Sir Francis Bacon
Sir Francis Bacon


"Knowledge itself is power."

- Francis Bacon, Meditationes Sacrae (1597).


Francis Bacon (22 January 1561 - 9 April 1626) was an English philosopher, scientist, statesman, and essayist. Bacon is recognized as the "Father of Empiricism and the Scientific Method" due to the significant contributions he made throughout his lifetime to scientific and philosophical thought. Bacon also had a political career, whose legacy later influenced European law.


Francis Bacon confesses to Parliament, 1621
Francis Bacon confesses to Parliament, 1621

Political Career

After completing a law degree at age 21, Bacon was elected to Parliament as a member for Melcombe, an region in Dorset, England. He remained a Member of Parliament as a representative of several constituencies until 1620.
Bacon experienced a significant setback in his political career in 1593, when he harshly criticized a new tax levy. Queen Elizabeth I took offense to his brash opposition, and this ruined Bacon's chances at becoming Attorney or Solicitor General during her reign. Fortunately, in 1596 Queen Elizabeth I appointed Bacon as her Extraordinary Council, though it was clear that he would not make it any further up the ranks.
Bacon also served the Earl of Essex at this time, Robert Devereux, who presented Bacon with an opportunity to reestablish his political reputation. However, after a failed coup attempt, Devereux was arrested, tried, and executed. As the Queen's Counsel, Bacon played a significant role in the prosecution of the case.
In 1603, Bacon's opportunities for political advancement improved dramatically, as King James I was named the successor of Queen Elizabeth I. Bacon was knighted by the King, and was given a number of advisory positions, including Solicitor and Attorney General, a member of the Privy Council, and Lord Chancellor. Bacon was made Lord Chancellor in 1618, and this position provided him with great amount of political power, which he had hoped for all his career. However, Bacon had all of this power stripped of him in 1621, when he was charged with bribery after accepting gifts from petitioners in a law suit. Bacon pleaded guilty, despite the fact that it was common in this time period to accept such gifts. Bacon was banned from sitting in Parliament for the remainder of his lifetime, and his reputation was irreversibly tarnished.
He dedicated the rest of his life to his scientific and philosophical studies and reforms.


Bacon's Philosophy

"Novum Organum", 1620
"Novum Organum", 1620
Out with the Old, in with the New


"The corruption of philosophy by the mixing it up with superstition and theology is of a much wider extent, and is much injurious to it both as a whole and in parts."
- Novum Organum ('New Instrument of Science', 1620)

Bacon sought to replace old paradigms of scientific and philosophical thought, which included the works of Plato and Aristotle. with new ways of thinking that were based on observation and experimentation. Even though he was a religious man, he believed religion and science should have a degree of separation. He disagreed with classical philosophers' tendency to mix scientific and religious ideas, as he believed that the laws of nature were meant to be discovered, observed, and possibly understood, rather than be inherently attributed to a greater being or purpose.

Bacon's philosophical work, Novum Organum, details a new system of logic, which is now known as the Baconian Method, and combines empiricism with inductive reasoning in order to acquire true knowledge about the world at large.



What is Empiricism?

Empiricism is the belief that all knowledge of the world comes from or is based on the senses. It is the contrasting epistemological philosophy to rationalism
The Empiricists: Locke, Berkeley, and Hume
The Empiricists: Locke, Berkeley, and Hume
, which is the belief that reason is the ultimate source of knowledge. Famous empiricists include John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume, who were known as the Three British Empiricists.
Empiricism states that all true knowledge is derived from sensory experience, which constitutes A Posteriori knowledge, or knowledge that has been verified by the five senses. In other words, all that we truly know is that which we can see, touch, hear, smell, and taste. Humans are not born with an innate ability to reason, as rationalism states, that allows us to draw conclusions about true knowledge. One of John Locke's most famous ideas was tabula rasa - the notion that all humans are born with their minds as a blank slate, upon which experience makes its mark. With empiricism, perception is key. As Berkeley said, "To be is to be perceived."Empiricism is connected to science due to the fact that sense observation underlies almost all of the natural sciences. This is why Francis Bacon is thought of as one of the greatest empiricists. He used sense observation as well as inductive, rather than deductive, reasoning to prove hypotheses and come to conclusions about the nature of the world around him. Bacon's thoughts made up the Baconian, or Scientific, Method, which was one of the most significant discoveries to come out of the Scientific Revolution.






Galileo's Telescope
Galileo's Telescope
The Scientific Revolution
Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica
Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica

The period of the Scientific Revolution in Europe is believed to have taken place over the course of several hundred years, from the 16th-18th century. During this time period, scientific
developments occurred in areas such as physics, astronomy, mathematics, and biology. Numerous scientists made impactful discoveries and inventions, including Galileo's telescope, and Newton's laws of motion. Other philosophers, such as Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon, made intellectual discoveries. However, Descartes was a rationalist, and had contrasting views to those of Bacon.







The Scientific Method

René Descartes (1596-1650)
René Descartes (1596-1650)

Bacon's Scientific Method was an extension of early empiricism. It involved concepts such as inductive reasoning, experimentation, and idols of the mind. Inductive reasoning involves making generalizations about nature through observation. Through this process, someone begins by observing an individual or particular situation in order to make a broader generalization based on a detectable pattern. Bacon's method of inductive reasoning recognizes that the conclusions drawn from this process are probable rather than certain. Here is a simple example of inductive reasoning: Louis shows his friend a diamond ring. Louis also tells his friend that he is going to marry Sally. Conclusion: Louis bought the diamond ring for Sally. This example is likely to be true, but inductive reasoning also allows for the conclusion to be false. For example, "The chair in the living room is red. The chair in the dining room is red. The chair in the bedroom is red. Conclusion: All of the chairs in the house are red" is likely to be false, but this is still an example of inductive reasoning. In contrast to Bacon's scientific methods, thinkers like Aristotle and Descartes use deductive reasoning, which works in an opposite fashion to inductive reasoning. When using deductive reasoning, one begins with a generalization or theory, and then moves to specifics or observation. Bacon believed that inductive reasoning was more effective because this method is based on facts rather than broad deductions, superstitions, and theories. He believed that our only hope for acquiring true and accurate knowledge was through his method of induction. However, both the deductive and inductive methods of reasoning are useful to scientists when forming hypotheses and theories, as well as when applying these theories.

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Another component of Bacon's Scientific Method was what he called idola mentis, or idols of the mind. These are false images that the mind creates and that obstruct the path of accurate scientific thought and reasoning. The four idols he outlined in Novum Organum are:
  • Idols of the Tribe - our tendency to assume that the world around us functions in the same way as we do, and that it is more regulated and ordered than it actually is.
  • Idols of the Cave - our weaknesses in reasoning due to our personal beliefs, likes, and dislikes, which leads to misunderstanding
  • Idols of the Marketplace - our confusion caused by the many uses and meanings of language and interaction between people
  • Idols of the Theatre - our acceptance of ancient and traditional ideas without questioning their accuracy

Bacon believed that the only way humankind could ever achieve true, unbiased knowledge was to rid ourselves of these four idols.






Bacon's Influences on Society
Robert Boyle (1627-1691)
Robert Boyle (1627-1691)

The Royal Society (1702)
The Royal Society (1702)

Francis Bacon died of pneumonia on 9 April 1626. Robert Boyle, born almost a year after Bacon's death, was greatly influenced by his scientific works. Boyle strictly followed Bacon's methods of experimentation and inductive reasoning when studying chemistry, and through the Baconian Method, Boyle was able to take steps towards demystifying alchemy. Boyle was the first person to write specific experimental guidelines for scientists, emphasizing the importance of achieving reliable results. In 1660, Boyle helped found the Royal Society, which is the oldest scientific society. The Royal Society was dedicated to discovering the secrets of nature through experimentation. Its motto was Nullus In Verba (Take Nobody’s Word For It).

Bacon had also played a role in North America, as he wrote government reports for several colonies, as well as Newfoundland. Thomas Jefferson even wrote, "Bacon, Locke and Newton. I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the physical and moral sciences."
"Lord Bacon" Postage stamp, 1910
"Lord Bacon" Postage stamp, 1910

Although most of Bacon's suggestions for law reforms were not adopted during his lifetime, his legal influences have been noted by historians in recent decades. Political scientist Harvey Wheeler attributed the creation of several components of the modern common law system to Bacon in his novel. Francis Bacon made numerous contributions to the scientific and political community during his lifetime, and even after his death, as his legacy continued to inspire and impact the development of logical thinking and reasoning across Europe and North America. His Scientific Method continues to be a process of thinking that is used by scientists and the general population on a regular basis in order to learn more about the true nature of the world we live in.




Daniella Fiorentino