Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re

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Author: While Roger Bacon

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BACON, The Advancement of Learning (ed. Wright, Oxford, Clarendon Press), Bk. I, iv, 5; v, 6, 8 (pp. 31–32, 40–41); also Novum Organum (ed. Spedding, Boston, 1863, Vol. VIII), Bk. I, xvi, xix, lxxxix, xc, xcvii. World History

84.

Francis Bacon Proclaims the Principles of Modern Scientific Progress

Weakness of the scholastic philosophers

Surely, like as many substances in nature which are solid do putrefy and corrupt into worms, so it is the property of good and sound knowledge to putrefy and dissolve into a number of subtle, idle, unwholesome, and (as I may term them) vermiculate questions, which have indeed a kind of quickness and life of spirit, but no soundness of matter and goodness of quality. This kind of degenerate learning did chiefly reign among the schoolmen [i.e. scholastic philosophers]: who, having sharp and strong wits, and abundance of leisure, and small variety of reading, but their wits being shut up in the cells of a few authors (chiefly Aristotle, their dictator) as their persons were shut up in the cells of monasteries and colleges, and knowing little history, either of nature or time, did out of no great quantity of matter and infinite agitation of wit spin out unto us those laborious webs of learning which are extant in their books. For the wit and mind of man, if it work upon matter, which is the contemplation of the creatures of God, worketh according to the stuff and is limited thereby; but if it work upon itself, as the spider worketh his web, then it is endless, and brings forth indeed cobwebs of learning, admirable for fineness of thread and work, but of no substance or profit. . . .

Another error hath proceeded from too great a reverence, and a kind of adoration of the mind and understanding of man; by means whereof, men have withdrawn themselves too much from the contemplation of nature, and the observations of experience, and have tumbled up and down in their own reason and conceits. Upon these intellectualists, which are notwithstanding commonly taken for the most sublime and divine philosophers, Heraclitus gave a just censure, saying, "Men sought truth in their own little worlds, and not in the great common world"; for they disdain to spell, and so by degrees to read in the volume of God’s works. . . .

Another error is an impatience of doubt, and haste to assertion without due and mature suspension of judgment. For the two ways of contemplation are not unlike the two ways of action commonly spoken of by the ancients: the one plain and smooth in the beginning, and in the end impossible; the other rough and troublesome in the entrance, and after a while fair and even: so it is in contemplation; if a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be Content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.

There is no soundness in our notions, whether logical or physical. Substance, quality, action, passion, essence itself are not sound notions; much less are heavy, light, dense, rare, moist, dry, generation, corruption, attraction, repulsion, element, matter, form, and the like; but all are fantastical and ill-defined. . . .

Religious opposition to science

It is not to be forgotten that in every age natural philosophy has had a troublesome adversary and hard to deal with,—namely, superstition and the blind and immoderate zeal of religion. For we see among the Greeks that those who first proposed to man’s uninitiated ears the natural causes for thunder and for storms were thereupon found guilty of impiety. Nor was much more forbearance shown by some of the ancient fathers of the Christian Church to those who, on most convincing grounds (such as no one in his senses would now think of contradicting), maintained that the earth was round and, of consequence, asserted the existence of the antipodes.1

No conflict between science and religion

Lastly, some are weakly afraid lest a deeper search into nature should transgress the permitted limits of sober-mindedness, wrongfully wresting and transferring what is said in Holy Writ against those who pry into sacred mysteries to the hidden things of nature, which are barred by no prohibition. Others, with more subtlety, surmise and reflect that if secondary causes are unknown everything can be more readily referred to the divine hand and rod,—a point in which they think religion greatly concerned; which is, in fact, nothing else but to seek to gratify God with a lie. Others fear from past example that movements and changes in philosophy will end in assaults on religion; and others again appear apprehensive that in the investigation of nature something may be found to subvert, or at least shake, the authority of religion, especially with the unlearned.

But these two last fears seem to me to savor utterly of carnal wisdom; as if men in the recesses and secret thoughts of their hearts doubted and distrusted the strength of religion, and the empire of faith over the senses, and therefore feared that the investigation of truth in nature might be dangerous to them. But if the matter be truly considered, natural philosophy is, after the word of God, at once the surest medicine against superstition and the most approved nourishment for faith; and therefore she is rightly given to religion as her most faithful handmaid, since the one displays the will of God, the other his power. . . .

Universities opposed to scientific advance

. . . Again, in the customs and institutions of schools, academies, colleges, and similar bodies destined for the abode of learned men and the cultivation of learning, everything is found adverse to the progress of science. For the lectures and exercises there are so ordered that to think or speculate on anything out of the common way can hardly occur to any man. And if one or two have the boldness to use any liberty of judgment, they must undertake the task all by themselves; they can have no advantage from the company of others. And if they can endure this also, they will find their industry and largeness of mind no slight hindrance to their fortune. For the studies of men in these places are confined and, as it were, imprisoned in the writings of certain authors, from whom, if any man dissent, he is straightway arraigned as a turbulent person and an innovator. . . . In matters of state, change even for the better is distrusted, because it unsettles what is established; these things resting on authority, consent, fame, and opinion, not on demonstration; but arts and sciences should be like mines where the noise of new works and further advances is heard on every side. . . . No one has yet been found so firm of mind and purpose as resolutely to compel himself to sweep away all theories and common notions and to apply the understanding, thus made fair and even, to a fresh examination of particulars. Thus it happens that human knowledge, as we have it, is a mere medley and ill-digested mass, made up of much credulity and much accident, and also of the childish notions which we at first imbibed.

Great hopes of experimental science

Now if any one of ripe age, unimpaired senses, and well-purged mind apply himself anew to experience and particulars, better hopes may be entertained of that man. In which point I promised to myself a like fortune to that of Alexander the Great, who, according to Titus Livius, "had done no more than take courage to despise vain apprehensions." And a like judgment I suppose may be passed on myself in future ages: that I did no great things, but simply made less account of things that were counted great. In the meanwhile, as I have already said, there is no hope except in a new birth of science; that is, in raising it regularly up from experience, and building it afresh; which no one, I think, will say has yet been done or thought of.

1 See extract from Lactantius given above, p. 173, note.

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Chicago: While Roger Bacon, "Francis Bacon Proclaims the Principles of Modern Scientific Progress," Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, ed. James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1908), 174–178. Original Sources, accessed January 20, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QBZ3M5GKJ362AFU.

MLA: Bacon, While Roger. "Francis Bacon Proclaims the Principles of Modern Scientific Progress." Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, edited by James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1908, pp. 174–178. Original Sources. 20 Jan. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QBZ3M5GKJ362AFU.

Harvard: Bacon, WR, 'Francis Bacon Proclaims the Principles of Modern Scientific Progress' in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re. cited in 1908, Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.174–178. Original Sources, retrieved 20 January 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QBZ3M5GKJ362AFU.