Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was born into a distin- guished political family in London. After studying three years at Cambridge, he moved to France, where he worked for an ambassador. He returned to England to practice law, and in 1584 he was elected to parlia- ment, eventually rising to the position of lord chan- cellor. Shortly after publication of his most influential work, Novum Organum (New Method) (1620/1994), he was impeached by parliament for accepting bribes. He was levied a heavy fine (which he never paid) and served a brief prison sentence (four days) in the Tower of London. His forced retirement from political mat- ters, at 60 years of age, allowed him to concentrate on science and philosophy, and a number of significant books soon followed.

Bacon has traditionally been listed as the key spokesman for the new science in its revolt against past authorities, especially Aristotle. His sharp wit and brilliant writing style have even tempted some to speculate that he was the true author of the Shakespearean plays. He was a contempo- rary of Galileo, followed Copernicus by almost 100 years, and was 35 years older than Descartes (whom we will consider next). Bacon was a radi- cal empiricist who believed that nature could only be understood by studying it directly and objec- tively. Accounts of how nature should be based on scripture, faith, or any philosophical or theological authority would only hamper one’s efforts to learn how the world actually functions. Bacon authored the following satirical story, which clearly demon- strates his own positivistic approach and his dis- dain for authority:

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