Reader's Encyclopedia

Bacon, Francis (1561 - 1626)

English philosopher, statesman, and essayist. Bacon served as solicitor general and attorney general under James I and was appointed lord chancellor in 1618. He was created Baron Verulam (1618) and Viscount St. Albans in 1621, the same year in which he was removed from office for accepting a bribe from a litigant. While performing his legal duties for the Crown, Bacon also published works on the philosophy of science and tried unsuccessfully to persuade the king to finance institutions for scientific inquiry.

Violently opposed to speculative philosophies and the syllogistic quibbling of the Schoolmen (see Scholasticism), Bacon argued that the only knowledge of importance to man was empirically rooted in the natural world (see empiricism) and that this knowledge should be amassed and studied in a judicious, systematic fashion. He found merit in the materialist theories of Democritus and even more in the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo. For Bacon, a clear system of scientific inquiry would assure man's mastery over the natural world. He deplored generalizations that might obscure the exceptions to every rule and vigorously sought the negative for every positive, in order to bring both into a unified system of thought. In these respects, his ideas anticipated aspects of utilitarianism, particularly in the work of John Stuart Mill.

Bacon proposed to outline his theory of knowledge in the impossibly ambitious Instauratio Magna. Of this, only two of his projected six parts were successfully completed: The Advancement of Learning, which he expanded in the Latin text De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum (1623), and Novum Organum, in which he outlined his inductive method of investigation of the natural world. Although philosophers and scientists alike repudiated both his theories and his methodology, Bacon's delineation of the principles of an inductive scientific method constituted a breakthrough in the Renaissance approach to science.

Particularly notable among his other works are The New Atlantis, the ideas in which were incorporated in the founding of the Royal Society (1662), and his Essays or Counsels, which included some of his most distinguished writing in English. See Baconian controversy.

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