Sir Francis Bacon

What were Sir Francis Bacon‘s beliefs?

The English philosopher, author, and statesman was one of the great minds of the Scientific Revolution of the 1500s and 1600s, during which the way that Europeans viewed themselves and the universe underwent a dramatic change. Bacon (1561–1626) believed that humankind’s accepted notions about nature should be aggressively challenged. As a young man studying at Trinity College, he concluded that the Aristotelian system (or deductive logic) was without merit; Bacon favored observation (or inductive logic) as a system for interpreting and understanding nature. He argued that the understanding of nature was being held back by the blind acceptance of the beliefs of ancient philosophers such as Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) and Plato (c. 428–347 B.C.). A religious person, Bacon maintained that theology should not be questioned: He believed that rational inquiry can unlock the secrets of nature—but not of the human soul. Bacon therefore insisted on the separation of philosophy and theology, an idea that ran counter to the academic traditions of the time. Consequently he was a staunch proponent of educational and scientific reform.

Trained in law, Bacon served as a royal diplomat in France, was admitted to the bar, elected to Parliament, and served in public office (including the jobs of solicitor general and attorney general). He penned several seminal works, including Essayes (1597), which consists of practical wisdom and observations; Advancement of Learning (1605), a survey of the state of knowledge (Bacon was attempting to enlist the support of the king in the total reform of education and science in England); and Novum Organum (1620), in which he put forth his method for understanding nature by an inductive system, based on direct observation (versus Aristotle’s deductive method, which was based on circumstantial evidence and prior conclusions).

English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon believed that nature was best understood by direct observation. (Original engraving by S. Freeman.)

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