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Francis Bacon

The literacy revolution and devotion to education gave opportunity to persons of exceptional intelligence to make a contribution that they might not have made had they been in some other culture. The Renaissance contributed to Francis Bacon as well as Bacon contributing to the Renaissance.

Bacon was one of the bright ones. He entered Trinity College Cambridge in 1573 at the age of 12. There he met Queen Elizabeth, and she was impressed by his precocious intellect and became accustomed to calling him "The young lord keeper." He was a Protestant with sympathies for the Puritans. He was a Member of Parliament from age 23. He was a lawyer and a judge, and having heard a lot of bombast as a judge he came to detest wild interpretations of events. He was interested in going beyond opinion to questions about facts. He would be called the father of empiricism. The Encyclopedia Britannica would describe him as,

...the outstanding apostle of Renaissance empiricism. Less an original metaphysician or cosmologist than the advocate of a vast new program for the advancement of learning and the reformation of scientific method.

Like virtually everyone else in European society at the time, Bacon maintained his faith. In his book, The Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human, published in 1605, he was concerned with enlarging the scope of knowledge and man's power over his surroundings.

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

Man, being the servant and interpreter of Nature, can do and understand so much and so much only as he has observed in fact or in thought of the course of nature. Beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything.

Bacon was moved by the spirit of discovery that came after Columbus. The aim of science he believed was invention and the aim of invention was the service humanity. A science which is not practically useful was for Bacon of no worth.

Bacon introduced a systematic skepticism. In what he called "Idols of the tribe" he warned that ordinary sense experiences miss a lot, making investigation necessary. He warned of people making connections that shouldn't be made by assuming, and he warned against faulty connections through wishful thinking.

The true business of philosophy, he wrote, was avoiding dogma by combining empiricism with reason. Thinking of data, he wrote that ants merely collect. Thinking of spinning dogmas he mentioned spiders spinning cobwebs out of their own substance. Bees, he wrote, take the middle course. They gather, digest and transform.

Bacon conducted scientific experiments and was the first scientist to be knighted, in 1603 by King James. He would be credited as the guiding spirit behind the founding of England's Royal Society in 1660. In 1733 Voltaire introduced Bacon to the French and their Enlightenment, calling Bacon "father" of the scientific method. And Bacon has been described as the philosophical influence behind the dawning of the Industrial age. note26

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