Skeptical and Natural Philosophy

Francis Bacon and the Scientific Revolution

What ideals for scientists did the early Royal Society promote?

After a rejection of Aristotelian ideals of certainty in scientific knowledge, members of the Royal Society sought what was no more than “probably true.” Their ideals included open-mindedness, cooperation, and good will toward colleagues. It was as important to know what one did not know as assert what one did. Here is how Thomas Sprat, in his 1667 History of the Royal Society, described the virtues of a virtuoso:

The Natural Philosopher is to begin where the Moral ends. It is requiste, that he who goes about such an undertaking, should first know himself, should be well-practis’d in all the modest, humble, friendly Vertues; Should be willing to be taught, and to give way to the Judgement of others. And I dare boldly say, that a plain, industrious Man, so prepar’d, is more likely to make a good Philosopher than all the high, earnest, insulting Wits, who can neither bear partnership, nor opposition…. For certainly, such men, whose minds are so soft, so yielding, so complying, so large, are in a far better way, than the bold and haughty Assertors: they will pass by nothing, by which they may learn: they will be always ready to receive, and communicate Observations: they will not contemn the Fruits of others diligence: they will rejoice, to see mankind benefited, whether it be by themselves, or others.


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