Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

Bacon entered Trinity College, Cambridge, at the age of thirteen and subsequently studied law at Gray's Inn. He was admitted to the bar in 1586. Following the accession of James VI/I, he was knighted in 1603, becoming Attorney-General in 1613 and Lord Chancellor in 1618. Shortly after being created Viscount St Albans in 1621 he was fined, jailed and banished by his peers in the House of Lords for taking bribes when he was Lord Chancellor. Fortunately for Bacon, the King intervened, remitted the fine and set him free. He is perhaps best known for "Novum Organum", published in 1620 in which he claimed to have devised a new scientific method to replace Aristotle's method. Some scientists revered Bacon, some philosophers regarded him as an innovator. Others have pointed out that he never used his own method in any concrete way or produced any new scientific results, and that even his criticisms of Aristotle were not particularly original.

Bacon's method stressed first of all that the scientist (or in his terms the natural philosopher) should rid himself/herself of preconcieved notions or prejudices in order to become "as a child before nature". Facts or observations should then be collected in oreder to compile "natural and experimental histories". Form this tabulated knowledge, correlations are sought, with rules for distinguishing accidental and essential correlations. By this method the true nature of the phenomenon being studied is revealed.

Bacon's ideas still form the basis of what many people think of as science. The scientist as untainted observer is a particularly popular idea. But this is one of the weakest points in Bacon's scheme. This is discussed further in the section on observation.

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