Francis Bacon

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For Francis Bacon, the 20th century painter, see Francis Bacon (painter)

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an English philosopher, essayist, and political figure who came to be recognized as the father of the modern scientific method.

Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and Gray's Inn, where he studied law, he entered Parliament in 1584 where he gained a reputation as a skilled orator. As a result of his opposition to Queen Elizabeth's military and taxation policies in 1593, he found his political career stymied for the duration of her reign. However, upon the accession of King James in 1603, his political fortunes revived to such an extent that he eventually became Lord Chancellor, ennobled as Lord Verulam.

But he had enemies and his political downfall came swiftly in the early 1620s. Accused of accepting bribes in his official capacity, he admitted to accepting gifts and favors from litigants in his court, but denied that his judgements were thereby influenced. In the end, he was banished from public life, fined, and briefly incarcerated.

In the last years of his life, Bacon wrote prolifically, with particular attention to the methods whereby new knowledge is acquired. He died in 1626 as a result of an illness contracted in the snow while conducting an experiment in refrigeration.

Works in English


Although Bacon used Montaigne's term "Essays", his first publication in this form had nothing of Montaigne's discursive style, but was simply a collection of apothegms with little connecting material. The Essays in their later form, the one in which they are most commonly read, have rather more discussion and cover a wide range of topics.

The Advancement of Learning

The Advancement of Learning[1] is a review of the learning of his time, using a classification which remained influential down to the time of the French Encyclopedists. He identified three branches of learning: History (by which he seems to mean any form of record, including, for example, natural history), Poesy and Reason, all of which had sub-classifications, in which he considered what had been achieved and what needed to be achieved. But among all this he also made the case for inductive reasoning based upon empirical knowledge, and criticised the discussion of final causes as obstructing enquiry into "real and physical causes". When he translated this work into Latin he greatly expanded it.

The New Atlantis

Bacon also wrote a utopian fantasy, The New Atlantis, not published till after his death. This has been credited with being an inspiration for the founding of the Royal Society later in the 17th century.

Works in Latin

Bacon wished to spread his ideas well beyond the bounds of England, and what he considered his most important works were therefore written in Latin. They were to be gathered together in his magnum opus, The Great Instauration, which was intended as a complete reformation of the methodology of producing new knowledge. This remained unfinished at his death, but sections of sections of it are available, including the Novum Organum which contains the essence of his philosophy.