Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
151
BACON, FRANCIS

positive spirit of his system. Theological questions, which had tortured the minds of generations, are by him relegated from the province of reason to that of faith. Even reason must be restrained from striving after ultimate truth; it is one of the errors of the human intellect that it will not rest in general principles, but must push its investigations deeper. Experience and observation are the only remedies against prejudice and error. Into questions of metaphysics, as commonly understood, Bacon can hardly be said to have entered, but a long line of thinkers have drawn inspiration from him, and it is not without justice that he has been looked upon as the originator and guiding spirit of what is known as the empirical school.

Bacon's Influence.—It is impossible within our limits to do more than indicate the influence which Bacon's views have had on subsequent thinkers. The most valuable and complete discussion of the subject is contained in T. Fowler's edition of the Novum Organum (introd. § 14). It is there argued that, both in philosophy and in natural science, Bacon's influence was immediate and lasting. Under the former head it is pointed out (i.) that the fundamental principle of Locke's Essay, that all our ideas are product of sensation and reflection, is briefly stated in the first aphorism of the Novum Organum, and (ii.) that the whole atmosphere of that treatise is characteristic of the Essay. Bacon is, therefore, regarded by many as the father of what is most characteristic in English psychological speculation. As he himself said, he “rang the bell which called the wits together.” In the sphere of ethics he is similarly regarded as a forerunner of the empirical method. The spirit of the De Augmentis (bk. vii.) and the inductive method which is discussed in the Novum Organum are at the root of all theories which have constructed a moral code by an inductive examination of human consciousness and the results of actions. Among such theories utilitarianism especially is the natural result of the application to the phenomenon of conduct of the Baconian experimental method. In this connexion, however, it is important to notice that Hobbes, who had been Bacon's secretary, makes no mention of Baconian induction, nor does he in any of his works make any critical reference to Bacon himself. It would, therefore, appear that Bacon's influence was not immediate.

In the sphere of natural science, Bacon's importance is attested by references to his work in the writings of the principal scientists, not only English, but French, German and Italian. Fowler (op. cit.) has collected from Descartes, Gassendi, S. Sorbière, Jean Baptiste du Hamel, quotations which show how highly Bacon was regarded by the leaders of the new scientific movement. Sorbière, who was by no means partial to things English, definitely speaks of him as “celuy qui a le plus puissamment solicité les interests de la physique, et excité le monde à faire des expériences” (Relation d'un voyage en Angleterre, Cologne, 1666, pp. 63-64). It was, however, Voltaire and the encyclopaedists who raised Bacon to the pinnacle of his fame in France, and hailed him as “le père de la philosophie expérimentale” (Lettres sur les Anglois). Condillac, in the same spirit, says of him, “personne n'a mieux connu que lui la cause de nos erreurs.” So the Encyclopédie, besides giving a eulogistic article “Baconisme,” speaks of him (in d'Alembert's preliminary discourse) as “le plus grand, le plus universel, et le plus éloquent des philosophes.” Among other writers, Leibnitz and Huygens give testimony which is the more valuable as being critical. Leibnitz speaks of Bacon as “divini ingenii vir,” and, like several other German authors, classes him with Campanella; Huygens refers to his “bonnes méthodes.” If, however, we are to attach weight to English writers of the latter half of the 17th century, we shall find that one of Bacon's greatest achievements was the impetus given by his New Atlantis to the foundation of the Royal Society (q.v.). Dr Thomas Sprat (1635-1713), bishop of Rochester and first historian of the society, says that Bacon of all others “had the true imagination of the whole extent” of the enterprise, and that in his works are to be found the best arguments for the experimental method of natural philosophy (Hist. of the Royal Society, pp. 35-36, and Thomas Tenison's Baconiana, pp. 264-266). In this connexion reference should be made also to Cowley's Ode to the Royal Society, and to Dr John Wallis's remarks in Hearne's Preface to P. Langtoft's Chronicle (appendix, num. xi.). Joseph Glanvill, in his Scepsis Scientifica (dedication) says, “Solomon's house in the New Atlantis was a prophetic scheme of the Royal Society”; and Henry Oldenburg (c. 1615-1677), one of the first secretaries of the society, speaks of the new eagerness to obtain scientific data as “a work begun by the single care and conduct of the excellent Lord Verulam.” Boyle, in whose works there are frequent eulogistic references to Bacon, regarded himself as a disciple and was indeed known as a second Bacon. The predominating influence of Bacon's philosophy is thus clearly established in the generation which succeeded his own. There is abundant evidence to show that in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge (especially the latter) the new spirit had already modified the old curricula. Bacon has frequently been disparaged on the ground that his name is not mentioned by Sir Isaac Newton. It can be shown, however, that Newton was not ignorant of Bacon's works, and Dr Fowler explains his silence with regard to them on three grounds: (1) that Bacon's reputation was so well established that any definite mention was unnecessary, (2) that it was not customary at the time to acknowledge indebtedness to contemporary and recent writers, and (3) that Newton's genius was so strongly mathematical (whereas Bacon's great weakness was in mathematics) that he had no special reason to refer to Bacon's experimental principles.

If the foregoing examples are held sufficient to establish the influence of Bacon on the intellectual development of his immediate successors, it follows that the whole trend of typically English thought, not only in natural science, but also in mental, moral and political philosophy, is the logical fulfilment of Baconian principles. He argued against the tyranny of authority, the vagaries of unfettered imagination and the academic aims of unpractical dialectic; the vital energy and the reasoned optimism of his language entirely outweigh the fact that his contributions to the stock of actual scientific knowledge were practically inconsiderable. It may be freely admitted that in the domain of logic there is nothing in the Organum that has not been more instructively analysed either by Aristotle himself or in modern works; at the same time, there is probably no work which is a better and more stimulating introduction to logical study. Its terse, epigrammatic phrases sink into the fibre of the mind, and are a healthy warning against crude, immature generalization.

While, therefore, it is a profound mistake to regard Bacon as a great constructive philosopher, or even as a lonely pioneer of modern thought, it is quite unfair to speak of him as a trifler. His great work consists in the fact that he summed up the faults which the widening of knowledge had disclosed in medieval thought, and in this sense he stands high among those who were in many parts of 16th-century Europe striving towards a new intellectual activity.

Bibliography. Editions.—The classical edition is that of R. L. Ellis, J. Spedding and D. D. Heath, 1st ed., 1857; 2nd ed., 1870 (vols. i.-iii., philosophical writings; iv.-v., translations; vi.-vii., literary and professional works). B. Montagu's edition (17 vols., 1825-1834) is full but unscholarly. An extremely useful reprint (in one volume) of the philosophical works (with a few not strictly philosophical), based on the first Ellis-Spedding edition, was published by J. M. Robertson (London, 1905); besides the original introductions, it contains a useful summary by the editor of the various problems of Bacon's life and thought. Numerous cheap editions have lately been published, e.g. in the “World's Classics” (1901), and “New Universal Library” series (1905); Sidney Lee, English Works of Francis Bacon (London, 1905).

Of particular works there are numerous editions in all the chief languages. The following are the most important:—T. Fowler, Novum Organum (Oxford, 1878; ed. 1889), with notes, full introduction on Bacon's philosophy in all its relations, and a most valuable bibliography. This superseded the edition of G. W. Kitchin (Oxford, 1855). The Essays have been edited more than twenty times since 1870; the following editions may be mentioned:—Archbishop Whately (6th ed., 1864); W. Aldis Wright (Lond., 1862); F. Storr and Gibson (Lond., 1886); E. A. Abbott (Lond., 1879); John Buchan (Lond., 1879); A. S. West (Cambridge, 1897); W. Evans (Edinburgh, 1897). A facsimile reprint of the 1st edition was published in New York (1904). Advancement of Learning:—W. Aldis