Francis Bacon.

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tian priest with regard to the Greeks, that they would forever
remain children, without any antiquity of knowledge or knowl-
edge of antiquity ; for they certainly have this in common with
children, that they are prone to talking, and incapable of gen-
eration, their wisdom being loquacious and unproductive of
effects. Hence the external signs derived from the origin and
birthplace of our present philosophy are not favorable.

J2. Nor are those much better which can be deduced from
the character of the time and age, than the former from that of
the country and nation ; for in that age the knowledge both of


time and of the world was confined and meagre, which is one
of the worst evils for those who rely entirely on experience —
they had not a thousand years of history worthy of that name,
but mere fables and ancient traditions ; they were acquainted
with but a small portion of the regions and countries of the
world, for they indiscriminately called all nations situated far
towards the north Scythians, all those to the west Celts ; they
knew nothing of Africa but the nearest part of Ethiopia, or of
Asia beyond the Ganges, and had not even heard any sure and
clear tradition of the regions of the New World. Besides, a
vast number of climates and zones, in which innumerable na-
tions live and breathe, were pronounced by them to be unin-
habitable ; nay, the travels of Democritus, Plato, and Pythago-
ras, which were not extensive, but rather mere excursions from
home, were considered as something vast. But in our times
many parts of the New World, and every extremity of the Old
are well known, and the mass of experiments has been infinitely
increased ; wherefore, if external signs were to be taken from
the time of the nativity or procreation (as in astrology), nothing
extraordinary could be predicted of these early systems of

73. Of all signs there is none more certain or worthy than
that of the fruits produced, for the fruits and effects are the
sureties and vouchers, as it were, for the truth of philosophy.
Now, from the systems of the Greeks and their subordinate
divisions in particular branches of the sciences during so long
a period, scarcely one single experiment can be culled that has
a tendency to elevate or assist mankind, and can be fairly set
down to the speculations and doctrines of their philosophy.
Celsus candidly and wisely confesses as much, when he ob-
serves that experiments were first discovered in medicine, and
that men afterwards built their philosophical systems upon
them, and searched for and assigned causes, instead of the in-
verse method of discovering and deriving experiments from
philosophy and the knowledge of causes ; it is not, therefore,
wonderful that the Egyptians (who bestowed divinity and
sacred honors on the authors of new inventions) should have
consecrated more images of brutes than of men, for the brutes
by their natural instinct made many discoveries, whilst men
derived but few from discussion and the conclusions of reason.

The industry of the alchemists has produced some effect, by
chance, however, and casualty, or from varying their experi-
ments (as mechanics also do), and not from any regular art or
theory, the theory they have imagined rather tending to disturb
than to assist experiment. Those, too, who have occupied
themselves with natural magic (as they term it) have made but
few discoveries, and those of small import, and bordering on


imposture ; for which reason, in the same manner as we are
cautioned by religion to show our faith by our works, we may
very properly apply the principle to philosophy, and judge of it
by its works, accounting that to be futile which is unproductive,
and still more so if, instead of grapes and olives, it yield but the
thistle and thorns of dispute and contention.

74. Other signs may be selected from the increase and prog-
ress of particular systems of philosophy and the sciences ; for
those which are founded on nature grow and increase, whilst
those which are founded on opinion change and increase not.
If, therefore, the theories we have mentioned were not like
plants, torn up by the roots, but grew in the womb of nature,
and were nourished by her, that which for the last two thousand
years has taken place would never have happened, namely,
that the sciences still continue in their beaten track, and nearly
stationary, without having received any important increase,
nay, having on the contrary rather bloomed under the hands of
their first author, and then faded away. But we see that the
case is reversed in the mechanical arts, which are founded on
nature and the light of experience, for they (as long as they
are popular) seem full of life, and uninterruptedly thrive and
grow, being at first rude, then convenient, lastly polished, and
perpetually improved.

75. There is yet another sign (if such it may be termed, being
rather an evidence, and one of the strongest nature), namely,
the actual confession of those very authorities whom men now
follow ; for even they who decide on things so daringly, yet at
times, when they reflect, betake themselves to complaints about
the subtilty of nature, the obscurity of things, and the weakness
of man's wit. If they would merely do this, they might per-
haps deter those who are of a timid disposition from further
inquiry, but would excite and stimulate those of a more active
and confident turn to further advances. They are not, how-
ever, satisfied with confessing so much of themselves, but con-
sider everything which has been either unknown or unattempt-
ed by themselves or their teachers, as beyond the limits of
possibility, and thus, with most consummate pride and envy,
convert the defects of their own discoveries into a calumny on
nature and a source of despair to every one else. Hence arose
the New Academy, which openly professed scepticism, and
consigned mankind to eternal darkness ; hence the notion that
forms, or the true differences of things (which are in fact the
laws of simple action), are beyond man's reach, and cannot pos-
sibly be discovered ; hence those notions in the active and
operative branches, that the heat of the sun and of fire are
totally different, so as to prevent men from supposing that they
can elicit or form, by means of fire, anything similar to the


operations of nature ; and again, that composition only is the
work of man and mixture of nature, so as to prevent men from
expecting the generation or transformation of natural bodies
by art. Men will, therefore, easily allow themselves to be per-
suaded by this sign not to engage their fortunes and labor in
speculations, which are not only desperate, but actually devoted
to desperation.

76. Nor should we omit the sign afforded by the great dis-
sension formerly prevalent among philosophers, and the variety
of schools, which sufficiently show that the way was not well
prepared that leads from the senses to the understanding, since
the same groundwork of philosophy (namely, the nature of
things), was torn and divided into such widely differing and
multifarious errors. And although in these days the dissensions
and differences of opinions with regard to first principles and
entire systems are nearly extinct, yet there remain innumerable
questions and controversies with regard to particular branches
of philosophy. So that it is manifest that there is nothing sure
or sound either in the systems themselves or in the methods of

yy. With regard to the supposition that there is a general
unanimity as to the philosophy of Aristotle, because the other
systems of the ancients ceased and became obsolete on its pro-
mulgation, and nothing better has been since discovered ;
whence it appears that it is so well determined and founded, as
to have united the suffrages of both ages ; we will observe —
1st. That the notion of other ancient systems having ceased
after the publication of the works of Aristotle is false, for the
works of the ancient philosophers subsisted long after that
event, even to the time of Cicero, and the subsequent ages.
But at a later period, when human learning had, as it were, been
wrecked in the inundation of barbarians into the Roman em-
pire, then the systems of Aristotle and Plato were preserved in
the waves of ages, like planks of a lighter and less solid nature.
2d. The notion of unanimity, on a clear inspection, is found to
be fallacious. For true unanimity is that which proceeds from
a free judgment, arriving at the same conclusion, after an in-
vestigation of the fact. Now, by far the greater number of
those who have assented to the philosophy of Aristotle, have
bound themselves down to it from prejudice and the authority
of others, so that it is rather obsequiousness and concurrence
than unanimity. But even if it were real and extensive unanim-
ity, so far from being esteemed a true and solid confirmation,
it should even lead to a violent presumption to the contrary.
For there is no worse augury in intellectual matters than that
derived from unanimity, with the exception of divinity and
politics, where suffrages are allowed to decide. For nothing


pleases the multitude, unless it strike the imagination or bind
down the understanding, as we have observed above, with the
shackles of vulgar notions. Hence we may well transfer Pho-
cion's remark from morals to the intellect : " That men should
immediately examine what error or fault they have committed,
when the multitude concurs with, and applauds them." This
then is one of the most unfavorable signs. All the signs, there-
fore, of the truth and soundness of the received systems of
philosophy and the sciences are unpropitious, whether taken
from their origin, their fruits, their progress, the confessions of
their authors, or from unanimity.

78. We now come to the causes of errors,^ and of such per-
severance in them for ages. These are sufficiently numerous
and powerful to remove all wonder, that what we now offer
should have so long been concealed from, and have escaped the
notice of mankind, and to render it more worthy of astonish-
ment, that it should even now have entered any one's mind, or
become the subject of his thoughts ; and that it should have
done so, we consider rather the gift of fortune than of any ex-
traordinary talent, and as the offspring of time rather than wit.
But, in the first place, the number of ages is reduced to very nar-
row limits, on a proper consideration of the matter. For out of
twenty-five centuries, with which the memory and learning of
man are conversant, scarcely six can be set apart and selected
as fertile in science and favorable to its progress. For there are
deserts and wastes in times as in countries, and we can only
reckon up three revolutions and epochs of philosophy. 1. The
Greek. 2. The Roman. 3. Our own, that is the philosophy
of the western nations of Europe : and scarcely two centuries
can with justice be assigned to each. The intermediate ages of
the world were unfortunate both in the quantity and richness of
the sciences produced. Nor need we mention the Arabs, or the
scholastic philosophy, which, in those ages, ground down
the sciences by their numerous treatises, more than they in-
creased their weight. The first cause, then, of such insignifi-
cant progress in the sciences, is rightly referred to the small pro-
portion of time which has been favorable thereto.

79. A second cause offers itself, which is certainly of the
greatest importance ; namely, that in those very ages in which
men's wit and literature flourished considerably, or even mod-
erately, but a small part of their industry was bestowed on nat-
ural philosophy, the great mother of the sciences. For every
art and science torn from this root may, perhaps, be polished,
and put into a serviceable shape, but can admit of little growth.
It is well known, that after the Christian religion had been ac-
knowledged, and arrived at maturity, by far the best wits were
busied upon theology, where the highest rewards offered them-



selves, and every species of assistance was abundantly supplied,
and the study of which was the principal occupation of the west-
ern European nations during the third epoch ; the rather be-
cause literature flourished about the very time when controver-
sies concerning religion first began to bud forth. 2. In the
preceding age, during the second epoch (that of the Romans),
philosophical meditation and labor were chiefly occupied and
wasted in moral philosophy (the theology of the heathens) : be-
sides, the greatest minds in these times applied themselves to
civil affairs, on account of the magnitude of the Roman empire,
which required the labor of many. 3. The age during which
the natural philosophy appeared principally to flourish among
the Greeks, was but a short period, since in the more ancient
times the seven sages (with the exception of Thales) applied
themselves to moral philosophy and politics, and at a later pe-
riod, after Socrates had brought down philosophy from heaven
to earth, moral philosophy became more prevalent, and di-
verted men's attention from natural. Nay, the very period
during which physical inquiries flourished, was corrupted and
rendered useless by contradictions, and the ambition of new
opinions. Since, therefore, during these three epochs, natural
philosophy has been materially neglected or impeded, it is not
at all surprising that men should have made but little progress
in it, seeing they were attending to an entirely different matter.

80. Add to this that natural philosophy, especially of late, has
seldom gained exclusive possession of an individual free from
all other pursuits, even among those who have applied them-
selves to it, unless there may be an example or two of some
monk studying in his cell, or some nobleman in his villa. She
has rather been made a passage and bridge to other pursuits.

Thus has this great mother of the sciences been degraded
most unworthily to the situation of a handmaid, and made to
wait upon medicine or mathematical operations, and to wash
the immature minds of youth, and imbue them with a first dye,
that they may afterwards be more ready to receive and retain
another. In the mean time, let no one expect any great prog-
ress in the sciences (especially their operative part), unless
natural philosophy be applied to particular sciences, and partic-
ular sciences again referred back to natural philosophy. For
want of this, astronomy, optics, music, many mechanical arts,
medicine itself, and (what perhaps is more wonderful) moral
and political philosophy, and the logical sciences have no depth,
but only glide over the surface and variety of things ; because
these sciences, when they have been once partitioned out and
established, are no longer nourished by natural philosophy,
which would have imparted fresh vigor and growth to them
from the sources and genuine contemplation of motion, rays,



sounds, texture, and conformation of bodies, and the affections
and capacity of the understanding. But we can little wonder
that the sciences grow not when separated from their roots.

81. There is another powerful and great cause of the little
advancement of the sciences, which is this : it is impossible to
advance properly in the course when the goal is not properly
fixed. But the real and legitimate goal of the sciences, is the
endowment of human life with new inventions and riches. The
great crowd of teachers know nothing of this, but consist of
dictatorial hirelings ; unless it so happen that some artisan of an
acute genius, and ambitious of fame, gives up his time to a new
discovery, which is generally attended with a loss of property.
The majority, so far from proposing to themselves the augmen-
tations of the mass of arts and sciences, make no other use of
an inquiry into the mass already before them, than is afforded
by the conversion of it to some use in their lectures, or to gain,
or to the acquirement of a name, and the like. But if one out
of the multitude be found, who courts science from real zeal,
and on his own account, even he will be seen rather to follow
contemplation, and the variety of theories, than a severe and
strict investigation of truth. Again, if there even be an unus-
ually strict investigator of truth, yet will he propose to himself,
as the test of truth, the satisfaction of his mind and understand-
ing, as to the causes of things long since known, and not such
a test as to lead to some new earnest of effects, and a new light
in axioms. If, therefore, no one have laid down the real end of
science, we cannot wonder that there should be error in points
subordinate to that end.

82. But, in like manner, as the end and goal of science is ill
defined, so, even were the case otherwise, men have chosen an
erroneous and impassable direction. For it is sufficient to as-
tonish any reflecting mind, that nobody should have cared or
wished to open and complete a way for the understanding, set-
ting off from the senses, and regular, well-conducted experi-
ment; but that everything has been abandoned either to the
mists of tradition, the whirl ancl confusion of argument, or the
waves and mazes of chance, and desultory, ill-combined experi-
ment. Now, let anyone but consider soberly and diligently the
nature of the path men have been accustomed to pursue in the
investigation and discovery of any matter, and he will doubtless
first observe the rude and inartificial manner of discovery most
familiar to mankind : which is no other than this. When any-
one prepares himself for discovery, he first inquires and obtains
a full account of all that has been said on the subject by others,
then adds his own reflections, and stirs up and, as it were, in-
vokes his own spirit, after much mental labor, to disclose its
oracles. All which is a method without foundation, and mere-
ly turns on opinion.



Another, perhaps, calls in logic to assist him in discovery,
which bears only a nominal relation to his purpose. For the
discoveries of logic are not discoveries of principles and lead-
ing axioms, but only of what appears to accord with them. And
when men become curious and importunate, and give trouble,
interrupting her about her proofs, and the discovery of princi-
ples or first axioms, she puts them off with her usual answer,
referring them to faith, and ordering them to swear allegiance
to each art in its own department.

There remains but mere experience, which, when it offers it-
self, is called chance ; when it is sought after, experiment.^ But
this kind of experience is nothing but a loose fagot ; and mere
groping in the dark, as men at night try all means of discover-
ing the right road, whilst it would be better and more prudent
either to wait for day, or procure a light, and then proceed. On
the contrary, the real order of experience begins by setting up
a light, and then shows the road by it, commencing with, a reg-
ulated and digested, not a misplaced and vague course of ex-
periment, and thence deducing axioms, and from those axioms
new experiments; for not even the divine word proceeded to
operate on the general mass of things without due order.

Let men, therefore, cease to wonder if the whole course of
science be not run, when all have wandered from the path ; quit-
ting it entirely, and deserting experience, or involving them-
selves in its mazes, and wandering about, whilst a regularly
combined system would lead them in a sure track through itg
wilds to the open day of axioms.

83. The evil, however, has been wonderfully increased by an
opinion, or inveterate conceit, which is both vainglorious and
prejudicial, namely, that the dignity of the human mind is
lowered by long and frequent intercourse with experiments and
particulars, which are the objects of sense, and confined to mat-
ter; especially since such matters generally require labor in
investigation, are mean subjects for meditation, harsh in dis-
course, unproductive in practice, infinite in number, and deli-
cate in + heir subtilty. Hence we have seen the true path not
only deserted, but intercepted and blocked up, experience be-
ing rejected with disgust, and not merely neglected or improp-
erly applied.

84. Again, the reverence for antiquity, and the authority of
men who have been esteemed great in philosophy, and general
unanimity, have retarded men from advancing in science, and
almost enchanted them. As to unanimity, we have spoken of
it above.

The opinion which men cherish of antiquity is altogether
idle and scarcely affords with the term. For the old age and
increasing years of the world should in reality be considered as



antiquity, and this is rather the character of our own times than
of the less advanced age of the world in those of the ancients ;
for the latter, with respect to ourselves, are ancient and elder,
with respect to the world modern and younger. And as we
expect a greater knowledge of human affairs, and more mature
judgment from an old man than from a youth, on account of his
experience, and the variety and number of things he has seen,
heard, and meditated upon, so we have reason to expect much
greater things of our own age (if it knew but its strength and
would essay and exert it) than from antiquity, since the world
has grown older, and its stock has been increased and accu-
mulated with an infinite number of experiments and observa-

We must also take into our consideration that many objects
in nature fit to throw light upon philosophy have been exposed
to our view, and discovered by means of long voyages and trav-
els, in which our times have abounded. It would, indeed, be
dishonorable to mankind, if the regions of the material globe,
the earth, the sea, and stars, should be so prodigiously devel-
oped and illustrated in our age, and yet the boundaries of the
intellectual globe should be confined to the narrow discoveries
of the ancients.

With regard to authority, it is the greatest weakness to at-
tribute infinite credit to particular authors, and to refuse his own
prerogative to time, the author of all authors, and, therefore, of
all authority. For truth is rightly named the daughter of time,
not of authority. It is not wonderful, therefore, if the bonds
of antiquity, authority, and unanimity, have so enchained the
power of man, that he is unable (as if bewitched) to become
familiar with things themselves.

85. Nor is it only the admiration of antiquity, authority, and
unanimity, that has forced man's industry to rest satisfied with
present discoveries, but, also, the admiration of the effects al-
ready placed within his power. For whoever passes in review
the variety of subjects, and the beautiful apparatus collected
and introduced by the mechanical arts for the service of man-
kind, will certainly be rather inclined to admire our wealth than
to perceive our poverty : not considering that the observations
of man and operations of nature (which are the souls and first
movers of that variety) are few, and not of deep research; the
rest must be attributed merely to man's patience, and the deli-
cate and well regulated motion of the hand or of instruments.
To take an instance, the manufacture of clocks is delicate and
accurate, and appears to imitate the heavenly bodies in its
wheels, and the pulse of animals in its regular oscillation, yet
it only depends upon one or two axioms of nature.

Again, if one consider the refinement of the liberal arts, or



even that exhibited in the preparation of natural bodies in me-
chanical arts and the like, as the discovery of the heavenly
motions in astronomy, of harmony in music, of the letters of the
alphabet (still unadopted by the Chinese) in grammar ; or,
again, in mechanical operations, the productions of Bacchus
and Ceres, that is, the preparation of wine and beer, the making
of bread, or even the luxuries of the table, distillation, and the
like ; if one reflect also, and consider for how long a period of
ages (for all the above, except distillation, are ancient) these
things have been brought to their present state of perfection,
and (as we instanced in clocks) to how few observations and
axioms of nature they may be referred, and how easily, and, as
it were, by obvious chance or contemplation, they might be
discovered, one would soon cease to admire and rather pity the
human lot, on account of its vast want and dearth of things and

Online LibraryFrancis BaconAdvancement of learning and novum organum → online text (page 35 of 51)