Francis Bacon is perhaps best known for his work in natural philosophy. Unlike Plato (who claimed knowledge could be gained through understanding the meaning of words and content) and Aristotle (who placed emphasis on empirical data), Bacon emphasized observation, experimentation, and interaction and set out to create methods that would rely on tangible proof in an effort to explain sciences.
Francis Bacon believed the works of Aristotle (which up to that point, scholastic thinkers had agreed with) actually prevented the ability to think independently and acquire new ideas about nature. Bacon argued that through the advancement of science, the quality of human life could improve, and therefore, people should no longer rely on the work of ancient philosophers. Francis Bacon became so disillusioned with the philosophical thinking of his time that he categorized the thought process of people as four categories of false knowledge, which he referred to as “idols.” The four idols were:
hese are the false notions that arise from human nature that are common to everyone. For example, human nature causes people to seek out evidence that supports their own conclusions, causes people to try to have things fit into patterns, and causes beliefs to be affected by what people want to believe.
These are interpretations that come about as a result of individual makeup and disposition. For example, some people might favor similarities while others favor differences, and some might favor notions that support their earlier conclusions.
These are false notions that arise from the use of language and words as a means to communicate with one another. For example, words can have a variety of meanings, and people have the ability to name and imagine things that do not actually exist.
Francis Bacon believed that philosophies weren’t any better than plays. To Bacon, sophistic philosophy like the work of Aristotle focused more on smart but foolish arguments rather than the natural world; empirical philosophy only focused on a small range of experiments and excluded too many other possibilities; and superstitious philosophy, which was philosophy established by religion and superstition, was a corruption of philosophy. To Francis Bacon, superstitious philosophy was the worst type of false notion.
With his belief that knowledge should be pursued and his criticism of present-day philosophies, Francis Bacon set out to create a new and organized method that would eventually become his most impactful contribution to the world of philosophy. In his book, Novum Organum, he details his inductive, also known as scientific, method.
The inductive method combined the process of carefully observing nature with systematically accumulating data. While the deductive method (like the work of Aristotle) began by using one or more true statements (or axioms) as a base and then attempted to prove other true statements, the inductive method begins by taking observations from nature and attempts to uncover laws and theories pertaining to how nature works. In essence, the deductive method uses logic and the inductive method uses nature.
Bacon’s Emphasis on Experiments
Bacon emphasized the importance of experimentation in his work and believed experiments needed to be carefully recorded so that the results could be both reliable and repeatable.
The process of the inductive method is as follows:
- Accumulate a series of specific empirical observations about the characteristic being investigated.
- Classify these facts into three categories: instances when the characteristic being investigated is present, instances when it is absent, and instances when it is present in varying degrees.
- Through careful examination of the results, reject notions that do not seem to be responsible for the occurrence and identify possible causes responsible for the occurrence.