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. Empiricism is the philosophical view that holds that all knowledge must come through sensory experience.
Bacon enjoyed a successful legal and political career, especially under 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 prison, his major punishment was never being allowed to hold political office or position again. Bacon returned to his estate, settling there to pursue his literary, philosophical, and scientific work.
Bacon was a devout Christian who accepted the church’s teachings. He was critical of atheism (claiming it was believed on the basis of an insufficient depth of philosophy) and quipped 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 believed that science should be separated from religion as a means to make obtaining knowledge more effortless. He argued that science’s development of practical knowledge would be for “the use and benefit of men” and the relief of the human condition.
Bacon’s greatest contribution to philosophy stemmed from his interest in the scientific method. He emphasized the need for collating and organizing data that would help generate inductive hypotheses. Bacon had been both interested in and 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 phenomena and events in the past cannot guarantee the same result in the future. It is 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 strikingly similar to Karl Popper’s later falsificationist theory (which Popper credited Bacon for). 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. 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 more concerned with how 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 texts ranging from the judicial, philosophical, religious, and scientific. 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) include two large volumes of history and biography. On the Dignity and Advancement of Learning (1623) presents obstacles to education and some of Bacon’s epistemological views which include his division of knowledge into three categories: 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.