Francis Bacon.

Advancement of learning and novum organum online

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gossip of city and street politicians, instead of the letters and
reports of ambassadors and messengers worthy of credit. Noth-
ing is rightly inquired into, or verified, noted, weighed, or



measured, in natural history ; indefinite and vague observation
produces fallacious and uncertain information. If this appear
strange, or our complaint somewhat too unjust (because Aris-
totle himself, so distinguished a man and supported by the
wealth of so great a king, has completed an accurate history of
animals, to which others with greater diligence but less noise
have made considerable additions, and others again have com-
posed copious histories and notices of plants, metals, and fos-
sils), it will arise from a want of sufficiently attending to and
comprehending our present observations ; for a natural history
compiled on its own account, and one collected for the mind's
information as a foundation for philosophy, are two different
things. They differ in several respects, but principally in this
— the former contains only the varieties of natural species
without the experiments of mechanical arts ; for as in ordinary
life every person's disposition, and the concealed feelings of the
mind and passions are most drawn out when they are disturbed
— so the secrets of nature betray themselves more readily when
tormented by art than when left to their own course. We must
begin, therefore, to entertain hopes of natural philosophy then
only, when we have a better compilation of natural history, its
real basis and support.

99. Again, even in the abundance of mechanical experi-
ments, there is a very great scarcity of those which best inform
and assist the understanding. For the mechanic, little solici-
tous about the investigation of truth, neither directs his atten-
tion, nor applies his hand to anything that is not of service to
his business. But our hope of further progress in the sciences
will then only be well founded, when numerous experiments
shall be received and collected into natural history, which,
though of no use in themselves, assist materially in the dis-
covery of causes and axioms ; which experiments we have
termed enlightening, to distinguish them from those which are
profitable. They possess this wonderful property and nature,
that they never deceive or fail you ; for being used only to dis-
cover the natural cause of some object, whatever be the result,
they equally satisfy your aim by deciding the question.

100. We must not only search for, and procure a greater
number of experiments, but also introduce a completely differ-
ent method, order, and progress of continuing and promoting
experience. For vague and arbitrary experience is (as we
have observed), mere groping in the dark, and rather aston-
ishes than instructs. But when experience shall proceed reg-
ularly and uninterruptedly by a determined rule, we may
entertain better hopes of the sciences.

101. But after having collected and prepared an abundance
and store of natural history, and of the experience required for


the operations of the understanding or philosophy, still the un-
derstanding is as incapable of acting on such materials of itself,
with the aid of memory alone, as any person would be of retain-
ing and achieving, by memory, the computation of an almanac.
Yet meditation has hitherto done more for discovery than writ-
ing, and no experiments have been committed to paper. We
cannot, however, approve of any mode of discovery without
writing, and when that comes into more general use, we may
have further hopes.

102. Besides this, there is such a multitude and host, as it
were, of particular objects, and lying so widely dispersed, as to

, distract and confuse the understanding ; and we can, therefore,
f hope for no advantage from its skirmishing, and quick move-
ments and incursions, unless we put its forces in due order and
array, by means of proper and well arranged, and, as it were,
living tables of discovery of these matters, which are the subject
of investigation, and the mind then apply itself to the ready
prepared and digested aid which such tables afford.

103. When we have thus properly and regularly placed be-
fore the eyes a collection of particulars, we must not immedi-
ately proceed to the investigation and discovery of new par-
ticulars or effects, or, at least, if we do so, must not rest satisfied
therewith. For, though we do not deny that by transferring
the experiments from one art to another (when all the experi-
ments of each have been collected and arranged, and have been
acquired by the knowledge, and subjected to the judgment of a
single individual), many new experiments may be discovered
tending to benefit society and mankind, by what we term literate
experience ; yet comparatively insignificant results are to be
expected thence, whilst the more important are to be derived
from the new light of axioms, deduced by certain method and
rule from the above particulars, and pointing out and defining
new particulars in their turn. Our road is not a long plain, but
rises and falls, ascending to axioms, and descending to effects.

104. Nor can we suffer the understanding to jump and fly
from particulars to remote and most general axioms (such as
are termed the principles of arts and things), and thus prove
and make out their intermediate axioms according to the sup-
posed unshaken truth of the former. This, however, has always
been done to the present time from the natural bent of the un-
derstanding, educated too, and accustomed to this very method,
by the syllogistic mode of demonstration. But we can then only
augur well for the sciences, when the ascent shall proceed by a
true scale and successive steps, without interruption or breach,
from particulars to the lesser axioms, thence to the intermediate
(rising one above the other), and lastly, to the most general.
For the lowest axioms differ but little from bare experiments ;



the highest and most general (as they are esteemed at present),
are notional, abstract, and of no real weight. The intermediate
are true, solid, full of life, and upon them depend the business
and fortune of mankind; beyond these are the really general,
but not abstract, axioms, which are truly limited by the inter-

We must not then add wings, but rather lead and ballast to
the understanding, to prevent its jumping or flying, which has
not yet been done ; but whenever this takes place, we may
entertain greater hopes of the sciences.

105. In forming axioms, we must invent a different form of
induction from that hitherto in use ; not only for the proof and
discovery of principles (as they are called), but also of minor,
intermediate, and, in short, every kind of axioms. The induc-
tion which proceeds by simple enumeration is puerile, leads to
uncertain conclusions, and is exposed to danger from one con-
tradictory instance, deciding generally from too small a number
of facts, and those only the most obvious. But a really useful
induction for the discovery and demonstration of the arts and
sciences, should separate nature by proper rejections and ex-
clusions, and then conclude for the affirmative, after collecting
a sufficient number of negatives. Now this has not been done,
nor even attempted, except perhaps by Plato, who certainly uses
this form of induction in some measure, to sift definitions and
ideas. But much of what has never yet entered the thoughts of
man must necessarily be employed, in order to exhibit a good
and legitimate mode of induction or demonstration, so as even
to render it essential for us to bestow more pains upon it than
have hitherto been bestowed on syllogisms. The assistance of
induction is to serve us not only in the discovery of axioms,
but also in defining our notions. Much indeed is to be hoped
from such an induction as has been described.

106. In forming our axioms from induction, we must ex-
amine and try whether the axiom we derive be only fitted and
calculated for the particular instances from which it is deduced,
or whether it be more extensive and general. If it be the latter,
we must observe, whether it confirm its own extent and gen-
erality by giving surety, as it were, in pointing out new par-
ticulars, so that we may neither stop at actual discoveries, nor
with a careless grasp catch at shadows and abstract forms, in-
stead of substances of a determinate nature: and as soon as
we act thus, well authorized hope may with reason, be said to
beam upon us.

107. Here, too, we may again repeat what we have said
above, concerning the extending of natural philosophy and re-
ducing particular sciences to that one, so as to prevent any



schism or dismembering of the sciences ; without which we
cannot hope to advance.

108. Such are the observations we would make in order to
remove despair and excite hope, by bidding farewell to the
errors of past ages, or by their correction. Let us examine
whether there be other grounds for hope. And, first, if many
useful discoveries have occurred to mankind by chance or op-
portunity, without investigation or attention on their part, it
must necessarily be acknowledged that much more may be
brought to light by investigation and attention, it if be regular
and orderly, not hasty and interrupted. For although it may
now and then happen that one falls by chance upon something
that had before escaped considerable efforts and laborious in-
quiries, yet undoubtedly the reverse is generally the case. We
may, therefore, hope for further, better, and more frequent re-
sults from man's reason, industry, method, and application,
than from chance and mere animal instinct, and the like, which
have hitherto been the sources of invention.

109. We may also derive some reason for hope from the cir-
cumstance of several actual inventions being of such a nature,
that scarcely any one could have formed a conjecture about
them previously to their discovery, but would rather have
ridiculed them as impossible. For men are wont to guess about
new subjects from those they are already acquainted with, and
the hasty and vitiated fancies they have thence formed : than
which there cannot be a more fallacious mode of reasoning, be-
cause much of that which is derived from the sources of things
does not flow in their usual channel.

If, for instance, before the discovery of cannon, one had
described its effects in the following manner : There is a new in-
vention by which walls and the greatest bulwarks can be shaken
and overthrown from a considerable distance ; men would have
begun to contrive various means of multiplying the force of
projectiles and machines by means of weights and wheels, and
other modes of battering and projecting. But it is improbable
that any imagination or fancy would have hit upon a fiery blast,
expanding and developing itself so suddenly and violently,
because none would have seen an instance at all resembling it,
except perhaps in earthquakes or thunder, which they would
have immediately rejected as the great operations of nature,
not to be imitated by man.

So, if before the discovery of silk thread, any one had ob-
served, That a species of thread had been discovered, fit for
dresses and furniture, far surpassing the thread of worsted or
flax in fineness, and at the same time in tenacity, beauty, and
softness ; men would have begun to imagine something about
Chinese plants, or the fine hair of some animals, or the feathers



or down of birds, but certainly would never have had an idea of
its being spun by a small worm, in so copious a manner, and
renewed annually. But if anyone had ventured to suggest the
silkworm, he would have been laughed at as if dreaming of some
new manufacture from spiders.

So again, if before the discovery of the compass, any one had
said, That an instrument had been invented, by which the quar-
ters and points of the heavens could be exactly taken and dis-
tinguished, men would have entered into disquisitions on the
refinement of astronomical instruments, and the like, from the
excitement of their imaginations ; but the thought of anything
being discovered, which, not being a celestial body, but a mere
mineral or metallic substance, should yet in its motion agree
with that of such bodies, would have appeared absolutely in-
credible. Yet were these facts, and the like (unknown for so
many ages) not discovered at last either by philosophy or rea-
soning, but by chance and opportunity ; and (as we have ob-
served), they are of a nature most heterogeneous, and remote
from what was hitherto known, so that no previous knowledge
could lead to them.

We may, therefore, well hope that many excellent and useful
matters are yet treasured up in the bosom of nature, bearing no
relation or analogy to our actual discoveries, but out of the com-
mon track of our imagination, and still undiscovered, and which
will doubtless be brought to light in the course and lapse of
years, as the others have been before them ; but in the way we
now point out, they may rapidly and at once be both repre-
sented and anticipated.

no. There are, moreover, some inventions which render it
probable that men may pass and hurry over the most noble dis-
coveries which lie immediately before him. For however the
discovery of gunpowder, silk, the compass, sugar, paper, or the
like, may appear to depend on peculiar properties of things and
nature, printing at least involves no contrivance which is not
clear and almost obvious. But from want of observing that
although the arrangement of the types of letters required more
trouble than writing with the hand, yet these types once ar-
ranged serve for innumerable impressions, whilst manuscript
only affords one copy ; and again, from want of observing that
ink might be thickened so as to stain without running (which
was necessary, seeing the letters face upwards, and the impres-
sion is made from above), this most beautiful invention (which
assists so materially the propagation of learning) remained un-
known for so many ages.

The human mind is often so awkward and ill-regulated in the
career of invention that it is at first diffident, and then despises
itself. For it appears at first incredible that any such discovery

35 6 BACON

should be made, and when it has been made, it appears incred-
ible that it should so long have escaped men's research. All
which affords good reason for the hope that a vast mass of in-
ventions yet remains, which may be deduced not only from the
investigation of new modes of operation, but also from trans-
ferring, comparing, and applying these already known, by the
method of what we have termed literate experience.

in. Nor should we omit another ground of hope. Let men
only consider (if they will) their infinite expenditure of talent,
time, and fortune, in matters and studies of far inferior impor-
tance and value ; a small portion of which applied to sound and
solid learning would be sufficient to overcome every difficulty.
And we have thought right to add this observation, because we
candidly own that such a collection of natural and experimental
history as we have traced in our own mind, and as is really
necessary, is a great and as it were royal work, requiring much
labor and expense.

112. In the mean time let no one be alarmed at the multitude
of particulars, but rather inclined to hope on that very account.
For the particular phenomena of the arts and nature are in
reality but as a handful, when compared with the fictions of the
imagination removed and separated from the evidence of facts.
The termination of our method is clear, and I had almost said
near at hand ; the other admits of no termination, but only of
infinite confusion. For men have hitherto dwelt but little, or
rather only slightly touched upon experience, whilst they have
wasted much time on theories and the fictions of the imagina-
tion. If we had but anyone who could actually answer our
interrogations of nature, the invention of all causes and sciences
would be the labor of but a few years.

113. We think some ground of hope is afforded by our own
example, which is not mentioned for the sake of boasting, but as
a useful remark. Let those who distrust their own powers
observe myself, one who have amongst my contemporaries been
the most engaged in public business, who am not very strong in
health (which causes a great loss of time), and am the first ex-
plorer of this course, following the guidance of none, nor even
communicating my thoughts to a single individual ; yet having
once firmly entered in the right way, and submitting the powers
of my mind to things, I have somewhat advanced (as I make
bold to think) the matter I now treat of. Then let others con-
sider what may be hoped from men who enjoy abundant leisure,
from united labors, and the succession of ages, after these sug-
gestions on our part, especially in a course which is not con-
fined, like theories, to individuals, but admits of the best dis-
tribution and union of labor and effect, particularly in collecting
experiments. For men will then only begin to know their own


power, when each performs a separate part, instead of under-
taking in crowds the same work.

114. Lastly, though a much more faint and uncertain breeze
of hope were to spring up from our new continent, yet we con-
sider it necessary to make the experiment, if we would not show
a dastard spirit. For the risk attending want of success is not
to be compared with that of neglecting the attempt ; the former
is attended with the loss of a little human labor, the latter with
that of an immense benefit. For these and other reasons it
appears to us that there is abundant ground to hope, and to
induce not only those who are sanguine to make experiment,
but even those who are cautious and sober to give their assent.

115. Such are the grounds for banishing despair, hitherto one
of the most powerful causes of the delay and restraint to which
the sciences have been subjected ; in treating of which we have
at the same time discussed the signs and causes of the errors,
idleness, and ignorance, that have prevailed ; seeing especially
that the more refined causes, which are not open to popular
judgment and observation, may be referred to our remarks on
the idols of the human mind.

Here, too, we should close the demolishing branch of our in-
stauration, which is comprised in three confutations: 1, the
confutation of natural human reason left to itself ; 2, the con-
futation of demonstration ; 3, the confutation of theories, or
received systems of philosophy and doctrines. Our confutation
has followed such a course as was open to it, namely, the expos-
ing of the signs of error, and the producing evidence of the
causes of it ; for we could adopt no other, differing as we do both
in first principles and demonstrations from others.

It is time for us therefore to come to the art itself, and the
rule for the interpretation of nature : there is, however, still
something which must not be passed over. For the intent of
this first book of aphorisms being to prepare the mind for under-
standing, as well as admitting, what follows, we must now, after
having cleansed, polished, and levelled its surface, place it in a
good position, and as it were a benevolent aspect towards our
propositions ; seeing that prejudice in new matters may be pro-
duced not only by the strength of preconceived notions, but also
by a false anticipation or expectation of the matter proposed.
We shall therefore endeavor to induce good and correct opin-
ions of what we offer, although this be only necessary for the
moment, and as it were laid out at interest, until the matter itself
be well understood.

116. First, then, we must desire men not to suppose that we
are ambitious of founding any philosophical sect, like the ancient
Greeks, or some moderns, as Telesius, Patricius, and Severinus.
For neither is this our intention, nor do we think that peculiar


abstract opinions on nature and the principles of things are ot
much importance to men's fortunes, since it were easy to revive
many ancient theories, and to introduce many new ones ; as for
instance, many hypotheses with regard to the heavens can be
formed, differing in themselves, and yet sufficiently according
with the phenomena.

We bestow not our labor on such theoretical, and, at the same
time, useless topics. On the contrary, our determination is
that of trying, whether we can lay a firmer foundation, and ex-
tend to a greater distance the boundaries of human power and
dignity. And although here and there, upon some particular
points, we hold (in our own opinion) more true and certain, and
I might even say, more advantageous tenets than those in gen-
eral repute (which we have collected in the fifth part of our
Instauration), yet we offer no universal or complete theory. The
time does not yet appear to us to be arrived, and we entertain no
hope of our life being prolonged to the completion of the sixth
part of the instauration (which is destined for philosophy dis-
covered by the interpretation of nature), but are content if we
proceed quietly and usefully in our intermediate pursuit, scat-
tering, in the mean time, the seeds of less adulterated truth for
posterity, and, at least, commence the great work.

117. And, as we pretend not to found a sect, so do we neither
offer nor promise particular effects ; which may occasion some
to object to us, that since we so often speak of effects, and con-
sider everything in its relation to that end, we ought also to give
some earnest of producing them. Our course and method,
however (as we have often said, and again repeat), are such as
not to deduce effects from effects, nor experiments from experi-
ments (as the empirics do), but in our capacity of legitimate in-
terpreters of nature, to deduce causes and axioms from effects
and experiments ; and new effects and experiments from those
causes and axioms.

And although anyone of moderate intelligence and ability
will observe the indications and sketches of many noble effects
in our tables of inventions (which form the fourth part of the
Instauration), and also in the examples of particular instances
cited in the second part, as well as in our observations on his-
tory (which is the subject of the third part) ; yet we candidly
confess that our present natural history, whether compiled from
books or our own inquiries, is not sufficiently copious and well
ascertained to satisfy, or even assist, a proper interpretation.

If, therefore, there be any one who is more disposed and pre-
pared for mechanical art, and ingenious in discovering effects,
than in the mere management of experiment, we allow him to
employ his industry in gathering many of the fruits of our his-
tory and tables in this way, and applying them to effects, re-


ceiving them as interest till he can obtain the principal. For
our own part, having a greater object in view, we condemn all
hasty and premature rest in such pursuits as we would Ata-
lanta's apple (to use a common allusion of ours) ; for we are
not childishly ambitious of golden fruit, but use all our efforts
to make the course of art outstrip nature, and we hasten not to
reap moss or the green blade, but wait for a ripe harvest.

118. There will be some, without doubt, who, on a perusal
of our history and tables of invention, will meet with some un-
certainty, or perhaps fallacy, in the experiments themselves, and
will thence perhaps imagine that our discoveries are built on
false foundations and principles. There is, however, really
nothing in this, since it must needs happen in beginnings. For
it is the same as if in writing or printing one or two letters were
wrongly turned or misplaced, which is no great inconvenience
to the reader, who can easily by his own eye correct the error ;
let men in the same way conclude, that many experiments in
natural history may be erroneously believed and admitted,
which are easily expunged and rejected afterwards, by the dis-
covery of causes and axioms. It is, however, true, that if these
errors in natural history and experiments become great, fre-
quent, and continued, they cannot be corrected and amended
by any dexterity of wit or art. If then, even in our natural his-
tory, well examined and compiled with such diligence, strict-
ness, and (I might say) reverential scruples, there be now and
then something false and erroneous in the details, what must

Online LibraryFrancis BaconAdvancement of learning and novum organum → online text (page 37 of 51)