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Bacon, Francis (1561–1626)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DA002-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 17, 2018, from

Article Summary

Along with Descartes, Bacon was the most original and most profound of the intellectual reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He had little respect for the work of his predecessors, which he saw as having been vitiated by a misplaced reverence for authority, and a consequent neglect of experience. Bacon’s dream was one of power over nature, based on experiment, embodied in appropriate institutions and used for the amelioration of human life; this could be achieved only if the rational speculations of philosophers were united with the craft-skills employed in the practical arts.

The route to success lay in a new method, one based not on deductive logic or mathematics, but on eliminative induction. This method would draw on data extracted from extensive and elaborately constructed natural histories. Unlike the old induction by simple enumeration of the logic textbooks, it would be able to make use of negative as well as positive instances, allowing conclusions to be established with certainty, and thus enabling a firm and lasting structure of knowledge to be built.

Bacon never completed his project, and even the account of the new method in the Novum Organum (1620) remained unfinished. His writings nevertheless had an immense influence on later seventeenth-century thinkers, above all in stimulating the belief that natural philosophy ought to be founded on a systematic programme of experiment. Perhaps his most enduring legacy, however, has been the modern concept of technology – the union of rational theory and empirical practice – and its application to human welfare.

Citing this article:
Milton, J.R.. Bacon, Francis (1561–1626), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DA002-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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