• 1561
    (b.) -
    1626 April 09


An English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the Scientific Method, he was the 1st Viscount St Albans. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England. Although his political career ended in disgrace, he remained extremely influential through his works, especially as philosophical advocate and practitioner of the Scientific Method during the scientific revolution. He has been called the father of empiricism; a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily via sensory experience. Empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence, especially sensory perception, in the formation of ideas, over the notion of innate ideas or traditions. His works established and popularised inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method, or simply the scientific method. His demand for a planned procedure of investigating all things natural marked a new turn in the rhetorical and theoretical framework for science, much of which still surrounds conceptions of proper methodology today. His dedication probably led to his death, bringing him into a rare historical group of scientists who were killed by their own experiments. He was born at York House near the Strand in London, Biographers believe that he was educated at home in his early years owing to poor health (which plagued him throughout his life). He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, on 5 April 1573 at the age of twelve, living for three years there together with his older brother Anthony. His education was conducted largely in Latin and followed the medieval curriculum. He was also educated at the University of Poitiers. It was at Cambridge that he first met Queen Elizabeth, who was impressed by his precocious intellect, and was accustomed to calling him "the young Lord Keeper". His studies brought him to the belief that the methods and results of science as then practised were erroneous. His reverence for Aristotle conflicted with his loathing of Aristotelian philosophy, which seemed to him barren, disputatious, and wrong in its objectives. On 27 June 1576, he and Anthony entered de societate magistrorum at Gray's Inn. A few months later, he went abroad with Sir Amias Paulet, the English ambassador at Paris, while Anthony continued his studies at home. The state of government and society in France under Henry III afforded him valuable political instruction. For the next three years he visited Blois, Poitiers, Tours, Italy, and Spain. During his travels, he studied language, statecraft, and civil law while performing routine diplomatic tasks. On at least one occasion he delivered diplomatic letters to England for Walsingham, Burghley, and Leicester, as well as for the queen. He was knighted in 1603, and created both the Baron Verulam in 1618, and the Viscount St Alban in 1621. Since he died without heirs, both peerages became extinct upon his death. He is the father of the scientific method, which is fundamental to natural philosophy. In his magnum opus, Novum Organum, or "new instrument", he argued that although philosophy at the time mainly used deductive syllogisms to interpret nature, mainly owing to Aristotle's logic (or Organon), the philosopher should instead proceed through inductive reasoning from fact to axiom to physical law. Before beginning this induction, the enquirer is to free his or her mind from certain false notions or tendencies which distort the truth. The end of induction is the discovery of forms, the ways in which natural phenomena occur, the causes from which they proceed. He contrasted the new approach of the development of science with that of the Middle Ages: "Men have sought to make a world from their own conception and to draw from their own minds all the material which they employed, but if, instead of doing so, they had consulted experience and observation, they would have the facts and not opinions to reason about, and might have ultimately arrived at the knowledge of the laws which govern the material world." Since his ideal was widespread revolution of the common method of scientific inquiry, there had to be some way by which his method could become widespread. His solution was to lobby the state to make natural philosophy a matter of greater importance ? not only to fund it, but also to regulate it. While in office under Queen Elizabeth, he even advocated for the employment of a Minister for Science and Technology; a position which was never realised. Later under King James, he wrote in The Advancement of Learning: "The King should take order for the collecting and perfecting of a Natural and Experimental History, true and severe (unencumbered with literature and book-learning), such as philosophy may be built upon, so that philosophy and the sciences may no longer float in air, but rest on the solid foundation of experience of every kind." While he was a strong advocate for state involvement in scientific inquiry, he also felt that his general method should be applied directly to the functioning of the state as well. He considered, matters of policy were inseparable from philosophy and science. He recognised the repetitive nature of history, and sought to correct it by making the future direction of government more rational. In order to make future civil history more linear and achieve real progress, he felt that methods of the past and experiences of the present should be examined together in order to determine the best ways by which to go about civil discourse. He began one particular address to the House of Commons with a reference to the book of Jeremiah: "Stand in the ancient ways, but look also into present experience in order to see whether in the light of this experience ancient ways are right. If they are found to be so, walk in them." In short, he wanted his method of progress building on progress in natural philosophy to be integrated into England's political theory. His works include his Essays, as well as the Colours of Good and Evil and the Meditationes Sacrae, all published in 1597. (His famous aphorism, "knowledge is power", is found in the Meditations.) He published, ?Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human? in 1605. He also wrote various philosophical works which constitute the fragmentary and incomplete Instauratio magna (Great Renewal), the most important part of which is the Novum Organum (New Instrument, published 1620); in this work he cites three world-changing inventions: "Printing, gunpowder and the compass: These three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed innumerable changes, in so much that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries." His ideas were influential in the 1630s and 1650s among scholars, in particular Sir Thomas Browne, who in his encyclopaedia Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646?1672) frequently adheres to a Baconian approach to his scientific enquiries. During the Restoration, he was commonly invoked as a guiding spirit of the Royal Society founded under Charles II in 1660. In the nineteenth century his emphasis on induction was revived and developed by William Whewell, among others. According to, ?TURING'S CATHEDRAL - The Origins of the Digital Universe?, by George Dyson, ?That two symbols were sufficient for encoding all communication had been established by Francis Bacon* in 1623. ?The transposition of two Letters by five placeings will be sufficient for 32 Differences [and] by this Art a way is opened, whereby a man may expresse and signifie the intentions of his minde, at any distance of place, by objects . . . capable of a twofold difference onely,? he wrote, before giving examples of how such binary coding could be conveyed at the speed of paper, the speed of sound, or the speed of light.?
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    1626 April 09
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    The father of the scientific method, which is fundamental to natural philosophy and the father of empiricism; a theory of knowledge
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