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The empiricism of F. Bacon

The survey of the New Time philosophy is convenient to start from the empiricism because of namely it being a novelty invented in the New Time epoch. The ancient Greeks had the rational and irrational approaches of philosophizing but the systematic empiric investigation was in general something strange for them. The systematic empiric observances began only in the New Time and were that that provided emergence of the proper science. Clear that the appearance of these new approaches couldn’t remain neglected by that time philosophy.

The founder of the empiricism the English philosopher Francis Bacon the lord of Verulam (1561 – 1626) is recognized. During some time he was a favorite of that time king and also the Lord-Chancellor and the Keeper of the Royal Seal. However being accused in the embezzlement of public funds Bacon was deprived of all official posts, confined into a prison and sentenced to a great fine. In confinement he spent only four days, didn’t pay the fine (the king interceded for his favorite), but the posts he had occupied were not given back to him. He retired into his patrimony where devoted the rest of his life to science and philosophy.

Bacon stood against science of that time represented mainly by the scholastic philosophy and theology, saying they were quite useless. The real science (including philosophy), he said, should serve people and help them to solve their problems of life. He’s considered to be the author of the famous aphorism “Knowledge is power”. The use of theology according to Bacon is limited by its ability of proving the existence of God and no more. But the new philosophy he stood for couldn’t allow itself the luxury of long and fruitless abstract reasoning with its deductive approaches[12]. The new philosophy should be grounded not on the deduction but on induction, i.e. such way of reasoning that supposes extracting general regularities from particular cases. In his book “Novum Organon” he tried to clear up in this way the nature of warmth. He compounded tables where he put different cases of the warmth’s manifestations such as the warmth of Sun, the heat of fire, the warmth of rotting manure, the warmth of a warm dress and so forth. It’s clear he didn’t succeed in his attempts to deduce a general law from it. All his life he dreamt of making an outstanding scientific discovery but not only didn’t but the more ‘overslept’ all significant discoveries of his time. Thus being personally acquainted with Harvey the royal physician, who discovered the circulation of blood, even didn’t hear about his discovery. Harvey himself said that Bacon wrote philosophy as a Lord-Chancellor (i.e. as a dilettante).

Bacon died having caught cold during committing experiments on freezing of chickens.

What about the problem of induction it hasn’t been solved till now. There exist two kinds of induction: 1) the induction through the complete and 2) that through the incomplete enumeration. The first provides reliable results which however contain nothing new. The second gives out new results which are not reliable. It’s like in the story about a clerk who wrote up the population in a village. There were 100 houses in this village. The clerk went up 98 houses and in every one the surname of its inhabitants was Johnson. It was an evening already and two houses else standing little aloof were remaining. The clerk was tied and decided there was no sense to go to these houses also because there for sure some Johnsons lived. He didn’t go and wrote up accordingly. But it turned out he had made a mistake because in one of these two houses Williamses lived.



The main foundations of the inductive logic were elaborated only 200 years later by an American philosopher and logician J. St. Mill. But they were not based on one-single pure induction but on the law of cause-consequence uniformity as well.

More famous and interesting now is Bacon’s teaching of idols. The idols he called mental habits leading to errors. Bacon pointed out 5 types of such idols:

1) idols of genus, the errors going from the nature itself of the human genus;

2) idols of cave or individual errors, originated from one’s individual nature, where one sojourns like in a cave, unable to get out;

3) idols of market, the erroneous habits set up by the ‘tyranny’ of words or by incorrect understanding their sense (human exchange with words like with coins and wares at a market);

4) idols of theater, ready schemes of thinking (similar to theater roles);

5) idols of school or faith in someone’s authority (that it can replace an own research).

To put up a summary it’s needed to note that Bacon’s philosophy became the basis for further development of the empirical philosophy and science mainly in England whose intellectual life unlike the continental one was more attracted to empiricism and robust sense [1, p. 160 – 165].


Date: 2014-12-21; view: 1016


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