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148
BACON, FRANCIS

great part enumerated (I call them forms of the first class), and which (like the letters of the alphabet) are not many, and yet make up and sustain the essences and forms of all substances—this, I say, it is which I am attempting, and which constitutes and defines that part of metaphysic of which we are now inquiring.” Physics inquires into the same qualities, but does not push its investigations into ultimate reality or reach the more general causes. We thus at last attain a definite conclusion with regard to forms, and it appears clear that in Bacon's belief the true function of science was the search for a few fundamental physical qualities, highly abstract and general, the combinations of which give rise to the simple natures and complex phenomena around us. His general conception of the universe may therefore be called mechanical or statical; the cause of each phenomenon is supposed to be actually contained in the phenomenon itself, and by a sufficiently accurate process could be sifted out and brought to light. As soon as the causes are known man regains his power over nature, for “whosoever knows any form, knows also the utmost possibility of superinducing that nature upon every variety of matter, and so is less restrained and tied in operation either to the basis of the matter or to the condition of the efficients.”[1]

Nature thus presented itself to Bacon's mind as a huge congeries of phenomena, the manifestations of some simple and primitive qualities, which were hid from us by the complexity of the things themselves. The world was a vast labyrinth, amid the windings of which we require some clue or thread whereby we may track our way to knowledge and thence to power. This thread, the filum labyrinthi, is the new method of induction. But, as has been frequently pointed out, the new method could not be applied until facts had been observed and collected. This is an indispensable preliminary. “Man, the servant and interpreter of nature, can do and understand so much, and so much only, as he has observed in fact or in thought of the course of nature; beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything.” The proposition that our knowledge of nature necessarily begins with observation and experience, is common to Bacon and many contemporary reformers of science, but he laid peculiar stress upon it, and gave it a new meaning. What he really meant by observation was a competent natural history or collection of facts. “The firm foundations of a purer natural philosophy are laid in natural history.”[2] “First of all we must prepare a natural and experimental history, sufficient and good; and this is the foundation of all.”[3] The senses and the memory, which collect and store up facts, must be assisted; there must be a ministration of the senses and another of the memory. For not only are instances required, but these must be arranged in such a manner as not to distract or confuse the mind, i.e. tables and arrangements of instances must be constructed. In the preliminary collection the greatest care must be taken that the mind be absolutely free from preconceived ideas; nature is only to be conquered by obedience; man must be merely receptive. “All depends on keeping the eye steadily fixed upon the facts of nature, and so receiving their images simply as they are; for God forbid that we should give out a dream of our own imagination for a pattern of the world; rather may He graciously grant to us to write an apocalypse or true vision of the footsteps of the Creator imprinted on his creatures.”[4] Concealed among the facts presented to sense are the causes or forms, and the problem therefore is so to analyse experience[5], so to break it up into pieces, that we shall with certainty and mechanical ease arrive at a true conclusion. This process, which forms the essence of the new method, may in its entirety, as a ministration to the reason, be called a logic; but it differs widely from the ordinary or school logic in end, method and form. Its aim is to acquire command over nature by knowledge, and to invent new arts, whereas the old logic strove only after dialectic victories and the discovery of new arguments. In method the difference is even more fundamental. Hitherto the mode of demonstration had been by the syllogism; but the syllogism is, in many respects, an incompetent weapon. It is compelled to accept its first principles on trust from the science in which it is employed; it cannot cope with the subtlety of nature; and it is radically vitiated by being founded on hastily and inaccurately abstracted notions of things. For a syllogism consists of propositions, propositions of words, and words are the symbols of notions. Now the first step in accurate progress from sense to reason, or true philosophy, is to frame a bona notio or accurate conception of the thing; but the received logic never does this. It flies off at once from experience and particulars to the highest and most general propositions, and from these descends, by the use of middle terms, to axioms of lower generality. Such a mode of procedure may be called anticipatio naturae (for in it reason is allowed to prescribe to things), and is opposed to the true method, the interpretatio naturae, in which reason follows and obeys nature, discovering her secrets by obedience and submission to rule. Lastly, the very form of induction that has been used by logicians in the collection of their instances is a weak and useless thing. It is a mere enumeration of a few known facts, makes no use of exclusions or rejections, concludes precariously, and is always liable to be overthrown by a negative instance.[6] In radical opposition to this method the Baconian induction begins by supplying helps and guides to the senses, whose unassisted information could not be relied on. Notions were formed carefully, and not till after a certain process of induction was completed.[7] The formation of axioms was to be carried on by a gradually ascending scale. “Then and only then may we hope well of the sciences, when in a just scale of ascent and by successive steps, not interrupted or broken, we rise from particulars to lesser axioms; and then to middle axioms, one above the other; and last of all to the most general.”[8] Finally the very form of induction itself must be new. “The induction which is to be available for the discovery and demonstration of sciences and arts must analyse nature by proper rejections and exclusions; and then, after a sufficient number of negatives, come to a conclusion on the affirmative instances, which has not yet been done, or even attempted, save only by Plato.[9] ... And this induction must be used not only to discover axioms, but also in the formation of notions.”[10] This view of the function of exclusion is closely connected with Bacon's doctrine of forms,

  1. Thus the last step in the theoretical analysis gives the first means for the practical operation. Cf. Aristotle, Eth. Nic. iii. 3. 12, τὸ ἔσχατον ἐν τῇ ἀναλύσει πρῶτον εἶναι ἐν τῇ γενέσει. Cf. also Nov. Org. i. 103.
  2. Cogitationes (Works, iii. 187).
  3. N. O. ii. 10.
  4. Pref. to Instaur. Cf. Valerius Term. (Works, iii. 224), and N. O. i. 68, 124.
  5. Pref. to Inst.
  6. Bacon's summary is valuable. “In the whole of the process which leads from the senses and objects to axioms and conclusions, the demonstrations which we use are deceptive and incompetent. The process consists of four parts, and has as many faults. In the first place, the impressions of the sense itself are faulty, for the sense both fails us and deceives us. But its shortcomings are to be supplied and its deceptions to be corrected. Secondly, notions are all drawn from the impressions of the sense, and are indefinite and confused, whereas they should be definite and distinctly bounded. Thirdly, the induction is amiss which infers the principles of sciences by simple enumeration, and does not, as it ought, employ exclusions and solutions (or separations) of nature. Lastly, that method of discovery and proof according to which the most general principles are first established, and then intermediate axioms are tried and proved by them, is the parent of error and the curse of all science.”—N. O. i. 69.
  7. N. O. i. 105.
  8. Ibid., i. 104; cf. i. 19-26.
  9. This extract gives an answer to the objection sometimes raised that Bacon is not original in his theory of induction. He certainly admits that Plato has used a method somewhat akin to his own; but it has frequently been contended that his induction is nothing more than the ἐπάγωγη of Aristotle (see Rémusat's Bacon, &c., pp. 310-315, and for a criticism, Waddington, Essais de Logique, p. 261. sqq.) This seems a mistake. Bacon did not understand by induction the argument from particulars to a general proposition; he looked upon the exclusion and rejection, or upon elimination, as the essence of induction. To this process he was led by his doctrine of forms, of which it is the necessary consequence; it is the infallible result of his view of science and its problem, and is as original as that is. Whoever accepts Bacon's doctrine of cause must accept at the same time his theory of the way in which the cause may be sifted out from among the phenomena. It is evident that the Socratic search for the essence by an analysis of instances—an induction ending in a definition—has a strong resemblance to the Baconian inductive method.
  10. N. O. i. 105.