In novum organum francis bacon wrote about
The New Organon by Francis BaconSince I’ve lately read Aristotle’s original, I thought I’d go ahead and read Bacon’s New Organon. The title more or less says it all. For this book is an attempt to recast the method of the sciences in a better mold. Whereas Aristotle spends pages and pages enumerating the various types of syllogisms, Bacon dismisses it all with one wave of the hand—away with such scholarly nonsense! Because Aristotle is so single-mindedly deductive, his scientific research came to naught; or, as Bacon puts it, “Aristotle, who made his natural philosophy a mere bond servant to his logic, thereby [rendered] it contentious and well-nigh useless.”
What is needed is not deduction—which draws trivial conclusions form absurd premises—but induction. More specifically, what is needed is a great deal of experiments, the results of which the careful scientist can sort into air-tight conclusions. Down with the syllogism; up with experiment. Down with the schoolmen; up with the scientists.
In my (admittedly snotty) review of Bacon’s Essays, I remarked that he would have done better to have written a work entirely in aphorisms. Little did I know that Bacon did just that, and it is this book. Whatever Bacon’s defects were as a politician or a philosopher, Bacon is the undisputed master of the pithy, punchy maxim. In fact, his writing style can be almost sickening, so dense is it with aphorism, so rich is it with metaphor, so replete is it with compressed thought.
In the first part of his New Organon all of the defects of Bacon’s style are absent, and all of his strengths are present in full force. Indeed, if this work consisted of only the first part, it would have merited five stars, for it is a tour de force. Bacon systematically goes through all of the errors the human mind is prone to when investigating nature, leaving no stone unturned and no vices unexamined, damning them all in epigram after epigram. The reader hardly has time to catch his breath from one astonishing insight, when Bacon is on to another.
Among these insights are, of course, Bacon’s famous four idols. We have the Idol of the Tribe, which consist of the errors humans are wont to make by virtue of their humanity. For our eyes, our ears, and our very minds distort reality in a systematic way—something earlier philosophers had, so far as I know, neglected to account for. We have then the Idols of the Cave, which are the foibles of the individual person, over and above the common limitations of our species. Of these may include certain pet theories, preferences, accidents of background, peculiarities of taste. And then finally we have the Idols of the Market Place, which are caused by the deceptive nature of language and words, as well as the Idols of the Theater, which consists of the various dogmas present in the universities and schools.
Bacon also displays a remarkable insight into psychology. He points out that humans are pattern-seeking animals, which leads us to sometimes see patterns which aren’t there: “The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds.” Bacon also draws the distinction, made so memorable in Isaiah Berlin’s essay, between foxes and hedgehogs: “… some minds are stronger and apter to mark the differences of things, others to mark their resemblances.” Bacon also notes, in terms no psychologist could fault, a description of confirmation bias:
The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.
Part two, on the other hand, is a tedious, rambling affair, which makes the patient reader almost forget the greatness of the first half. Here, Bacon moves on from condemning the errors of others to setting up his own system. In his opinion, scientific enquiry is a simple matter of tabulation: make a table of every situation in which a given phenomenon is always found, and then make a table of every situation in which a given phenomenon is never found; finally, make a table of every situation in which said phenomenon is sometimes found, shake well, and out comes your answer.
The modern reader will not recognize the scientific method in this process. For we now know that Bacon’s induction is not sufficient. (Though, he does use his method to draw an accurate conclusion about the nature of heat: “Heat is a motion, expansive, restrained, and acting in its strife upon the smaller particles of bodies.”) What Bacon describes is more or less what we’d now call ‘natural history’, a gathering up of facts and a noting of regularities. But the scientific method proper requires the framing of hypotheses. The hypothesis is key, because it determines what facts need to be collected, and what relationship those facts will have with the theory in question. Otherwise, the buzzing world of facts is too lush and fecund to tabulate; there are simply too many facts. Furthermore, Bacon makes the somewhat naive—though excusable, I think—assumption that a fact is simply a fact, whereas we now know that facts are basically meaningless unless contextualized; and, in science, it is the theory in question which contextualizes said facts.
The importance of hypotheses also makes deduction far more important than Bacon acknowledges. For the aspiring experimentalist must often go through a long chain of deductive reasoning before he can determine what experiment should be performed in order to test a theory. In short, science relies on both deductive and inductive methods, and the relationship of theory to data is far more intertwined than Bacon apparently thinks. (As a side note, I’d also like to point out that Bacon wasn’t much of a scientist himself; he brings up the Copernican view of the heliocentric solar system many times, only to dismiss it as ridiculous, and also seems curiously unaware of the other scientific advances of his day.)
In a review of David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, I somewhat impertinently remarked that the English love examples—or, to use a more English word, instances. I hope not to offend any English readers, but Bacon confirms me in this prejudice—for the vast bulk of this work is a tedious enumeration of twenty-seven (yes, that’s almost thirty) types of ‘instances’ to be found in nature. Needless to say, this long and dry list of the different sorts of instances makes for both dull reading and bad philosophy, for I doubt any scientist in the history of the world ever made progress by sorting his results into one of Bacon’s categories.
So the brilliant, brash, and brazen beginning of this book fizzles out into pedantry that, ironically enough, rivals even Aristotle’s original Organon. So, to repeat myself, the title of this book more or less says it all.
Manhattan Rare Book Company
Portrait of Francis Bacon. Frontispiece from his Francisci Baconi. Opera omnia quae extant, philosophica, moralia, politica, historica. Frankfurt on Main: Impensis J. Schonwetteri, [Rare Books Division]. In stark contrast to deductive reasoning, which had dominated science since the days of Aristotle, Bacon introduced inductive methodology—testing and refining hypotheses by observing, measuring, and experimenting.
Man, being the servant and interpreter of nature, can do and understand so much and so much only as he has observed in fact or in thought of the course of nature; beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything. Neither the naked hand nor the understanding left to itself can effect much. It is by instruments and helps that the work is done, which are as much wanted for the understanding as for the hand. And as the instruments of the hand either give motion or guide it, so the instruments of the mind supply either suggestions for the understanding or cautions. Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is know known the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule. The cause and root of nearly all evils in the sciences is this - that while we falsely admire and extol the powers of the human mind we neglect to seek for its true helps.
Because nearly nothing of the other five parts was printed in the Instauratio , the whole is often known by the name of the dominant part. There were four complete translations done in the 19th century. Three of them, in reverse chronological order, are linked below. The fourth was The Novum organon, or a true guide to the interpretation of nature, trans. Oxford: Oxford University Press, The Spedding edition printed in London the first translation linked below is generally the standard for scholarly citation, but citation by section, book, and aphorism, instead of volume and page, is frequently more useful and now widely accepted. This translation appeared in in volume 4 of the The Collected Works of Francis Bacon, 15 vols, ed.
"Preface" to Novum Organum Bacon, Francis (1620)
They who have presumed to dogmatize on nature, as on some well investigated subject, either from self-conceit or arrogance, and in the professorial style, have inflicted the greatest injury on philosophy and learning. For they have tended to stifle and interrupt inquiry exactly in proportion as they have prevailed in bringing others to their opinion: and their own activity has not counterbalanced the mischief they have occasioned by corrupting and destroying that of others. They again who have entered upon a contrary course, and asserted that nothing whatever can be known, whether they have fallen into this opinion from their hatred of the ancient sophists, or from the hesitation of their minds, or from an exuberance of learning, have certainly adduced reasons for it which are by no means contemptible. They have not, however, derived their opinion from true sources, and, hurried on by their zeal and some affectation, have certainly exceeded due moderation. But the more ancient Greeks whose writings have perished , held a more prudent mean, between the arrogance of dogmatism, and the despair of scepticism; and though too frequently intermingling complaints and indignation Edition: current; Page: [ 6 ] at the difficulty of inquiry, and the obscurity of things, and champing, as it were, the bit, have still persisted in pressing their point, and pursuing their intercourse with nature; thinking, as it seems, that the better method was not to dispute upon the very point of the possibility of anything being known, but to put it to the test of experience. Yet they themselves, by only employing the power of the understanding, have not adopted a fixed rule, but have laid their whole stress upon intense meditation, and a continual exercise and perpetual agitation of the mind. Our method, though difficult in its operation, is easily explained.
It is provided by the Hanover Internet Project and features Bacon's revealing new and basic scientific principles that are actually the foundation of scientific thinking. It is said that this work and its principles are a basic reason for the establishment of the Royal Society , the first scientific organization. Francis Bacon , to at Hyper History Timeline. After selecting the years to , find and click Francis Bacon in the blue name box in the timeline. Read the brief biography with the comment that he advocated "action science," and see the note on two of his writings, plus the link to his essays e.