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forms? and how is it that knowledge of them solves both the theoretical and the practical problem of science? Bacon himself, as may be seen from the passage quoted above, finds great difficulty in giving an adequate and exact definition of what he means by a form. As a general description, the following passage from the Novum Organum, ii. 4, may be cited:—

“The form of a nature is such that given the form the nature infallibly follows.... Again, the form is such that if it be taken away the nature infallibly vanishes.... Lastly, the true form is such that it deduces the given nature from some source of being which is inherent in more natures, and which is better known in the natural order of things than the form itself.”


From this it would appear that, since by a nature is meant some sensible quality, superinduced upon, or possessed by, a body, so by a form we are to understand the cause of that nature, which cause is itself a determinate case or manifestation of some general or abstract quality inherent in a greater number of objects. But all these are mostly marks by which a form may be recognized, and do not explain what the form really is. A further definition is accordingly attempted in Aph. 13:—

“The form of a thing is the very thing itself, and the thing differs from the form no otherwise than as the apparent differs from the real, or the external from the internal, or the thing in reference to the man from the thing in reference to the universe.”

This throws a new light on the question, and from it the inference at once follows, that the forms are the permanent causes or substances underlying all visible phenomena, which are merely manifestations of their activity. Are the forms, then, forces? At times it seems as if Bacon had approximated to this view of the nature of things, for in several passages he identifies forms with laws of activity. Thus, he says—

“When I speak of forms I mean nothing more than those laws and determinations of absolute actuality which govern and constitute any simple nature, as heat, light, weight, in every kind of matter and subject that is susceptible of them. Thus the form of heat or the form of light is the same thing as the law of heat or the law of light.”[2] “Matter rather than forms should be the object of our attention, its configurations and changes of configuration, and simple action, and law of action or motion; for forms are figments of the human mind, unless you will call those laws of action forms.”[3] “Forms or true differences of things, which are in fact laws of pure act.”[4] “For though in nature nothing really exists besides individual bodies, performing pure individual acts according to a fixed law, yet in philosophy this very law, and the investigation, discovery and explanation of it, is the foundation as well of knowledge as of operation. And it is this law, with its clauses, that I mean when I speak of forms.”

[5] Several important conclusions may be drawn from these passages. In the first place, it is evident that Bacon, like the Atomical school, of whom he highly approved, had a clear perception and a firm grasp of the physical character of natural principles; his forms are no ideas or abstractions, but highly general physical properties. Further, it is hinted that these general qualities may be looked upon as the modes of action of simple bodies. This fruitful conception, however, Bacon does not work out; and though he uses the word cause, and identifies form with formal cause, yet it is perfectly apparent that the modern notions of cause as dynamical, and of nature as in a process of flow or development, are foreign to him, and that in his view of the ultimate problem of science, cause meant causa immanens, or underlying substance, effects were not consequents but manifestations, and nature was regarded in a purely statical aspect. That this is so appears even more clearly when we examine his general conception of the unity, gradation and function of the sciences. That the sciences are organically connected is a thought common to him and to his distinguished predecessor Roger Bacon. “I that hold it for a great impediment towards the advancement and further invention of knowledge, that particular arts and sciences have been disincorporated from general knowledge, do not understand one and the same thing which Cicero's discourse and the note and conceit of the Grecians in their word circle learning do intend. For I mean not that use which one science hath of another for ornament or help in practice; but I mean it directly of that use by way of supply of light and information, which the particulars and instances of one science do yield and present for the framing or correcting of the axioms of another science in their very truth and notion.”[6] In accordance with this, Bacon placed at the basis of the particular sciences which treat of God, nature and man, one fundamental doctrine, the Prima Philosophia, or first philosophy, the function of which was to display the unity of nature by connecting into one body of truth such of the highest axioms of the subordinate sciences as were not special to one science, but common to several.[7] This first philosophy had also to investigate what are called the adventitious or transcendental conditions of essences, such as Much, Little, Like, Unlike, Possible, Impossible, Being, Nothing, the logical discussion of which certainly belonged rather to the laws of reasoning than to the existence of things, but the physical or real treatment of which might be expected to yield answers to such questions as, why certain substances are numerous, others scarce; or why, if like attracts like, iron does not attract iron. Following this summary philosophy come the sciences proper, rising like a pyramid in successive stages, the lowest floor being occupied by natural history or experience, the second by physics, the third, which is next the peak of unity, by metaphysics.[8] The knowledge of the peak, or of the one law which binds nature together, is perhaps denied to man. Of the sciences, physics, as has been already seen, deals with the efficient and material, i.e. with the variable and transient, causes of things. But its inquiries may be directed either towards concrete bodies or towards abstract qualities. The first kind of investigation rises little above mere natural history; but the other is more important and paves the way for metaphysics. It handles the configurations and the appetites or motions of matter. The configurations, or inner structure of bodies, include dense, rare, heavy, light, hot, cold, &c.,—in fact, what are elsewhere called simple natures. Motions[9] are either simple or compound, the latter being the sum of a number of the former. In physics, however, these matters are treated only as regards their material or efficient causes, and the result of inquiry into any one case gives no general rule, but only facilitates invention in some similar instance. Metaphysics, on the other hand, treats of the formal or final cause of[10] these same substances and qualities, and results in a general rule. With regard to forms, the investigation may be directed either towards concrete bodies or towards qualities. But the forms of substances “are so perplexed and complicated, that it is either vain to inquire into them at all, or such inquiry as is possible should be put off for a time, and not entered upon till forms of a more simple nature have been rightly investigated and discussed.”[11] “To inquire into the form of a lion, of an oak, or gold, nay, even of water or air, is a vain pursuit; but to inquire the form of dense, rare, hot, cold, &c., as well configurations as motions, which in treating of physic I have in

  1. This better known in the order of nature is nowhere satisfactorily explained by Bacon. Like his classification of causes, and in some degree his notion of form itself, it comes from Aristotle. See An. Post. 71 b 33; Topic, 141 b 5; Eth. Nic. 1095 a 30. It should be observed that many writers maintain that the phrase should be notiora natura; others, notiora naturae. See Fowler's N. O. p. 199 note.
  2. N. O. ii. 17.
  3. Ibid. i. 51.
  4. Ibid. i. 75.
  5. Ibid. ii. 2.
  6. Valerius Terminus, iii. 228-229.
  7. Cf. N. O. ii. 27. Bacon nowhere enters upon the questions of how such a science is to be constructed, and how it can be expected to possess an independent method while it remains the mere receptacle for the generalizations of the several sciences, and consequently has a content which varies with their progress. His whole conception of Prima Philosophia should be compared with such a modern work as the First Principles of Herbert Spencer.
  8. It is to be noticed that this scale of nature corresponds with the scale of ascending axioms.
  9. Cf. also for motions, N. O. ii. 48.
  10. The knowledge of final causes does not lead to works, and the consideration of them must be rigidly excluded from physics. Yet there is no opposition between the physical and final causes; in ultimate resort the mind is compelled to think the universe as the work of reason, to refer facts to God and Providence. The idea of final cause is also fruitful in sciences which have to do with human action. (Cf. De Aug. iii. cc. 4, 5; Nov. Org. i. 48, ii. 2.)
  11. De Aug. iii. 4. In the Advancement (Works, iii. 355) it is distinctly said that they are not to be inquired into. One can hardly see how the Baconian method could have applied to concrete substances.