
moves on the terrain of the Ramist definition of dispo-
as apta inventarum rerum collocatio. Method, for
Bacon, is a means of ordering and classifying natural
reality. It is not a matter of chance that Bacon de-
scribed it as a thread (filum) capable of guiding man
through that forest (silva) and intricate labyrinth called
Nature. The chief limitations of the Baconian method
derive no doubt from the fact that Bacon had a very
meager awareness of the function of hypotheses, ab-
stractions, and mathematics in scientific research. But
even this want of understanding, which led him to
value “mechanics” like George Agricola higher than
“theorists” like Copernicus and Galileo, is closely con-
nected with the image of logic as the means of putting
order into the natural “forest.” The Platonic and Gali-
lean image of a world logical and mathematical in
structure, created by a “geometer God” who carried
out the creation by number, weight, and measurement
(numero, pondere et mensura), was undoubtedly to be
more fertile for the development of modern physics
than the Baconian image of Nature as a labyrinth in
which man moves with toilsome difficulty, uncertain
whether the constructions of his mind correspond to
the structures of reality. The Platonic image of nature
and the doctrine of the economy and simplicity of
nature led to a type of questioning which was much
more fruitful than the Baconian, which operated on
the basis of models taken from the tradition of rhetoric.

(5) Natural history, for Bacon, is a history at once
of free nature and of nature modified and transformed
by the hand of man. Making the history of techniques
an integral part of natural history, Bacon rejected the
traditional opposition of nature and art. Art is not an
“aping” of nature, and the products of art are not
essentially different from the products of nature. The
progress of science and the amelioration of the condi-
tion of mankind demand therefore, according to Bacon,
that the knowledge of the technicians, excluded by
age-old tradition from the field of science and natural
philosophy, be imported into that field. The methods,
the procedures, the operations, the language of the
mechanical arts have been maintained and perfected
outside the world of the official culture, in the circles
of the engineers and architects and skilled artisans and
makers of machines and instruments. These methods,
these procedures, these operations, these languages
must become subject-matter of reflection and study.
Only in this way, with the help of academies and
scientific societies, can the experientia erratica of the
mechanics, the limited observations of the artisans, the
daily labors of those who transform nature with their
hands be rescued from chance and pure empiricism
and lead to a unitary, systematic corpus of knowledge.


The reflections presented by Bacon in De sapientia
(1609) and De augmentis (1623) on the wisdom
of the ancients, on the fables of the poets, on language
and poetry were to exercise a decisive influence on
the Scienza nuova (1725-44) of Giambattista Vico,
work which was meant to be an “application to
human affairs” of Bacon's method. The Baconian theses
concerning symbols and real characters were to have
an audible echo in the English theorists of universal
language, from John Wilkins to George Dalgarno, and
subsequently in the linguistic doctrines of Condillac.
The doctrines on methods of communicating style for
scientific works were profoundly to influence English
prose. But above all the grand themes of Bacon's phi-
losophy—the criticism of tradition, the idea of prog-
ress, the revaluation of technology, the project of a
history of the arts—were to inspire some of the chief
spokesmen of European thought. The new science as
separate from religion, as renunciation of the endeavor
to determine essences, as “historical,” descriptive, and
phenomenal knowledge of the world, as outcome of
the conjunction of theory with the practice of artisans,
as human instrument for the domination of the world:
on these typically Baconian themes Mersenne and
Gassendi, Boyle and the “virtuosi” of the seventeenth
century join hands. To become fully aware of the
powerful influence exerted by Bacon's doctrines, it
suffices to read the pages devoted by Gassendi to natu-
ral history (Exercitationes, in Opera, Lyons [1658], III,
107b) or the Considerations touching the Usefulness
of Experimental Natural Philosophy
of Robert Boyle
(in Works, London [1774], III, 392ff.), in which the
anatomy-theater and the workshop of the artisans are
contrasted with the libraries of the humanists. In 1653,
writing to Peiresc, Mersenne proposed an academy
which, founded on the ideal of cooperation among the
wise, should gather together all the learned of Europe.
The advancement and progress of the sciences through
collaboration—this was the common goal appealed to
by the first modern scientific academies: The Accade-
mia del Cimento (1657), the Royal Society (1662), the
Académie des Sciences (1666). And to this vision of
vast collaboration, of a self-nourishing research grow-
ing through the work carried on in a whole series of
scientific institutions, Fontenelle and Pascal conjoined


a new conception of history as product of a common
labor, as resultant of the efforts of many generations,
as a slow accumulation of experience always further
integrable and perfectible. In a famous page of John
Wallis' describing the first meetings in London of the
cultivators of natural philosophy (1641), the name of
Bacon is already linked with that of Galileo as one
of the two founders of the “new and experimental
philosophy” beginning to be cultivated in Italy, France,
Germany, and England. Among the first tasks of the
Royal Society we find the compilation of faithful rec-
ords of all the works of nature and the arts, and the
study of the effect of experiments on the manual trades.
The rejection of the sterility of the old philosophies
coincided with the demand for a simple, clear, acces-
sible language. That “Verulamium design” about which
John Beale had written to Robert Boyle in July 1666
(Boyle, Works, London [1774], VI, 404) gathered even
more numerous adherents throughout Europe. Not only
in England but everyone in France, Germany, and Italy
who was working on a new science invoked the name
of Bacon. The Initia et specimina novae generalis pro
instauratione et augmentis scientiarum,
a work of
Leibniz, reveals in its very title its unmistakable Baco-
nian inspiration; in this work Leibniz urges the neces-
sity of gathering up in one organic body of knowledge
the piecemeal “know how” of technicians and artisans
(Die Philosophische Schriften von Gottfried Wilhelm
ed. C. I. Gerhardt, 7 vols., Berlin [1875-90],
VII, 69). And in his Discours touchant la certitude et
l'art d'inventer
(ibid., 181-82), Leibniz explicitly re-
vives the project of a great encyclopedia of the arts,
based on a conception of science and progress which
challenges Descartes' willful “solitude” and recalls
Bacon for support. But the appeal to Bacon was also
significant and important with respect to method be-
cause despite all the criticisms that can be levelled
against the scientific methodology of the Novum or-
one very obvious thing must not be forgotten:
the science of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
was at once Galilean and Baconian and Cartesian.
Boyle's law on the volume and pressure of a gas at
constant temperature and Galileo's law of falling
bodies seemed to be “truths” independent of the
different methods employed in determining them. The
“romance of Cartesian physics,” as Christiaan Huygens
called it, continued to wield its influence in European
culture for more than a century. Boyle, the founders
of the Royal Society, Gassendi on the continent, and
Newton himself felt themselves to be followers of
Bacon and continuing his lead. When Newton, in op-
position to Descartes and Galileo, regarded mathe-
matics not as “the queen of the sciences” but as a
method and instrument for the clarification of experi
ment, and when he rejected the vision of Nature as
mathematical in essence, he revived, though on a very
different level, some very characteristic Baconian po-
sitions. In any event, the distinction between the so-
called two methods of scientific research (the mathe-
matico-deductive and the experimental-inductive) was
felt to be as real in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. The “myth” of Bacon, it is well to remember,
was not an invention of nineteenth-century historians
but an operative reality for the British scientists and
the French philosophes of the Age of Reason—even
though, in point of fact, the distinction was not in-
variably pure and clear; some passages in Descartes
and Galileo on the two methods remind one very much
of Bacon, and Bacon himself provides a fair number
of examples of “hypotheses” or “anticipations of na-
ture.” Finally, it ought to be remembered by exces-
sively severe critics of Baconianism that the progress
of modern anatomy, embryology, botany, zoology, and
mineralogy was intimately associated with a Baconian
insistence on observation and experiments, and with
a conviction that the immense variety of the forms of
nature can be ordered, classified, and described. Here
too, of course, the need to formulate hypotheses soon
became clear. The Baconian identification of science
with experiments was seen to be one-sided. Never-
theless, the demand for experiments and the mistrust
of audacious hypotheses played a historical role of
crucial importance.

The taste for observations and experiments, the tri-
umph of experimental over theoretical physics, the
slackening of interest in geometry, and the inadequacy
of Cartesianism—all these contribute to explain the
extraordinary prestige of Baconianism among the men
of the Enlightenment, even though there were funda-
mental differences between the judgments of
D'Alembert, the firm Baconianism of Diderot, the
scrupulous analyses of Alexandre Deleyre in his Ana-
lyse de la philosophie du Chancelier François Bacon

(Amsterdam and Paris, 1755), the judgments of Vol-
taire. In the twelfth of his Lettres Philosophiques Vol-
taire proffers a very acute judgment, that Bacon
erected the grand edifice of modern science with the
help of a scaffolding (the Novum Organum) that seems
today no longer usable. In point of fact the Bacon
of the Encyclopedists is not the theorist of method.
He is the philosopher who first proclaimed the cultural
value of technology, who destroyed the prejudices
against the mechanical arts that (as Diderot wrote
under the heading Art in the Encyclopedia) filled the
cities with indolent contemplators and the countryside
with ignorant petty tyrants. Bacon becomes the theorist
of the necessary interdependency of the sciences and
the technical arts, the author of the first great encyclo-


pedia of modern times, the philosopher who first
grasped with clarity the necessary union of theory and
practice, the social function of scientific knowledge,
its power to transform the world, to enlighten men,
and to make them happier.

The reaction in romantic and spiritualist circles to
the Enlightenment's exaltation of Bacon came in tones
of decided asperity. Joseph de Maistre, for example,
saw in Bacon the spiritual father of all the enemies
of humankind. But it was especially the appraisal of
the spiritualist chemist Justus von Leibig (1863) that
determined subsequent evaluations of Baconism. Many
of his hasty and superficial judgments (for example, his
judgment of Bacon's attitude to Copernicus) became
commonplace. But the prestige of Bacon perhaps
reached its lowest level when, on the basis of an identi-
fication of the history of ideas with the history of the
problem of knowledge, the whole of the works of
Bacon was reduced to Book II of the Novum Organum.
Bacon came then to be seen only as the constructor
of a vast logical machine destined to remain unused,
or only as the precursor of the inductive logic of John
Stuart Mill. In a historiography of Hegelian ancestry,
which proceeded by way of successive self-transcend-
ings and saw in English empiricism only the prepara-
tion for the Critique of Kant, it was not difficult to
come quickly to a judgment of Baconian bankruptcy.

Baconianism occupies a peculiar position, too, in that
species of romantic exaltation of science known as
positivism. Instead of a real resumption of the great
themes of the philosophy of Bacon one finds in Comte
an attempt to make of Bacon a clever but confused
anticipator of the positivist philosophy. Baconism is
identified with empiricism and utilitarianism. Whewell
and Mill, on the other hand, limit themselves to pro-
posing corrections of the logic of the Novum Organum.
Very much more sustained and stimulating is the dis-
cussion undertaken by the pragmatists. There is hardly
need to recall the Baconism (not always, however,
sufficiently recognized) of John Dewey, and his insist-
ence upon the social nature of science, his conception
of modern thought as originating in the adoption by
inquiry of the procedures and aims of productive labor,
his conception of a “reconstruction in philosophy” as
a realized expression, in modern times, of the aspira-
tions which were the aspirations of Bacon. Dewey,
different in this from less discerning pragmatists, sees
clearly the inadequacies of every interpretation of
Baconism as utilitarianism. To see in the Baconian
exaltation of “works” the expression of a utilitarian
position means in fact to leave altogether out of ac-
count the thesis, many times formulated by Bacon, of
a full and total coincidence between truth and working;
it means not to take seriously his repeated affirmation
that only truth is capable of producing fruit and works.
Opera ipsa pluris facienda sunt, quatenus sunt veritatis
pignora, quam propter vitae commoda
(Works, III, 612):
to ask whether scientific truths depend upon the pro-
cedures employed to determine them or upon their
fecundity is for Bacon a meaningless dilemma: a scien-
tific truth is always fecund and its fecundity depends
exclusively upon its truth. A practicality without truth
is for Bacon arbitrary and chance-dominated, incapable
of progress and development. What concerns him is
that theoretical progress and the general “advance-
ment” of the condition of humanity should not be
considered separately or even as flatly opposed to each
other, as had been the case in philosophy ever since
the days of Plato.

The thesis of a Bacon “vulgarly utilitarian,” pro-
pounded by reactionary nineteenth-century thought,
has been restated in this century, in much subtler form,
by the proponents of the “critical theory of society.”
Taking up again the themes of Husserl's criticism of
Galileo in Krisis, Adorno and Horkheimer (Dialektik
der Aufklärung,
1942) saw in Baconism the typical
animus of modern science, indistinguishable from
technology, intent upon the exploitation of nature and
total instrumentalization. According to these writers,
it is the scientific and technological enthusiasm of the
Lord Chancellor that lies back of the materialism, the
mercantilization of culture, that leads to modern in-
dustrial society, realm of alienation and conformism
and standardization and the destruction of all human
values. Once again Bacon is reduced to a symbol, and
the reduction, once again, is carried out at the cost
of an extreme simplification: since for Bacon the foun-
dation of the regnum hominis, the restoration of the
dominion of man over nature had meaning only if
realized in a definite religious, political, moral, and
cultural context. Even today it can be a salutary lesson
to recall the central ideas of Baconianism—and so
prevent the analysis of the alienating and inhuman
aspects of the contemporary world from issuing in a
decadent and pessimistic revulsion from work and
civilization, or in a mystical awaiting of a mythical
future in which the “pleasure principle” will have
triumphed at last over the “reality principle.”

A good many criticisms of modern industrial society,
science, and technology appear to rest on the convic-
tion that man can realize himself without dominion
over nature. Many of these criticisms resolve them-
selves often in an exaltation of subjectivity, a plaint
for the primitive and mythical, a nostalgia for the days
of a “wisdom” or “total knowledge” founded on meta-
physics, theology, or the practices of shamans. Many


of these critics, who in point of fact derive their ideas
from Heidegger, are fond of referring to the texts of
Karl Marx. They too easily forget that Marx applauded
not only the radical criticism of civilization of Rous-
seau's first Discours but also the celebration of work
and technical skill in Francis Bacon's New Atlantis.
Bacon never believed that science and technology, as
represented the salvation of man. The liberation
of man—and in this too he is modern—can be painfully
achieved (by ways far more complicated than he was
able to imagine) only through the labor, the works,
the well-being of the whole of humanity.


The Works of Francis Bacon, eds. R. L. Ellis, J. Spedding,
D. D. Heath, 7 vols. (London, 1857-59). The Letters and
Life of Francis Bacon, Including All His Occasional Works,

ed. J. Spedding, 7 vols. (London, 1861-74). Among the
bibliographical works: R. W. Gibson, Francis Bacon, A
Bibliography of his Works and of Baconiana to the Year
(Oxford, 1950). For the period 1800-1956: P. Rossi,
Per una bibliografia degli scritti su Bacone,Rivista critica
di storia della filosofia,
12, 1 (1957), 75-89. The best biogra-
phy is by M. Sturt, Francis Bacon: A Biography (London,
1932). Also useful is the commentary of Th. Fowler on the
Novum Organum (London, 1878). Outlines of the influence
of Bacon: G. Sortais, La Philosophie moderne depuis Bacon
jusqu'à Leibniz
(Paris, 1922). On the Rhetoric, Science of
Man, style, and prose of Bacon: K. R. Wallace, Francis Bacon
on Communication and Rhetoric
(Chapel Hill, 1943); Francis
Bacon on the Nature of Man
(Urbana, Ill., 1967); B. Vickers,
Francis Bacon and Renaissance Prose (Cambridge, 1968);
W. S. Howell, Logic and Rhetoric in England: 1500-1700
(Princeton, 1956). Two quick sketches are very significant:
P.-M. Schuhl, La Pensée de Bacon (Paris, 1949), and B.
Farrington, Francis Bacon, Philosopher of Industrial Science
(New York, 1949). On the first period of Bacon's activities:
B. Farrington, The Philosophy of Francis Bacon: An Essay
of its Development from 1603 to 1609
(Liverpool, 1964). The
best study on Baconian logic is that of T. Kotarbinsky, “The
Development of the Main Problem in the Methodology of
Francis Bacon,” Studia Philosophica (1935). Among the
recent works on the whole of Bacon's philosophy: F.
Anderson, The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (Chicago, 1948);
P. Rossi, Francis Bacon: From Magic to Science (London and
Chicago, 1967). On the idea of progress and value of tech-
nology: P. Rossi, Philosophy, Technology and the Arts: in
the Early Modern Era
(New York, 1970). On the Encyclo-
pedia: R. McRae, The Problem of the Unity of Sciences,
Bacon to Kant
(Toronto, 1961). On special aspects: Marie
Boas, “Bacon and Gilbert,” Journal of the History of Ideas,
12, 3 (1950), 466-67; E. Moody Prior, “Bacon's Man of
Science,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 15, 3 (1954),
348-70; P. H. Kocher, “Bacon on the Science of Juris-
prudence,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 18, 1 (1957),
3-26. On the religious theme: P. Rossi, “Bacone e la Bibbia,”
Archiwum Historii Filozofii (Warsaw, 1966). Among the few
works on Bacon's influence: H. Dieckmann, “The Influence
of Francis Bacon on Diderot's Interprétation de la Nature,
Romanic Review, 24, 4 (1943), 303-30.


[See also Ancients and Moderns; Crisis; Positivism; Prag-
matism; Progress; Renaissance Humanism; Technology;