Francis Bacon – The Father of the Scientific Method

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Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an English philosopher of science (considered the father of the scientific method) and essayist, sometimes credited as being the first in the tradition of British empiricism and thus the father of empiricism (1). Empiricism is the philosophical view which holds that all knowledge must come through sensory experience.

Bacon enjoyed a successful legal and political career, especially under the the ascension of James I, the king Scotland (1567-1625) and first Stuart king of England (1603-1625), as he underwent successive promotions from Solicitor General (1607), Attorney General (1613), and eventually to Lord Chancellor (1618). This was until he was found guilty of corruption, including charges of bribery, which resulted in his 1621 arrest and imprisonment in the Tower of London (2). Although Bacon only spent a few days in the prison, his major punishment was never being allowed to hold political office or position again. Bacon returned to his estate, settling there while he pursued his literary, philosophical, and scientific work.

Bacon was a devout Christian who accepted the church’s teachings (3). He was critical of atheism (claiming it was believed on the basis of an insufficient depth of philosophy) and famously quipped in Essays that “a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.” He believed that man could examine and study the arguments for God although the knowledge of God (including God’s purposes, nature, and actions) could only be known through special revelation. Bacon did, however, believe that science should be separated from religion in hope to make obtaining knowledge quicker and easier. He argued that science’s developing of practical knowledge would be for “the use and benefit of men” and the relief of the human condition (4).

His greatest contribution to philosophy comes from his interest in and articulation of the scientific method (5). He emphasized the need for collating and organizing data that would help generate inductive hypotheses. In respect to this, Bacon had been particularly interested, but also concerned, with the problem of induction, which would later be revitalized by the Scottish philosopher David Hume. The problem of induction says that the process of deriving laws and generalizations from observed phenomenon and events in the past can not guarantee the same result in the future. It is simply illustrated in the marble analogy whereby a person may randomly draw, from a bag of ten marbles, nine red marbles all in a row, but it would never guarantee that the 10th marble drawn from the same bag would be a red one.

Bacon thought of an answer that would be strikingly similar to that of Karl Popper’s falsificationist theory in the 20th century (which Popper credited Bacon for) (6). Bacon believed that the emphasis of investigation should be concerned with looking for negative instances to disconfirm hypotheses rather than finding ways of confirming them (7). Popper later argued that it was mistaken to assume that scientific generalizations are conclusions (based on inductive reasoning), and that scientific generalizations, instead of being considered conclusions, rather have the logical status of conjectures. Bacon was however more concerned on one could go about generating good inductive hypotheses out of the masses of data collected by observation, which he attempted to illustrate by generating a hypothesis on the nature of heat.

Bacon penned many important works that can be categorically divided into the judicial, philosophical, religious, and scientific, and several works are of particular importance. Novum Organum (1620) explains how one should go about investigating nature and also explains Bacon’s concept of idols, certain realities such as prejudices, dogmas, and philosophical beliefs that prevent people from truly understanding the world. The History of the Reign of King Henry the Seventh (1622) and The History of the Reign of King Henry the Eighth (1622) includes two large volumes of history and biography that would come to be hugely influential for the centuries to follow. On the Dignity and Advancement of Learning (1623) presents obstacles to education and some of Bacon’s epistemological views which included his division of knowledge into three categories. These categories being history, poesy (poetry), and philosophy. The New Atlantis (1624) is a sci-fi novel that emphasizes the scientific method within the context of a story concerning a research facility with trained scientists investigating nature, collecting data, and conducting experiments.

References

1.DK. 2018. The Little Book of Philosophy. p. 56-57

2. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Simpson, D). Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Available.

3. Christianity Today. Francis Bacon: Philosopher of science. Available.

4. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Simpson, D). Ibid.

5. Stokes, P. 2007. Philosophy: The World’s Greatest Thinkers. p. 37-38.

6. Stokes, P. 2007. Philosophy. p. 37-38.

7. DK. 2018. The Little Book of Philosophy. p. 56.

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