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2. Francis Bacon, the first philosopher of modern science: A non-western view



Francis Bacon was born in January 1561 in Elizabethan England. His father, Sir Nicholas Bacon, held the highest judicial office of State, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, at the court of Elizabeth I. His mother, Anne, was the daughter of Edward VI's tutor, and Anne's sister was married to the Lord Treasurer. Born into this highly political family, the first love of Francis Bacon, it seems, was palace politics. After finishing his education at Trinity College, Cambridge, at the early age of sixteen, he was admitted to Gray's Inn, which he left in 1576 for France. He lived there for a few years under the care of the Queen's ambassador to the French Court. He returned to England for good in February 1579, resumed his studies and then pursued a career in law and politics. It is said that he was adept at palace intrigue, flattery of the powerful, and conspiring against friends. He did prosecute a personal benefactor, the Earl of Essex, and then, after the execution of the Earl, he wrote a pamphlet condemning him, allegedly to curry favour with the Queen. Aided by such means, he rose, slowly, to the position of Lord Keeper (later designated Lord Chancellor) that his father had had. He also obtained the title of Baron Verulam, and later that of Viscount St Albans.

Lord Bacon in his judicial office is known to have misused his authority to torture prisoners and to issue injudicious monopolies to please his superiors at court. He accepted bribes from litigants while occupying the highest judicial chair in England. For this he was impeached by the House of Commons and sentenced by the House of Lords in 1626 to a large fine, imprisonment at the pleasure of the King, and banishment from court for life. The sentence was not fully executed as Lord Bacon died in 1626.1

Despite a hectic political career, Lord Bacon found the time to write a number of literary and philosophical works. These works mainly preach a reorientation to learning, providing a new direction, organization and method for the business of acquiring knowledge about the world. In this attempt he, like Aristotle, wanted to take all knowledge as his domain, even though he criticized Aristotle, often sharply. In his major work, A Treatise on the Advancement of Learning, first written in English in 1605, and later expanded in the Latin version De Augmentis, we find him propounding authoritatively his theories on all subjects under the sun. This book largely defines the new direction and organization of learning and also outlines the ethics and norms of Bacon's ideal society. In his other major work, Novum Organum, published in 1921, Bacon proposed to establish a new method for acquiring knowledge, promising to give humanity a 'new engine' that would simplify the art of discovery and lead men quickly to the final truths about nature.

Bacon wrote his philosophical and literary works at the threshold of the 'modern scientific revolution'. His understanding of the future direction of western society was so exact that in no time knowledge in Europe began to be organized on the lines he had suggested, and academicians everywhere were venerating him as a pioneer. Prophet of the new science, and the new society that Europe was to build, he is still one of its pillars. Much of the scholarship expended on modern science since his time remains more or less true to the Baconian prescription for science and learning. So much so that the modern sciences that have developed since the sixteenth century are often known as Baconian sciences, and modern scholars try to resolve their often irresolvable disputes about the nature and method of modern science by referring to Bacon.2

That a corrupt judge and an unscrupulous politician should be the prophet of a new science and a new society perhaps reflects the nature of that science and society. Also, a study of Bacon's thought and life can be a particularly useful exercise because Bacon, in his time, did not feel the need to clothe his ideas in liberal political terminology and the scholarly jargon that has become a requisite since. Perhaps Bacon could not afford to sound liberal and vague. Liberalism (both in its broad and political senses) was the privilege of later western philosophers and politicians who wrote at a time when the west and western science had already established their dominance over the world. Bacon, writing earlier, had to be clear, precise, and forceful.

In the following pages we shall try to trace the roots of modern science as revealed in Bacon's works, relying mainly on his two major ones: his work as a methodologist of a new science in Novum Organum and as a prophet of the new ethics of knowledge in The Advancement of Learning (De Augmentis). At a time when anyone talking or writing of science finds it expedient to clothe himself in the sophisticated language of the philosophy of science, it is a pleasure to turn to the clarity and precision of Bacon's writing. That is why in the following pages we shall often quote him extensively, hoping that it will help the reader get an idea of the mind from which modern science derives its worldview.

I. The methodologist

Bacon saw himself, and is often seen by others, as a philosopher of science who revolutionized the method of gaining knowledge about the world. He was convinced that the ages before him had failed to make any visible progress in the sciences because they lacked the method. Thus, in The Advancement of Learning he declares:

Invention is of two very different kinds: the one of arts and science, the other of arguments and discourse. The former I set down as absolutely deficient.... And as the immense regions of the West Indies had never been discovered, if the use of the compass had not first been known, it is no wonder that the advancement of arts hath made no greater progress, when the art of inventing and discovering the sciences remains hitherto unknown...' 3 [my italics]

And again in Novum Organum:

Let men, therefore, cease to wonder if the whole course of science be not run, when all have wandered from the path, quitting it entirely, and deserting experience, or involving themselves in mazes, and wandering about, whilst a regularly combined system would lead them in a sure track, through its wilds to the day of axioms;... (I. 82)4

He was also convinced that he had arrived at the correct method which would lead people 'in a sure track to the day of axioms', through the use of which, 'if we had but anyone who could actually answer our interrogations of nature, the invention of all causes and sciences would be the labour of but a few years' (I. 112). An entire treatise, the Novum Organum, was devoted to expounding his methodological discoveries, which he declared was 'more important than the rest' of his work.

And as there are three ways of walking, viz., either by feeling out one's way in the dark; or 2. when being dismighted, another leads one by the hand; and 3, by directing one's steps by a light; so when a man tries all kinds of experiments without method or order, this is mere groping in the dark; but when he proceeds with some direction and order in his experiments, it is as if he were led by the hand; and this we understand by learned experience; but for the light itself, which is the third way, it must be derived from the Novum Organum.5

It is not surprising that Bacon is best known as the originator of the 'scientific method' of discovery, or a 'new machine for the mind' as Bacon himself prefers to call it.

Nature of the Method

The method that Bacon claims to have discovered is the dream-method of a positivist; a set of rules which allows the understanding 'to proceed by a true scale and successive steps, without breach and interruption, from particular to the lesser axioms, thence to the intermediate (rising one above the other), and lastly, to the most general' (I. 104). And thus it allows one to found 'a real model of the world in the understanding, such as it is found to be, not such as man's reason has distorted' (I. 124).

The method is such that it leaves no scope for the freedom of a person's mind; it leads the mind along the correct path, 'not leaving it to itself, but directing it perpetually from the very first, and attaining our end as it were by mechanical aid'.6 It is so mechanical 'as to leave little to the acuteness and strength of wit, and to rather level wit and intellect. For as in the drawing of a straight line, or accurate circle by the hand, much depends upon its steadiness and practice, but if a ruler or compass be employed, there is little occasion for either, so it is with our method' (I. 61).

Bacon is quite aware that the human understanding, left to itself, does not act as a mechanical engine. Man sees the world in his own image. And this image derives its features from the nature of the mind in general, from the idiosyncrasies of the individual, from the individual's interaction with others, and from the philosophical dogmas current at the time. Bacon realized that these aspects of the human condition which intervene between the world and man's understanding of it are important constraints on human knowledge. He formulated the famous doctrine of the Four Idols (I. 39-68) in a lucid exposition of the constraints under which the human understanding operates. The constraints are grouped under four categories: the Idols of the Tribe, the Idols of the Den, the Idols of the Market and the Idols of the Theatre respectively. Bacon holds that:

(i) The Idols of the Tribe are inherent in human nature and the very tribe and race of man;... all the perceptions both of the senses and the mind bear reference to man and not to the universe, and the human mind resembles those uneven mirrors which impart their own properties to different objects, from which rays are emitted and distort and disfigure them. (I. 41)

He then lists the numerous features that define the structure of human understanding. It is tempting to quote at least a few of these to illustrate how keenly Bacon was aware of the way the human mind constructs the world according to its own predispositions:

The human understanding, from its peculiar nature, easily supposes a greater degree of order and equality in things, than it really finds... (I. 45)

The human understanding is, by its own nature, prone to abstraction, and supposes that which is fluctuating to be fixed. But it is better to dissect than abstract nature; such was the method employed by the school of Democritus, which made greater progress in penetrating nature than the rest... (I. 51)

The human understanding resembles not a dry light, but admits a tincture of the will and passions, which generate their own system accordingly, for man always believes more readily that which he prefers. (I. 49)

Such are the idols of the tribe, which arise either from the uniformity of the constitution of man's spirit, or its prejudices, or its limited faculties or restless agitation, or from the interference of the passions, or the incompetency of the sense, or the mode of their impression. (I. 52)

(ii) The idols of the den derive their origin from the peculiar nature of each individuals's mind and body, and also from education, habit, and accident... (I. 53)

(iii) [The idols of the market are] formed in the reciprocal intercourse and society of man with man. (I. 43)

[This intercourse has to be necessarily carried out through the medium of words and names. And the idols of the market are the ones which] have entwined themselves round the understanding from the association of words and names. For men imagine that their reason governs words, whilst, in fact, words react upon the understanding... (I. 50)

(iv) Lastly, there are idols which have crept into men's minds from the various dogmas of peculiar systems of philosophy.... We regard all the systems of philosophy hitherto received or imagined, as so many plays brought out and performed, creating fictitious and theatrical worlds. (I. 44)

These idols of the theatre are not innate, nor do they introduce themselves secretly into the understanding, but they are manifestly instilled and cherished into the memory by the fictions of theories and depraved rules of demonstration. (I. 61)

Bacon conducts this phenomenological exercise of clearly listing the various ways through which the human mind can colour human knowledge of the world not to point out the innate limitations of human knowledge, but to exhort us to get rid of them:

We have now treated of each kind of idols, and their quantities, all of which must be abjured and renounced with firm and solemn resolution, and the understanding must be completely freed and cleared of them, so that the access to the kingdom of man, which is founded on the sciences, may resemble that to the kingdom of heaven, where no admission is conceded except to children. (I. 68)

Bacon is not naive enough to believe that these idols, some of which, according to him, are rooted in the very structure of the human understanding, can be eliminated by mere exhortation. He is convinced that the method of true induction which he has discovered is potent enough to free the understanding from these idols. In fact, for him 'the formation of notions and axioms on the foundation of true induction is the only fitting remedy by which we can ward off and expel these idols' (I. 40). And this true inductive method, the Novum Organum, will help man move away from the idols of the human mind to the ideas of the Divine mind - 'from idle dogmas to the real stamp of created objects as they are found in nature'. Let us see how far this promise of a sure mechanical method is fulfilled in Bacon.

An Outline of the Method

Bacon gives us an outline of his conception of the scientific method in Book 1 of the Novum Organum (I. 100-7). This method involved collection of particulars through observation and systematic experimentation (I. 100), putting down this data in writing (I. 101) in a proper and well arranged fashion (I. 102), deriving axioms by certain method and rules from the above particulars (I. 103), and finally deriving new particulars from these axioms so that the axioms could confirm their own extent and generality (I. 106). Thus the scientific method in Bacon's conception is what all of us regard as the only method; observation, induction of axioms from the observed and testing those axioms in further observation. In Bacon's words:

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 experiments (as the empirics do), but in our capacity of legitimate interpreters of nature, to deduce causes and axioms from effects and experiments; and new effects and experiments from those causes and axioms. (I. 117)

Bacon is wary both of the empiricists who refuse to generalize beyond the limited particulars of their observation, and the sophists or theologists who make no or little contact with experiment. For him,

There are three sources of error and three species of false philosophy; the sophistic, the empiric and the superstitious (I. 62).... Aristotle affords the most eminent instance of the first; for he corrupted natural philosophy by logic - thus he formed the world of categories,... being everywhere more anxious as to definitions in teaching and the accuracy of the wording of his propositions, than the internal truth of things. Nor is much stress to be laid on his frequent recourse to experiment in his books on animals, his problems and other treatises, for he had already decided, without having properly consulted experience as the basis of his decisions and axioms, and after having so decided, he drags experiments along as a captive constrained to accommodate herself to his decisions; so that he is even more to be blamed than his modern followers [of the scholastic school] who have deserted her altogether (I. 73).... The empiric school produces dogmas of a more deformed and monstrous nature than the sophistic or theoretic school; not being founded in the light of common notions (which however poor and superstitious, is yet in a manner universal and of general tendency), but in the confined obscurity of a few experiments.... We have a strong instance of this in the alchemists and their dogmas; it could be difficult to find another in this age, unless perhaps in the philosophy of Gilbert (I. 64).... The corruption of philosophy by the mixing up of it with superstition and theology is of much wider extent, and is most injurious to it both as a whole and in parts. Against it we must use the greatest caution, for the apotheosis of error is the greatest evil of all, and when folly is worshipped, it is, as it were, a plague spot upon the understanding. Yet some of the moderns have indulged this folly with such consummate skill that they have endeavoured to build a system... of natural philosophy on the first chapter of genesis... [though] it is most wise to render unto faith the things that are faith's. (I. 68)

The true Baconian method thus achieves a golden mean, avoiding the pitfalls of both the empirics and the sophists, and Bacon expresses his conception of the method in a poetic vein:

Those who have treated of sciences have been either empirics or dogmatical. The former like ants only heap up and use their store, the latter like spiders spin out their own webs. The bee, a mean between both, extracts matter from flowers of the garden and the field, but works and fashions it by its own efforts. The true labour of philosophy resembles hers, for it neither relies entirely nor principally on the powers of the mind, nor yet lays up in the memory the matter afforded by the experiments of natural history and mechanics in its raw state, but changes and works it in the understanding. (I. 95)

It is obvious that the method outlined above is not a new one. Men have always reasoned from the particular to the general, and no generalizations which were not confirmed in their effects could have survived. In Bacon's England, which was just emerging from the scholastic age, his strong exhortation to come back 'to particulars and their regular series and order, and renounce their notions and begin to form an acquaintance with things', must have been of great value. It must have been important to remind schoolmen that 'the human mind, if it acts upon matters, and contemplates the nature of things, and the works of God, operates according to the stuff, and is limited thereby, but if it works upon itself as the spider does, then it produces cobwebs of learning, admirable indeed for the fineness of thread, but of no substance or profit.'7 But we cannot possibly attribute any novelty to this method. Further, even if it were novel it is just not adequate to fulfil the Baconian promise of a certain and sure method that would lead from the idols of the mind to the ideas of the Divine. Such ideas are so deep-rooted that they always intervene between the world and our conception of it, and as Bacon knows, 'many theories can be deduced from the phenomenon of the sky' (I. 62).

In fact, Bacon is aware of both these objections (I. 125). His reply is that it is the 'new inductive' method which will make the process of going from the particular to the general a smooth, mechanical process unaffected by any idols that the mind may harbour, unaffected even by the level of intelligence and wit of the individual.

The whole of Book I is in the nature of an introduction to the new induction that Bacon develops in the second book. It is a moving introduction. Bacon surveys the whole field of thought, shows the incapacities it has been heir to, gives glimpses of his remedies to these infirmities, lists the causes of the failures of earlier times and earlier people, and the reasons for hope, the most important of them being that he can now bestow upon humanity a mechanical method of discovery, an aid for the mind, an inductive engine, the Novum Organum.

The New Induction: Book II

In the second book of the Novum Organum, Bacon, after some abstruse remarks about the nature and objectives of knowledge, quickly comes to the question of defining the rules of his method. He begins by repeating the outline of the scientific method already given in Book I, and it may be appropriate to repeat it here to make clear the important place that the rules for induction occupy in the Baconian framework. He defines the scientific method, which according to him is the method that allows interpretation of nature as against merely 'anticipations of nature' that have been obtained by the ancients, in the following words:

The signs for the interpretation of nature comprehend two divisions, the first regards the eliciting or creating of axioms from experiment, the second the deducing or deriving of new experiments from axioms. The first admits of three subdivisions into ministrations: I. To the senses, c. To the memory, 3. To the mind or reason. For we must first prepare as a foundation for the whole, a complete and accurate natural and experimental history.... But natural and experimental history is so varied and diffuse, that it confounds and distracts understanding unless it be fixed and exhibited in due order.... Even when this is done, the understanding, left to itself and its own operation, is incompetent and unfit to construct its axioms without direction and support. Our third ministration, therefore, must be true and legitimate induction, the very key of interpretation. (II. 10)

Induction, therefore, is to help as a 'mechanical aid' to understanding so that it does not fall prey to its usual incompetencies, including its idols. Immediately after the aphorism quoted above, Bacon lists the various steps involved in induction, which he illustrates by an investigation of the 'form of heat'.8

The first step in the Baconian inductive process is the collection of all instances that exhibit the presence of the 'nature' being investigated. This collection is to form the 'Table of Existence and Presence'. Their collection is to 'be made as a mere history and without any premature reflection, or too great degree of refinement' (II. 11). Thus, for the example of heat, Bacon puts together in this Table of Existence twenty-seven instances of the presence of heat at random. In the table we find instances as varied as 'the rays of the sun particularly in summer, and at noon', and 'a severe and intense cold' which also 'produces a sensation of burning'.

The second step is to construct the 'Table of Deviation' or of 'Absence in Proximity'. Under this table instances are collected which agree with or resemble those in the 'Table of Presence', but differ from those in that the 'given nature' is absent. Thus the 'proximate instance wanting in the nature of Heat' corresponding to the presence of it in 'the rays of the sun, particularly in summer and at noon', is afforded by the 'rays of the moon, stars, and comets' which 'are not found to be warm to the touch'.

The third step is to record the data on variations of the degree of the given nature in the same body at different times, and also in comparison with different objects. This is because 'no nature can be considered a real form which does not uniformly diminish and increase with the given nature'. This collection is to be called the 'Table of Degrees', or 'Comparative Instances'.

Armed with these tables, one is finally ready to start the process of induction. This is to be carried out through the process of Exclusions, keeping in mind 'that not only is each table sufficient for the rejection of any nature, but even each single instance contained in them'. For it is clear 'that every contradictory instance destroys a hypothesis as to the form' (II. 18). Thus the next step in this method is formation of the 'Exclusive Table'. This table is supposed to indicate what phenomena are not essential to the form of the nature being investigated. For example, in the case of heat the Exclusive Table tells us that:

I. On account of the sun's rays, reject elementary [terrestrial] nature...


XI. On account of the expansion of the air in the thermometers and the like, which is absolutely moved and expanded to the eye, yet acquires no manifest increase of heat, [again] reject absolute or expansive motion of the whole [as the form of heat]. (II. 18)

The process of induction so far has proceeded more or less mechanically as promised. Though one suspects that a mere listing of instances which agree in the form of heat, and instances which are wanting in the nature of heat, already requires some idea of what 'heat' is and one is afraid that the so-called Idols of the Market associated with the word 'heat' have some effect on the way these tables are formed. This seems to be the only way of explaining how instances like 'aromatic substances and warm plants' creep into the Table of Presence of heat. Again, in the formation of the Table of Exclusions one finds some evidence of the interference of the various Idols of the Mind. For example, the rejection of the 'expansive motion of the whole' in the example noted above does not seem to be indicated so much by the observation that thermometers acquire no manifest increase in heat (they do!); but by a preformed notion, which at this stage can only be called an Idol of the Theatre, that 'heat is not a uniform expansive motion of the whole, but of the small particles of the body' (II. 20).9 This Idol seems to have affected Bacon's observation. It would be absurd to cavil at Bacon's tables from the twentieth-century viewpoint; the important point is that even this mechanical process of first compiling the various tables does not seem to be free of the influence of the idols that it is Bacon's main purpose here to exorcise.

The next step in the Baconian inductive process is, however, absolutely baffling. Having formed the 'Tables of Presence', 'Tables of Absence in Proximity', 'Tables of Degrees', and 'Tables of Exclusions', and yet not having arrived at an axiom about the form of the nature to be investigated, Bacon advises us now to leave the mechanical path and form what we call a 'hypothesis'. Bacon calls it 'The First Vintage' and gives an ingenious reason for now finally letting the understanding run free:

Since, however, truth emerges more readily from error than confusion, we consider it useful to leave the understanding at liberty to exert itself and attempt the interpretation of nature in the affirmative, after having constructed and weighed the three tables of preparation, such as we have laid them down, both from instances there collected, and others occurring elsewhere. Which attempt we are wont to call the liberty of the understanding or the commencement of interpretation or the first vintage.

The first vintage that Bacon obtains from his elaborate inductive exercise on the form of heat is that

Heat is an expansive motion restrained, and striving to exert itself in the smaller particles. The expansion is modified by its tendency to rise, though expanding towards its exterior; and the effort is modified by its not being sluggish, but active and somewhat violent. (II. 20)

How correct this inductive hypothesis is in the light of modern physics' conception of heat is irrelevant. In fact a comparison is impossible, because the modern physicist's world is peopled by atoms and molecules, while Bacon's smaller particles are 'not the very minutest particles, but... rather those of some tolerable dimension'. However, one thing is clear; a hypothesis like the above, claiming that 'heat is a motion... of the smaller particles', could not have been formed by someone completely free of all Idols. No amount of observation, negation and exclusion is likely to lead to such a hypothesis. In fact, Bacon concedes this when he finally agrees to let the understanding be free and form its own hypothesis. And the hypothesis that he makes is, interestingly, a statement of the seventeenth century 'Idol of the Theatre' which asserted that the appropriate explanation of all phenomena is in terms of the size, shape, position and motion of the elementary corpuscles of the base matter.10

After explaining this step-wise process of induction, Bacon then lists the 'remaining helps of the understanding, that are necessary for a 'true and perfect induction'. These helps include: (1) Prerogative Instances, (2) Supports of Induction, (3) Correction of Induction, (4) Varying Investigation according to the nature of the subject, (5) Prerogative Natures, or what should be investigated first and what last, (6) Limits of Investigation, or a Synopsis of all natures that exist in the Universe, (7) Applications to Practice, (8) Preparation for Investigation, and (9) Ascending and descending Scale of Axioms.

Bacon deals at length with only the first of these additional aids in his Novum Organum. He isolates twenty-seven ranks of Prerogative Instances, and gives examples of each from various fields of science. The whole exposition is long-winded and abstruse, quite unlike the crystal-clear, prophetic style of Bacon in the first Book - and is full of factual errors. It is surprising that the learned Bacon, the prophet of science, living at the time of Gilbert and Galileo (both of whom he condemns) was not aware of many of the simple achievements of the science of his time. Mercifully, Bacon does not pursue his attempt at offering all his 'helps of understanding' in detail, though he ends Book II with the confident assertion that 'we must next, however, proceed to the supports and correction of induction' (II. 52). He never picks up these other parts of his induction, and here ends Bacon's methodological adventure.

How do we assess this? The first question we must ask is: Does this new induction fulfil the purpose for which it has been invented - that of providing a mechanical aid to understanding so that it does not get influenced by its own idols and is able to move through 'certain methods and rules' to the 'ideas of the Divine mind'? Is it 'the fitting remedy by which we can ward off and expel the idols'? We have partly answered this question by showing that the method does deviate from its mechanistic ideal in inviting the understanding to form a hypothesis, albeit after tabulating the elements selected. This exercise in hypothesis-formation, which is surely non-mechanical, is likely to be vitiated by prevalent notions, and it seems that Bacon was himself influenced in his hypothesis on the form of heat by the prevalent mechano-corpuscular worldview of the seventeenth century. As one reads Book Ii of the Novum Organum, one encounters more and more examples of observation being influenced by hypothesis, hypothesis being influenced by prevalent notions, ambiguous meanings of words generating ambiguous experiment and theory, and so on. Here we shall give just two such instances.

First, in the 'First Vintage of the form of Heat', we find the following hypothesis: 'The motion of heat is both expansive and tending upwards.' In support of this hypothesis Bacon makes the following observation:

This difference is shown by putting the tongs or poker into the fire. If placed perpendicularly with the hand above, they soon burn it, but much less speedily, if the hand hold them sloping or from below.

From our modern vantage-point this hypothesis seems absurd; we 'know' that heat does not exhibit any such behaviour. But, then, how did Bacon confirm his hypothesis in experiment? Perhaps the explanation lies in the open-fire furnaces that were the only source of heat in Bacon's time and which do direct heat upwards. Today if we were to test Bacon's hypothesis we would take pains to design a furnace that directs heat isotropically. Thus it seems Bacon was not 'wrong' in his hypothesis. He was talking about a different type of heat, the only type which would have been available to any experimenter unless he was already convinced that heat flows isotropically and went about designing a furnace that would prove this latter hypothesis. One is reminded of Kuhn's observation based on the history of Baconian sciences that the very experimental data on which a hypothesis is based starts changing when the hypothesis is changed. Thus, as Kuhn tells us, before Dalton's theory became acceptable, chemists saw all sorts of ratios between the various elements forming a compound. Proust's own measurements of the two oxides of copper yielded, for example, an oxygen weight ratio of 1.47:1 instead of the 2:1 demanded by the atomic theory. And Proust was a fine experimentalist. By the time, however, the atomic theory was finally accepted nature had been beaten into line to fit the theory. At the end, even the percentage composition of well-known compounds had changed. In fact the meaning of the term 'compound' itself had changed by then.11 Such is the influence of the idols that Bacon sets out to exorcise, and fails.

For our second example, we shall take a prerogative instance of the sixth rank which includes instances that show physical parallels or resemblances with other forms (II. 27). Talking of such instances Bacon proposes the following:

The scrotum of males and the matrix of females are also similar instances; so that the noble formation which constitutes the difference of the sexes appears to differ only as to the one being internal and the other external; a greater degree of heat causing the genitals to protrude in the male, whilst the heat of the female being too weak to effect this they are retained internally.

How many idols have gone into making this absurd observation: (1) an attempt to see a higher degree of order and equality in things than really exists; an attempt to force resemblances: an idol of the Tribe (I. 45); (2) an attempt to explain diverse phenomena through his pet theory of heat as an expansive motion: an idol of the Den (I. 54); (3) an equation of heat with vitality, derived from normal usage of the word heat: an Idol of the Market (I. 59); (4) an assumption that the heat of the female is weaker than that of the male, obviously derived from the contemporary worldview: an Idol of the Theatre (I. 62).

Thus one sees Bacon, in spite of his method, falling into the very traps he had discerned and analysed. We happen to recognize the influence of these idols here not because we have a superior method, but because we no longer believe in the idols that were current in Bacon's time. We have our own idols, and only those who are free of them will be able to see the flaws in arguments that we take for granted. In spite of Bacon and his method, we have to live with the knowledge that our knowledge of the world is always tinctured with the peculiar assumptions that we hold. There are no royal roads to the ideas of the Divine. We as humans can aspire only to human knowledge. Bacon's method does not come up to his positivist dream: it does not free man from his idols. It could not free Bacon from his.

Now we turn to Bacon's second claim, of having discovered a new method. Is the new induction described above really new? The answer depends upon how you view the method. If it is taken as a procedural discovery, that is, if the actual drawing up of tables of review and exclusions before going through the exercise of constructing a hypothesis is taken as a necessary component of induction, then the method is obviously new. Nobody before Bacon had followed this prescription, but unfortunately, nor did anybody after him follow it, not even the western scientists who claim to be in the tradition of Baconian science. Bacon can claim novelty only at the cost of becoming irrelevant. However, one may look upon the method as useful general advice, to keep all the experimental information summed up in various tables in mind while making an induction. In which case, the induction Bacon is talking about turns out to be a very ordinary affair. As Macaulay rather irreverently describes it in his 'Essay on Bacon', induction is something 'which we are all doing from morning to night, and which we continue to do in our dreams. A plain man finds his stomach out of order. He has never heard of Lord Bacon's name. But he proceeds in strictest conformity with the rules laid down in the second book of Novum Organum, and satisfies himself that minced pies have done the mischief. "I ate minced pies on Monday and Wednesday, and I was kept awake by indigestion all night." This is the Table of Presence. "I did not eat any on Tuesday and Friday, and I was quite well." This is the Table of Absence in Proximity. "I ate very sparingly of them on Sunday, and was very slightly indisposed in the evening. But on Christmas day I almost dined on them, and was so ill that I was in great danger." This is the Table of Degrees. "It cannot have been the brandy which I took with them. For I have drunk brandy daily for years without being the worse for it." This is the Table of Exclusion. Our invalid then proceeds to what is termed by Bacon as the First Vintage, and pronounces that minced pies do not agree with him.'12 True, the invalid has performed all these steps instinctively. We can give Bacon the credit for making these steps explicit, for perhaps being the first to have analysed induction in the western tradition, for having done for induction what Aristotle had done for logic. But Aristotle did not discover logic, and Bacon discovered no 'new' induction.

Once we recognize that Bacon's method should be looked upon not as a new method but as an analysis of the inductive process, we begin to realize how perspicacious this analysis is. He strongly emphasizes the importance of the negative instance in carrying out a true induction, a point on which Karl Popper has constructed a whole theory of falsifiability. In fact, Bacon's grouse against the method of induction prevalent in his day seems to be that it did not accord sufficient attention to the negative instance and induced axioms from what Bacon calls simple enumeration. This process, Bacon declares, is wrong.

From a bare enumeration of particulars in the logical manner, follows a wrong conclusion, nor does such an induction infer anything more than a probable conjecture. For who will undertake, when the particulars of a man's knowledge of memory appear only on one side, that something directly opposite shall not lie concealed on the other?13

In Novum Organum he expresses the same sentiment more picturesquely:

It was well answered by him who was shown in a temple the votive tablets suspended by such as had escaped the peril of shipwreck, and was pressed as to whether he should then recognise the power of gods, by an enquiry: But where are the portraits of those who have perished in spite of those vows. (I. 46)

This emphasis on the negative instance in induction is important. However, if we follow Bacon's instruction on the negative instance to the letter, that any single negative instance must be sufficient to reject any hypothesis (II. 18) - we find that while the method is novel, nobody follows it. If we take it as an analysis of the inductive process where negative instances are generally important, then there cannot be anything new about it. One cannot think of anyone in the history of science who induced a hypothesis which was patently negatived even before being established, even though Bacon claims that before him all induction was mere simple enumeration.

Thus, whichever way we look at the new induction presented in Novum Organum, we cannot accept that Lord Bacon had really any new methodological concept to offer at the beginning of the so-called 'scientific revolution'. Nor can we accept that Bacon's method would lead to ultimate truths, uncoloured by the social and individual perceptions of reality, to which people had earlier had no access because of their lack of 'method'. Hence, the credit due to Bacon for being the herald of a revolution in human knowledge - which he undoubtedly was, as the philosopher of the Western scientific revolution - cannot be on account of his methodological contributions. The elements of this revolution must be looked for elsewhere in Bacon's thought - in his ideas about the organization of science and society, about the objective of knowledge, in his ethics and in his politics - to which we shall turn in the next section.

However, in this elaborate methodological exercise, which he considered to be more important than the rest of his work, we can already see a major element of the Baconian conception of science. He wanted the new science to be seen as a faithful representation of the truth about the world, as a transcript of the divine mind. Even though Bacon failed to produce the promised 'new engine' that would lead the human mind from merely human knowledge to ideas of the Divine, the idea of constructing epistemologies that would somehow prove the unique absolute truth of the Baconian sciences has remained. And while philosophers have been making prodigious efforts to provide a methodology that might show the Baconian sciences to be true, everyone involved has meanwhile assumed that what developed as modern western science since Bacon has a claim to absolute, unique truth, whether it can be proved or not. Thus, though Bacon failed in his methodological exercise, he succeeded in establishing the idea of according a mere human discipline the sanctity of divine truth. Even that idea was perhaps not very new in the western world, since at about that time, the American continent was being decimated in the name of the absolute truth of Christianity. However, Bacon successfully channelled the idea of absolute truth into a new direction. He gave a clear exposition of the new direction that the western idea of absolute truth was to take. This is what makes Bacon the prophet of the industrial society.

II. The prophet

While Bacon's claim to be the methodologist of the new science that emerged in Europe is often disputed, his position as the prophet of a new culture in which the new science took root is universally acknowledged. Even Macaulay - who ridiculed Bacon's methodological claims, and felt indignation and con tempt for the despicable acts for which Bacon was responsible as a lawyer and a politician - seems to be spellbound by the prophetic 'moral and intellectual constitution which enabled Bacon to exercise so vast an influence on the world'. Even Macaulay allowed that he was one of those few imperial spirits whose rare prerogative it was to give the human mind' a direction which it would retain for ages. Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833), in his moving petition to the Governor-General for the provision in India of a new Education that would instruct the 'natives' in the subtleties of the new culture, referred to Lord Bacon as the dividing line between the old and the new. In fact, his protest against the Sanskrit schools, that 'the pupils will thereby acquire what was known two thousand years ago, with the addition of vain and empty subtleties since pro duced by speculative men, such as is already taught in all parts of India', echoes Bacon in both style and content. Rammohun Roy even accords Bacon the status of a prophet for India:

If it had been intended to keep the British nation in ignorance of real knowledge, the Baconian philosophy could not have been allowed to displace the system of the schoolmen, which was the best calculated to perpetuate their ignorance. In the same manner the Sanskrit system of education would be the best calculated to keep this country in darkness if that had been the policy of the British Legislature.14

Bacon's reputation as the prophet of the new culture of the west has persisted to our day. Thus, Farrington, writing in 1951, devotes his popular book on Bacon to undo the impression that Bacon was a failed methodologist of new science and to assign him his 'rightful place as the founder of English materialism'.15 Therefore, to understand Bacon, and the scientific revolution he presaged, it is important to look at the new moral, ethical and cultural ideas that he was preaching.

The first element in the Baconian cultural-ethical complex is the freeing of knowledge from the constraints of the prevalent ideas of good and evil. Bacon declares this freedom of knowledge in the first few pages of his major work, Advancement of Learning. And, curiously, he manages to have his God on his side in this plan. In his oft-quoted words:

It was not the pure knowledge of nature, by the light whereof man gave names to all the creatures in Paradise, agreeable to their nature, that occasioned the fall; but the proud knowledge of good and evil, with an intent in man to give law to himself, and depend no more upon God.16

This proposition becomes more explicit later in Novum Organum. There we find Bacon strongly censuring those who tend to mix 'natural philosophy' with religion and faith: 'They celebrate the union of faith and senses as though it were legitimate, with great pomp and solemnity, and gratify men's pleasing minds with a variety, but in the meantime confound most improperly things divine and human' (I. 89). And he exhorts all to free natural philosophy from this 'corruption' while rendering unto faith the things that are faith's (I. 65); though, as we shall see later, the things that are faith's in the Baconian conception turn out to be precious few.

Though separating knowledge from ethics is a basic component of the Baconian culture, it does not amount to making a separation between 'facts' and 'values' - as it is often portrayed and understood. Bacon does not want knowledge to be pursued for its own sake, or that it be freed from all values. Having freed knowledge from all constraints of good and evil, he subjects it to a new overriding constraint - it should generate power. Power and utility are in fact the key-words of Bacon's thought. These words appear as the principal values in everything that Bacon has written. For him the value of power and utility is so great that often truth, power and utility become identical concepts in his perception. Thus we find him saying in the Novum Organum:

Truth, therefore, and utility, are here perfectly identical, and effects are of more value as pledges of truth than from the benefit they confer on man (I. 24)... There is a most intimate connection between the ways of human power and human knowledge... and that which is most useful in practice is most correct in theory. (II. 4)


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