You are on page 1of 3

Rusyniak 1

Christopher Rusyniak

Professor Brown

Perspectives: PL09008

February 9, 2008

Francis Bacon wrote his Great Instauration in a fury against the knowledge and methods

of reasoning coming from the ancients, specifically Aristotle. It is clear however that he is not

angry with Aristotle’s methods of reasoning, but rather with their interpretation. He is irritated

by the stagnant nature of knowledge in his society, and seeing no one else to blame he attacks it

itself. “For let a man look carefully into all that variety of books with which the arts and

sciences abound, he will find everywhere endless repetitions of the same thing, varying in the

method of treatment, but not new in substance, insomuch that the whole stock, numerous as it

appears at first view, proves on examination to be but scanty. And for its value and utility it must

be plainly avowed that that wisdom which we have derived principally from the Greeks is but

like the boyhood of knowledge, and has the characteristic property of boys: it can talk, but it

cannot generate, for it is fruitful of controversies but barren of works.” (Bacon)

He further goes on to say that if science makes any progress most of the work involved

will be reconciling the new science with the old science, slowing and warping it immeasurably.

Now that we have established that empiricism is not in opposition with Aristotle, but rather with

the philosophers’ surrounding societies we can go on to compare their methods of understanding

the world.

Empiricism is a method of reasoning which employs experimentation as its only vehicle

of perceiving nature. Bacon specifically stressed induction as opposed to syllogism of the

ancients. “In accordance with this end is also the nature and order of the demonstrations. For in
Rusyniak 2

the ordinary logic almost all the work is spent about the syllogism. Of induction, the logicians

seem hardly to have taken any serious thought, but they pass it by with a slight notice and hasten

on to the formulae of disputation. I, on the contrary, reject demonstration by syllogism as acting

too confusedly and letting nature slip out of its hands… I consider induction to be that form of

demonstration which upholds the sense, and closes with nature, and comes to the very brink of

operation, if it does not actually deal with it.” (Bacon) Hobbes stresses that we must not rely on

the inane characteristics of anything. He emphasizes that the only things constant and the same

in our world are names.

A great difference is observed in the philosophers when be look at the goals of each of

their doctrines. Aristotle states that an ultimate source of pleasure would be learning or

understanding for the sake of understanding, and for no other selfish goal. This brings one closer

to his ultimate good, happiness, which everyone should strive for. Bacon is very dismissive of

this goal, once again citing his society. “For the end which this science of mine proposes is the

invention not of arguments but of arts; not of things in accordance with principles, but of

principles themselves; not of probable reasons, but of designations and directions for works. And

as the intention is different, so, accordingly, is the effect; the effect of the one being to overcome

an opponent in argument, of the other to command nature in action.” (Bacon)

Hobbes and Bacon, however as the last line indicates, would rather than merely

understand nature would like to control it. Hobbes would more specifically hope that rulers

would be able to use experience in order to more effectively control and manipulate that artificial

creature that is society. Aristotle stresses the need to perceive the world through our senses in

order to perceive it. “enses deceive; but then at the same time they supply the means of

discovering their own errors; only the errors are here, the means of discovery are to seek”
Rusyniak 3

(Bacon) The empiricists claim that the senses often deceive us and cause inaccurate results

which we then put into syllogisms to produce inaccurate conclusions. Experimentation, and the

comparison of a lot of experience, on the other hand is more reliable because there is a rigid

structure and method for the collection of facts.

Reason of the ancients and or the empiricists is not mutually exclusive, instead, they are

very similar. “We have no reason to be ashamed of the discoveries which have been made, and

no doubt the ancients proved themselves in everything that turns on wit and abstract meditation,

wonderful men. But, as in former ages, when men sailed only by observation of the stars, they

could indeed coast along the shores of the old continent or cross a few small and Mediterranean

seas; but before the ocean could be traversed and the new world discovered, the use of the

mariner's needle, as a more faithful and certain guide, had to be found out; in like manner the

discoveries which have been hitherto made in the arts and sciences are such as might be made by

practice, meditation, observation, argumentation — for they lay near to the senses and

immediately beneath common notions; but before we can reach the remoter and more hidden

parts of nature, it is necessary that a more perfect use and application of the human mind and

intellect be introduced.” (Bacon)

The soul in Aristotle’s view is somewhat a container for reason; it is the property of living

in an organism. The key characteristic of a living soul is its capacity to reason. Neither Bacon,

nor Hobbes actually writes the word “soul” once in their works and they fail to talk of it having

matter and form.

In essence Aristotle and the empiricists very much agree with one another. The

fundamental grievance of Bacon was not the incompetence of Aristotle and the ancients, but

merely the stagnation of knowledge which is not becoming of a human civilization.