Novum Organum 1620
Basil Montague, ed. and trans.
The Works, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Parry & MacMillan, 1854), 3: 343-71
Hanover Historical Texts Project
Scanned by Alison Waugh and proofread by Monica Banas in 1996.
Proofread and page numbers added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.
We lay down two points on which we would admonish mankind, lest they should fail to see or to observe them. The first of these is: that it is our good fortune, (as we consider it,) for the sake of extinguishing and removing contradiction and irritation of mind, to leave the honour and reverence due to the ancients untouched and undiminished, so that we can perform our intended work, and yet enjoy the benefit of our respectful moderation. For if we should profess to offer something better than the ancients, and yet should pursue the same course as they have done, we could never, by any artifice, contrive to avoid the imputation of having engaged in a contest or rivalry as to our respective wits, excellences, or talents; which, though neither inadmissible or new, (for why should we not blame and point out any thing that is imperfectly discovered or laid down by them, of our own right, a right common to all,) yet, however just and allowable, would perhaps be scarcely an equal match, on account of the disproportion of our strength. But, since our present plan leads us to open an entirely different course to the understanding, and one unattempted and unknown to them, the case is altered. There is an end to party zeal, and we only take upon ourselves the character of a guide, which requires a moderate share of authority and good fortune, rather than talents and excellence. This first admonition relates to persons, the next to things.
We make no attempt to disturb the system of philosophy that now prevails, or any other which may or will exist, either more correct or more complete. For we deny not that the received system of philosophy, and others of a similar nature, encourage discussion, embellish harangues, are employed and are of service in the duties of the professor, and the affairs of civil life. Nay, we openly express and declare that the philosophy we offer will not be very useful in such respects. It is not obvious, nor to be understood in a cursory view, nor does it flatter the mind in its preconceived notions, nor will it descend to the level of the generality of mankind, unless by its advantages and effects. ...
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19. There are and can exist but two ways of investigating and discovering truth. The one hurries on rapidly from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms; and from them as principles and their supposed indisputable truth derives and discovers the intermediate axioms. This is the way now in use. The other constructs its axioms from the senses and particulars, by ascending continually and gradually, till it finally arrives at the most general axioms, which is the true but unattempted way.
20. The understanding when left to itself proceeds by the same way as that which it would have adopted under the guidance of logic, namely, the first. For the mind is fond of starting off to generalities, that it may avoid labour, and after dwelling a little on a subject is fatigued by experiment. But these evils are augmented by logic, for the sake of the ostentation of dispute.
21. The understanding when left to itself in a man of a steady, patient, and reflecting disposition, (especially when unimpeded by received doctrines,) makes some attempt in the right way, but with little effect; since the understanding, undirected and unassisted, is unequal to and unfit for the task of vanquishing the obscurity of things.
22. Each of these two ways begins from the senses and particulars, and ends in the greatest generalities. But they are immeasurably different; for the one merely touches cursorily the limits of experiment, and particulars, whilst the other runs duly and regularly through them; the one from the very outset lays down some abstract and useless generalities, the other gradually rises to those principles which are really the most common in nature. ...
In general, men take for the groundwork of their philosophy either too much from a few topics, or too little from many; in either case their philosophy is founded on too narrow a basis of experiment and natural history, and decides on too scanty grounds. For the theoretic philosopher seizes various common circumstances by experiment, [Page 351] without reducing them to certainty, or examining and frequently considering them, and relies for the rest upon meditation and the activity of his wit.
There are other philosophers who have diligently and accurately attended to a few experiments, and have thence presumed to deduce and invent systems of philosophy, forming every thing to conformity with them.
A third set, from their faith and religious veneration, introduce theology and traditions; the absurdity of some amongst them having proceeded so far as to seek and derive the sciences from spirits and genii. There are, therefore, three sources of error and three species of false philosophy; the sophistic, empiric, and superstitious.
63. Aristotle affords the most eminent instance of the first; for he corrupted natural philosophy by logic: thus, he formed the world of categories, assigned to the human soul, the noblest of substances, a genus determined by words of secondary operation, treated of density and rarity (by which bodies occupy a greater or lesser space) by the frigid distinctions of action and power, asserted that there was a peculiar and proper motion in all bodies, and that if they shared in any other motion, it was owing to an external moving cause, and imposed innumerable arbitrary distinctions upon the nature of things; being everywhere more anxious as to definitions in teaching, and the accuracy of the wording of his propositions, than the internal truth of things. And this is best shown by a comparison of his philosophy with the others of greatest repute among the Greeks. For the similar parts of Anaxagoras, the atoms of Leucippus and Democritus, the heaven and earth of Parmenides, the discord and concord of Empedocles, the resolution of bodies into the common nature of fire, and their condensation, according to Heraclitus, exhibit some sprinkling of natural philosophy, the nature of things, and experiment, whilst Aristotle's physics are mere logical terms, and he remodelled the same subject in his metaphysics under a more imposing title, and more as a realist than a nominalist. Nor is much stress to be laid on his frequent recourse to experiment in his books on animals, his problems, and other treatises; for he had already decided, without having properly consulted experience as the basis or his decisions and axioms, and after having so decided, he drags experiment along, as a captive constrained to accommodate herself to his decisions; so that he is even more to be blamed than his modern followers, (of the scholastic school,) who have deserted her altogether.
64. The empiric school produces dogmas of a more deformed and monstrous nature than the sophistic or theoretic school: not being founded in the light of common notions, (which, however poor and superficial, is yet in a manner universal and of a general tendency,) but in the confined obscurity of a few experiments. Hence this species of philosophy appears probable and almost certain to those who are daily practised in such experiments, and have thus corrupted their imagination, but incredible and futile to others. We have a strong instance of this in the alchymists and their dogmas; it would be difficult to find another in this age, unless, perhaps, in the philosophy of Gilbert. We could not, however, neglect to caution others against this school, because we already foresee and augur, that if men be hereafter induced by our exhortations to apply seriously to experiments, (bidding farewell to the sophistic doctrines,) there will then be imminent danger from empirics, owing to the premature and forward haste of the understanding, and its jumping or flying to generalities and the principles of things. We ought, therefore, already to meet the evil.
65. The corruption of philosophy by the mixing of it up with superstition and theology is of a much wider extent, and is most injurious to it, both as a whole and in parts. For the human understanding, is no less exposed to the impressions of fancy, than to those of vulgar notions. The disputatious and sophistic school entraps the understanding, whilst the fanciful, bombastic, and, as it were, poetical school rather flatters it. There is a clear example of this among the Greeks, especially in Pythagoras, where, however, the superstition is coarse and overcharged, but it is more dangerous and refined in Plato and his school. This evil is found also in some branches of other systems of philosophy, where it introduces abstracted forms, final and first causes, omitting frequently the intermediate, and the like. Against it we must use the greatest caution; for the apotheosis of error is the greatest evil of all, and when folly is worshipped, it is, as it were, a plague spot upon the understanding. Yet, some of the moderns have indulged this folly, with such consummate inconsiderateness, that they have endeavoured to build a system of natural philosophy on the first chapter of Genesis, the book of Job, and other parts of Scripture; seeking thus the dead amongst the living. And this folly is the more to be prevented and restrained, because not only fantastical philosophy but heretical religion spring from the absurd mixture of matters divine and human. It is, therefore, most wise soberly to render unto faith the things that are faith's.
66. Having spoken of the vicious authority of the systems founded either on vulgar notions, or on a few experiments, or on superstition, we must now consider the faulty subjects for contemplation, especially in natural philosophy. The [Page 352] human understanding is perverted by observing the power of mechanical arts, in which bodies are very materially changed by composition or separation, and is induced to suppose that something similar takes place in the universal nature of things. Hence the fiction of elements, and their cooperation in forming natural bodies. Again, when man reflects upon the entire liberty of nature, he meets with particular species of things, as animals, plants, minerals, and is thence easily led to imagine that there exist in nature certain primary forms which she strives to produce, and that all variation from them arises from some impediment or error which she is exposed to in completing her work, or from the collision or metamorphosis of different species. The first hypothesis has produced the doctrine of elementary properties, the second that of occult properties and specific powers: and both lead to trifling courses of reflection, in which the mind acquiesces, and is thus diverted from more important subjects. But physicians exercise a much more useful labour in the consideration of the secondary qualities of things, and the operations of attraction, repulsion, attenuation, inspissation, dilatation, astringency, separation, maturation, and the like; and would do still more if they would not corrupt these proper observations by the two systems I have alluded to, of elementary qualities and specific powers, by which they either reduce the secondary to first qualities, and their subtile and immeasurable composition, or at any rate neglect to advance by greater and more diligent observation to the third and fourth qualities, thus terminating their contemplation prematurely. Nor are these powers (or the like) to be investigated only among the medicines of the human body, but also in all changes of other natural bodies.
A greater evil arises from the contemplation and investigation rather of the stationary principles of things, from which, than of the active, by which things themselves are created. For the former only serve for discussion, the latter for practice. Nor is any value to be set on those common differences of motion which are observed in the received system of natural philosophy, as generation, corruption, augmentation, diminution, alteration, and translation. For this is their meaning: if a body, unchanged in other respects, is moved from its place, this is translation; if the place and species be given, but the quantity changed, it is alteration; but if, from such a change, the mass and quantity of the body do not continue the same, this is the motion of augmentation and diminution; if the change be continued so as to vary the species and substance, and transfuse them to others, this is generation and corruption. All this is merely popular, and by no means penetrates into nature; and these are but the measures and bounds of motion, and not different species of it; they merely suggest how far, and not how or whence. For they exhibit neither the affections of bodies, nor the process of their parts, but merely establish a division of that motion, which coarsely exhibits to the senses matter in its varied form. Even when they wish to point out something relative to the causes of motion, and to establish a division of them, they most absurdly introduce natural and violent motion, which is also a popular notion, since every violent motion is also in fact natural, that is to say, the external efficient puts nature in action in a different manner to that which she had previously employed.
But if, neglecting these, any one were for instance to observe, that there is in bodies a tendency of adhesion, so as not to suffer the unity of nature to be completely separated or broken, and a vacuum to be formed ; or that they have a tendency to return to their natural dimensions or tension, so that, if compressed or extended within or beyond it, they immediately strive to recover themselves, and resume their former volume and extent; or that they have a tendency to congregate into masses with similar bodies, the dense, for instance, towards the circumference of the earth, the thin and rare towards that of the heavens, these and the like are true physical genera of motions, but the others are clearly logical and scholastic, as appears plainly from a comparison of the two.
Another considerable evil is, that men in their systems and contemplations bestow their labour upon the investigation and discussion of the principles of things and the extreme limits of nature, although all utility and means of action consist in the intermediate objects. Hence men cease not to abstract nature till they arrive at potential and shapeless matter, and still persist in their dissection, till they arrive at atoms; and yet, were all this true, it would be of little use to advance man's estate. ...
70. But experience is by far the best demonstration, provided it adhere to the experiment actually made; for if that experiment be transferred to other subjects apparently similar, unless with proper and methodical caution, it becomes fallacious. The present method of experiment is blind and stupid. Hence men wandering and roaming without any determined course, and consulting mere chance, are hurried about to various points, and advance but little; at one time they are happy, at another their attention is distracted, and they always find that they want something further. Men generally make their experiments carelessly, and as it were in sport, making some little variation in a known experiment, and then, if they fail, they become disgusted and give up the attempt: nay, if they set to work mere seriously, steadily, and assiduously, yet they waste all their time on probing some solitary matter; as Gilbert on the magnet, and the alchymists on gold. But such conduct shows their method to be no less unskilful than mean. For nobody can successfully investigate the nature of any object by considering that object alone; the inquiry must be more generally extended.
Even when men build any science and theory upon experiment, yet they almost always turn with premature and hasty zeal to practice, not merely on account of the advantage and benefit to be derived from it, but in order to seize upon some security in a new undertaking of their not employing the remainder of their labour unprofitably; and by making themselves conspicuous, to acquire a greater name for their pursuit. Hence, like Atalanta, they leave the course to pick up the golden apple, interrupting their speed, and giving up the victory. But, in the true course of experiment, and in extending it to new effects, we should imitate the Divine foresight and order. For God, on the first day, only created light, and assigned a whole day to that work, without creating any material substance thereon. In like manner, we must first, by every kind of experiment, elicit the discovery of causes and true axioms, and seek for experiments which may afford light rather than profit. Axioms, when rightly investigated and established, prepare us not for a limited but abundant practice, and bring in their train whole troops of effects. But we will treat hereafter of the ways of experience, which are not less beset and interrupted than those of judgment; having spoken at present of common experience only as a bad species of demonstration, the order of our subject now requires some mention of those external signs of the weakness in practice of the received systems of philosophy and contemplation, which we referred to above, and of the causes of a circumstance at first sight so wonderful and incredible. For the knowledge of these external signs prepares the [Page 354] way for assent, and the explanation of the causes removes the wonder; and these two circumstances are of material use in extirpating more easily and gently the idols from the understanding.
71. The sciences we possess have been principally derived from the Greeks: for the addition of the Roman, Arabic, or more modern writers are but few, and of small importance: and, such as they are, are founded on the basis of Greek invention. But the wisdom of the Greeks was professional and disputatious, and thus most adverse to the investigation of truth. The name, therefore, of sophists, which the contemptuous spirit of those who deemed themselves philosophers, rejected and transferred to the rhetoricians, Gorgias, Protagoras, Hippias, Polus, might well suit the whole tribe, such as Plato, Aristotle, Zone, Epicurus, Theophrastus, and their successors, Chrysippus, Carneades, and the rest. There was only this difference between them, the former were mercenary vagabonds, travelling about to different states, making a show of their wisdom and requiring pay; the latter, more dignified and noble, in possession of fixed habitations, opening schools, and teaching philosophy gratuitously. Both, however, (though differing in other respects,) were professorial, and reduced every subject to controversy, establishing and defending certain sects and dogmas of philosophy: so that their doctrines were nearly (what Dionysius not unaptly objected to Plato) "the talk of idle old men to ignorant youths." But the more ancient Greeks, as Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Leucippus, Democritus, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Philolaus, and the rest, (for I omit Pythagoras, as being superstitious,) did not (that we are aware) open schools; but betook themselves to the investigation of truth with greater silence, and with more severity and simplicity : that is, with less affectation and ostentation. Hence, in our opinion, they acted more advisedly, however their works may have been eclipsed in course of time by those lighter productions which better correspond with and please the apprehensions and passions of the vulgar: for time, like a river, bears down to us that which is light and inflated, and sinks that which is heavy and solid. Nor were even these more ancient philosophers free from the natural defect, but inclined too much to the ambition and vanity of forming a sect, and captivating public opinion: and we must despair of any inquiry after truth, when it condescends to such trifles. Nor must we omit the opinion or rather prophecy of an Egyptian priest with regard to the Greeks, "that they would for ever remain children, without any antiquity of knowledge or knowledge of antiquity." For they certainly have this in common with children, that they are prone to talking and incapable of generation, their wisdom being loquacious, and unproductive of effects. Hence the external signs derived from the origin and birthplace of our present philosophy are not favourable.
72. Nor are those mueh better which can be deduced from the character of the time and age, than the former from that of the country and nation. For in that age the knowledge both of time and of the world was confined and meagre, which is one of the worst evils for those who rely entirely on experience. They had not a thousand years of history, worthy of that name, but mere fables and ancient traditions. They were acquainted with but a small portion of the regions and countries of the world--for they indiscriminately called all nations situated far towards the north Scythians, all those to the west Celts; they knew nothing of Africa, but the nearest part of Ethiopia, or of Asia beyond the Ganges, and had not even heard any sure and clear tradition of the region of the new world. Besides, a vast number of climates and zones, in which innumerable nations live and breathe, were pronounced by them to be uninhabitable, nay, the travels of Democritus, Plato, and Pythagoras, which were not extensive, but rather mere excursions from home, were considered as something vast. But in our times many parts of the new world, and every extremity of the old are well known, and the mass of experiments has been infinitely increased. Wherefore, if external signs were to be taken from the time of the nativity or procreation, (as in astrology,) nothing extraordinary could be predicted of these early systems of philosophy.
73. Of all signs there is none more certain or worthy than that of the fruits produced: for the fruits and effects are the sureties and vouchers, as it were, for the truth of philosophy. Now, from the systems of the Greeks and their subordinate divisions in particular branches of the sciences during so long a period, scarcely one single experiment can be culled that has a tendency to elevate or assist mankind, and can be fairly set down to the speculations and doctrines of their philosophy. Celsus candidly and wisely confesses as much, when he observes that experiments were first discovered in medicine, and that men afterwards built their philosophical systems upon them, and searched for and assigned causes, instead of the inverse method of discovering and deriving experiments from philosophy and the knowledge of causes. It is not, therefore, wonderful that the Egyptians (who bestowed divinity and sacred honours on the authors of new inventions) should have consecrated more images of brutes than of men; for the brutes, by their natural instinct, made many discoveries, whilst men discovered but few from discussion and the conclusions of reason.
The industry of the alchymists has produced some effect, by chance, however, and casualty, or from varying their experiments, (as mechanics also do,) and not from any regular art or theory; the [Page 355] theory they have imagined rather tending to disturb than to assist experiment. Those, too, who have occupied themselves with natural magic, (as they term it,) have made but few discoveries, and those of small import, and bordering on imposture. For which reason, in the same manner as we are cautioned by religion to show our faith by our works we may very properly apply the principle to philosophy, and judge of it by its works; accounting that to be futile which is unproductive, and still more so, if instead of grapes and olives it yield but the thistle and thorns of dispute and contention.
74. Other signs may be selected from the increase and progress of particular systems of philosophy and the sciences. For those which are founded on nature grow and increase, whilst those which are founded on opinion change, and increase not. If, therefore, the theories we have mentioned were not like plants torn up by the roots, but grew in the womb of nature and were nourished by her; that which for the last two thousand years has taken place would never have happened: namely, that the sciences still continue in their beaten track, and nearly stationary, without having received any important increase; nay, having, on the contrary, rather bloomed under the hands of their first author, and then faded away. But we see that the case is reversed in the mechanical arts, which are founded on nature and the light of experience, for they (as long as they are popular) seem full of life, and uninterruptedly thrive and grow, being at first rude, then convenient, lastly polished, and perpetually improved.
75. There is yet another sign, (if such it may be termed, being rather an evidence, and one of the strongest nature,) namely, the actual confession of those very authorities whom men now follow. For even they who decide on things so daringly, yet, at times, when they reflect, betake themselves to complaints about the subtilty of nature, the obscurity of things, and the weakness of man's wit. If they would merely do this, they might perhaps deter those who are of a timid disposition from further inquiry, but would excite and stimulate those of a more active and confident turn to further advances. They are not, however, satisfied with confessing so much of themselves, but consider every thing which has been either unknown or unattempted by themselves or their teachers, as beyond the limits of possibility; and thus, with most consummate pride and envy, convert the defects of their own discoveries into a calumny on nature, and a source of despair to every one else. Hence arose the new academy, which openly professed skepticism and consigned mankind to eternal darkness. Hence the notion that forms, or the true differences of things, (which are in fact the laws of simple action,) are beyond man's reach, and cannot possibly be discovered. Hence those notions in the active and operative branches; that the heat of the sun and of fire are totally different, so as to prevent men from supposing that they can elicit or form, by means of fire, any thing similar to the operations of nature; and, again, that composition only is the work of man and mixture of nature, so as to prevent men from expecting the generation or transformation of natural bodies by art. Men will, therefore, easily allow themselves to be persuaded by this sign, not to engage their fortunes and labour in speculations, which are not only desperate, but actually devoted to desperation.
76. Nor should we omit the sign afforded by the great dissension formerly prevalent among philosophers, and the variety of schools, which sufficiently show that the way was not well prepared, that leads from the senses to the understanding, since the same groundwork of philosophy (namely, the nature of things) was torn and divided into such widely differing and multifarious errors. And although, in these days, the dissensions and differences of opinions with regard to first principles and entire systems are nearly extinct, yet there remain innumerable questions and controversies with regard to particular branches of philosophy. So that it is manifest that there is nothing sure or sound either in the systems themselves or in the methods of demonstration.
77. With regard to the supposition that there is a general unanimity as to the philosophy of Aristotle, because the other systems of the ancients ceased and became obsolete on its promulgation, and nothing better has been since discovered; whence it appears that it is so well determined and founded as to have united the suffrages of both ages; we will observe--1st. That the notion of other ancient systems having ceased after the publication of the works of Aristotle is false, for the works of the ancient philosophers subsisted long after that event, even to the time of Cicero and the subsequent ages. But at a later period, when human learning had, as it were, been wrecked in the inundation of barbarians into the Roman empire, then the systems of Aristotle and Plato were preserved in the waves of ages, like blanks of a lighter and less solid nature. 2d. The notion of unanimity on a clear inspection is found to be fallacious. For true unanimity is that which proceeds from a free judgment arriving at the same conclusion after an investigation of the fact. Now, by far the greater number of those who have assented to the philosophy of Aristotle, have bound themselves down to it, from prejudice and the authority of others, so that it is rather obsequiousness and concurrence than unanimity. But even if it were real and extensive unanimity, so far from being esteemed a true and solid confirmation, it should lead to a violent presumption to the contrary. For there is no worse augury in intellectual matters than that derived from unanimity, with the exception [Page 356] of divinity and politics, where suffrages are allowed to decide. For nothing pleases the multitude, unless it strike the imagination or bind down the understanding, as we have observed above, with time shackles of vulgar notions. Hence we may well transfer Phocion's remark from morals to the intellect: " That men should immediately examine what error or fault they have committed, when the multitude concurs with and applauds them." This, then, is one of the most unfavourable signs. All the signs, therefore, of the truth and soundness of the received systems of philosophy and the sciences are unpropitious, whether taken from their origin, their fruits, their progress, the confessions of their authors, or from unanimity.
78. We now come to the causes of errors, and of such perseverance in them for ages. These are sufficiently numerous and powerful to remove all wonder that what we now offer should have so long been concealed from and have escaped the notice of mankind, and to render it more worthy of astonishment, that it should even now have entered any one's mind or become the subject of his thoughts; and that it should have done so, we consider rather the gift of fortune than of any extraordinary talent, and as the offspring of time rather than wit. But, in the first place, the number of ages is reduced to very narrow limits on a proper consideration of the matter. For, out of twenty-five centuries, with which the memory and learning of man are conversant, scarcely six can be set apart and selected as fertile in science and favourable in its progress. For there are deserts and wastes, in times as in countries, and we can only reckon up three revolutions and epochs of philosophy. 1. The Greek. 2. The Roman. 3. Our own, that is, the philosophy of the western nations of Europe: and scarcely two centurles can with justice be assigned to each. The intermediate ages of the world were unfortunate, both in the quantity and richness of the sciences produced. Nor need we mention the Arabs or the scholastic philosophy which, in those ages, ground down the sciences by their numerous treatises more than an they increased their weight. The first cause, then, of such insignificant progress in the sciences is rightly referred to the small proportion of time which has been favourable thereto.
79. A second cause offers itself, which is certainly of the greatest importance; namely, that in those very ages in which men's wit, and literature flourished considerably, or even moderately, but a small part of their industry was bestowed on natural philosophy, the great mother of the sciences. For every art and science torn from this root may, perhaps, be polished and put into a serviceable shape, but can admit of little growth. It is well known that after the Christian religion had been acknowledged and arrived at maturity, by far the best wits were busied upon theology, where the highest rewards offered themselves, and every species of assistance was abundantly supplied, and the study of which was the principal occupation of the western European nations during the third epoch; the rather because literature flourished about the very time when controversies concerning religion first began to bud forth. 2. In the preceding ages, during the second epoch, (that of the Romans,) philosophical meditation and labour was chiefly occupied arid wasted in moral philosophy, (the theology of the heathens:) besides, the greatest minds in these times applied themselves to civil affairs, on account of the magnitude of the Roman empire, which required the labour of many. 3. The age during which natural philosophy appeared principally to flourish among the Greeks was but a short period, since in the more ancient times the seven sages (with the exception of Thales) applied themselves to moral philosophy and politics, and at a later period after Socrates had brought down philosophy from heaven to earth, moral philosophy became more prevalent, and diverted men's attention from natural. Nay, the very period during which physical inquiries flourished, was corrupted and rendered useless by contradictions and the ambition of new opinions. Since, therefore, during these three epochs, natural philosophy has been materially neglected or impeded, it is not at all surprising that men should have made but little progress in it, seeing they were attending to an entirely different matter.
80. Add to this that natural philosophy, especially of late, has seldom gained exclusive possession of an individual free from all other pursuits, even amongst those who have applied themselves to it, unless there may be an example or two of some monk studying in his cell, or some nobleman in his villa. She has rather been made a passage and bridge to other pursuits.
Thus has this great mother of the sciences been degraded most unworthily to the situation of an handmaid, and made to wait upon medicine or mathematical operations, and to wash the immature minds of youth, and imbue them with a first dye, that they may afterwards be more ready to receive and retain another. In the mean time let no one expect any great progress in the sciences, (especially their operative part,) unless natural philosophy be applied to particular sciences, and particular sciences again referred back to natural philosophy. For want of this, astronomy, optics, music, many mechanical arts, medicine itself, and (what perhaps is more wonderful) moral and political philosophy, and the logical sciences have no depth, but only glide over the surface and variety of things; because these sciences, when they have been once partitioned out and established, [Page 357] are no longer nourished by natural philosophy, which would have imparted fresh vigour and growth to them from the sources and genuine contemplation of motion, rays, sounds, texture, and confirmation of bodies, and the affections and capacity of the understanding. But we can little wonder that the sciences grow not when separated from their roots.
81. There is another powerful and great cause of the little advancement of the sciences, which is this: it is impossible to advance properly in the course when the goal is not properly fixed. But the real and legitimate goal of the sciences is the endowment of human life with new inventions and riches. The great crowd of teachers know nothing of this, but consist of dictatorial hirelings: unless it so happen that some artisan of an acute genius and ambitious of fame gives up his time to a new discovery, which is generally attended with a loss of property. The majority, so far from proposing to themselves the augmentation of the mass of arts and sciences, make no other use of an inquiry into the mass already before them, than is afforded by the conversion of it to some use in their lectures, or to gain, or to the acquirement of a name and the like. But if one out of the multitude be found, who courts science from real zeal and on its own account, even he will be seen rather to follow contemplation and the variety of theories than a severe and strict investigation of truth. Again, if there even be an unusually strict investigator of truth, yet will he propose to himself as the test of truth the satisfaction of his mind and understanding, as to the causes of things long since known, and not such a test as to lead to some new earnest of effects, and a new light in axioms. If, therefore, no one have laid down the real end of science, we cannot wonder that there should be error in points subordinate to that end.
82. But, in like manner as the end and goal of science is ill defined, so, even were the case otherwise, men have chosen an erroneous and impassable direction. For it is sufficient to astonish any reflecting mind, that nobody should have cared or wished to open and complete a way for the understanding, setting off from the senses, and regular, well conducted experiment; but that every thing has been abandoned either to the mists of tradition, the whirl and confusion of argument, or the waves and mazes of chance, and desultory, illcombined experiment. Now, let any one but consider soberly and diligently the nature of the path men have been accustomed to pursue in the investigation and discovery of any matter, and he will doubtless first observe the rude and inartificial manner of discovery most familiar to mankind: which is no other than this. When any one prepares himself for discovery, he first inquires and obtains a full account of all that has been said on the subject by others, then adds his own reflections, and stirs up and, as it were, invokes his own spirit, after much mental labour, to disclose its oracles. All which is a method without foundation and merely turns on opinion.
Another perhaps calls in logic to assist him in discovery, which bears only a nominal relation to his purpose. For the discoveries of logic are not discoveries of principles and leading axioms, but only of what appears to accord with them. And when men become curious and importunate and give trouble, interrupting her about her proofs and the discovery of principles or first axioms, she puts them off with her usual answer, referring them to faith, and ordering them to swear allegiance to each art in its own department.
There remains but mere experience, which when it offers itself is called chance; when it is sought after, experiment. But this kind of experience is nothing but a loose faggot, and mere groping in the dark, as men at night try all means of discovering the right road, whilst it would be better and more prudent either to wait for day or procure a light and then proceed. On the contrary the real order of experience begins by setting up a light, and then shows the road by it, commencing with a regulated and digested, not a misplaced and vague course of experiment, and thence deducing axioms, and from those axioms new experiments: for not even the Divine Word proceeded to operate on the general mass of things without due order.
Let men therefore cease to wonder if the whole course of science be not run, when all have wandered from the path; quitting entirely and deserting experience, or involving themselves in its mazes, and wandering about, whilst a regularly combined system would lead them in a sure track through its wilds to the open day of axioms. ...
104. Nor can we suffer the understanding to jump and fly from particulars to remote and most general axioms, (such as are termed the principles of arts and things,) and thus prove and make out their intermediate axioms according to the supposed unshaken truth of the former. This [Page 364] , however, has always been done to the present time from the natural bent of the understanding, educated, too, and accustomed to this very method by the syllogistic mode of demonstration. But we can then only augur well for the sciences, when the ascent shall proceed by a true scale and successive steps, without interruption or breach, from particulars to the lesser axioms, thence to the intermediate, (rising one above the other,) and lastly to the most general. For the lowest axioms differ but little from bare experiment, the highest and most general (as they are esteemed at present) are notional, abstract, and of no real weight. The intermediate are true, solid, full of life, and upon them depend the business and fortune of mankind; beyond these are the really general, but not abstract, axioms, which are truly limited by the intermediate.
We must not then add wings, but rather lead and ballast to the understanding, to prevent its jumping or flying, which has not yet been done; but whenever this takes place we may entertain greater hopes of the sciences.
105. In forming axioms, we must invent a different form of induction from that hitherto in use; not only for the proof and discovery of principles, (as they are called,) but also of minor intermediate, and in short every kind of axioms. The induction which proceeds by simple enumeration is puerile, leads to uncertain conclusions, and is exposed to danger from one contradictory instance, deciding generally from too small a number of facts, and those only the most obvious. But a really useful induction for the discovery and demonstration of the arts and sciences should separate nature by proper rejections and exclusions, and then conclude for the affirmative, after collecting a sufficient number of negatives. Now, this has not been done, or even attempted, except perhaps by Plato, who certainly uses this form of induction in some measure, to sift definitions and ideas. But much of what has never yet entered the thoughts of man, must necessarily be employed in order to exhibit a good and legitimate mode of induction, or demonstration; so as even to render it essential for us to bestow more pains upon it than have hitherto been bestowed on syllogisms. The assistance of induction is to serve us not only in the discovery of axioms, but also in defining our notions. Much indeed is to be hoped from such an induction as has been described.
106. In forming our axioms from induction, we must examine and try, whether the axiom we derive be only fitted and calculated for the particular instances from which it is deduced, or whether it be more extensive and general. If it be the latter, we must observe, whether it confirm its own extent and generality, by giving surety, as it were, in pointing out new particulars, so that we may neither stop at actual discoveries, nor with a careless grasp catch at shadows and abstract forms, instead of substances of a determinate nature; and as soon as we act thus, well authorized hopes may with reason be said to beam upon us.
107. Here, too, we may again repeat what we have said above, concerning the extending of natural philosophy, and reducing particular sciences to that one, so as to prevent any schism or dismembering of the sciences; without which we cannot hope to advance.
108. Such are the observations we would make, in order to remove despair and excite hope, by bidding farewell to the errors of past ages, or by their correction. Let us examine whether there be other grounds for hope. And, first, if many useful discoveries have occurred to mankind by chance or opportunity, without investigation or attention on their part, it must necessarily be acknowledged that much more may be brought to light by investigation and attention, if it be regular and orderly, not hasty and interrupted. For, although it may now and then happen that one falls by chance upon something that had before escaped considerable efforts and laborious inquiries, yet, undoubtedly, the reverse is generally the case. We may, therefore, hope for further, better, and more frequent results from man's reason, industry, method, and application, than from chance and mere animal instinct, and the like, which have hitherto been the sources of invention.
109. We may also derive some reason for hope, from the circumstance of several actual inventions being of such a nature, that scarcely any one could have formed a conjecture about them, previously to their discovery, but would rather have ridiculed them as impossible. For men are wont to guess about new subjects, from those they are already acquainted with, and the hasty and vitiated fancies they have thence formed : than which there cannot be a more fallacious mode of reasoning, because much of that which is derived from the sources of things, does not flow in their usual channel. If, for instance, before the discovery of cannon, one had described its effects in the following manner: "There is a new invention, by which walls and the greatest bulwarks can be shaken and overthrown from a considerable distance," men would have begun to contrive various means of multiplying the force of projectiles and machines, by means of weights and wheels, and other modes of battering and projecting. But it is improbable that any imagination or fancy would have hit upon a fiery blast expanding and developing itself so suddenly and violently, because none would have seen an instance at all resembling it, except perhaps in earthquakes or thunder, which they would have immediately rejected as the great operations of nature, not to be imitated by man.
So if, before the discovery of silk thread, any [Page 365] one had observed, "that a species of thread had been discovered, fit for dresses and furniture, far surpassing the thread of worsted or flax in fineness, and at the same time in tenacity, beauty, and softness," men would have begun to imagine something about Chinese plants, or the fine hair of some animals, or the feathers or down of birds, but certainly would never have had an idea of its being spun by a small worm, in so copious a manner, and renewed annually. But if any one had ventured to suggest the silk worm, he would have been laughed at, as if dreaming of some new manufacture from spiders.
So, again, if before the discovery of the compass, any one had said, "that an instrument had been invented, by which the quarters and, points of the heavens could be exactly taken and distinguished," men would have entered into disquisitions on the refinement of astronomical instruments, and the like, from the excitement of their imaginations; but the thought of any thing being discovered, which not being a celestial body, but a mere mineral or metallic substance, should yet in its motion agree with that of such bodies, would have appeared absolutely incredible. Yet were these facts, and the like (unknown for so many ages) not discovered at last, either by philosophy or reasoning, but by chance and opportunity; and (as we have observed) they are of a nature most heterogeneous, and remote from what was hitherto known, so that no previous knowledge could lead to them.
We may, therefore, well hope that many excellent and useful matters are yet treasured up in the bosom of nature, bearing no relation or analogy to our actual discoveries, but out of the common track of our imagination, and still undiscovered; and which will doubtless be brought to light in the course and lapse of years, as the others have been before them; but in the way we now point out, they may rapidly and at once be both represented and anticipated.
110. There are moreover some inventions which render it probable that men may pass and hurry over the most noble discoveries which lie immediately before them. For, however the discovery of gunpowder, silk, the compass, sugar, paper, or the like, may appear to depend on peculiar properties of things and nature, printing at least involves no contrivance which is not clear and almost obvious. But from want of observing that although the arrangement of the types of letters required more trouble than writing with the hand, yet these types once arranged serve for innumerable impressions, whilst manuscript only affords one copy; and again, from want of observing that ink might be thickened so as to stain without running, (which was necessary, seeing the letters face upwards, and the impression is made from above,) this most beautiful invention (which assists so materially the propagation of learning) remained unknown for so many ages. ...
117. And, as we pretend not to found a sect, so do we neither offer nor promise particular effects: which may occasion some to object to us, that since we so often speak of effects, and consider every thing in its relation to that end, we ought also to give some earnest of producing them. Our course and method, however, as we have often said, and again repeat, is such as not to deduce effects from effects, nor experiments from experiments, (as the empirics do,) but in our capacity of legitimate interpreters of nature, to deduce causes and axioms from effects and [Page 367] experiments; and new effects and experiments from those causes and axioms.
And, although any one of moderate intelligence and ability will observe the indications and sketches of many noble effects in our tables of inventions, (which form the fourth part of the Instauration,) and also in the examples of particular instances cited in the second part, as well as in our observations on history, (which is the subject of the third part; yet we candidly confess that our present natural history, whether compiled from books or our own inquiries, is not sufficiently copious and well ascertained to satisfy, or even assist, a proper interpretation.
If, therefore, there be any one who is more disposed and prepared for mechanical art, and ingenious in discovering effects, than in the mere management of experiment, we allow him to employ his industry in gathering many of the fruits of our history and tables in his way, and applying them to effects, receiving them as interest till he can obtain the principal. For our own part, having a greater object in view, we condemn all hasty and premature rest in such pursuits, as we would Atalanta?s apple (to use a common allusion of ours;) for we are not childishly ambitious of golden fruit, but use all our efforts to make the course of art outstrip nature, and we hasten not to reap moss of the green blade, but wait for a ripe harvest.
118. There will be some, without doubt, who, on a perusal of our history and tables of invention, will meet with some uncertainty, or perhaps fallacy, in the experiments themselves, and will thence, perhaps, imagine that our discoveries are built on false foundations and priciples. There is, however, really nothing in this, since it must needs happen in beginnings. For it is the same as if in writing or printing one or two letters were wrongly turned or misplaced, which is no great inconvenience to the reader, who can easily by his own eye correct the error; let men in the same way conclude that many experiments in natural history may be erroneously believed and admitted, which are easily expunged and rejected afterwards by the discovery of causes and axioms. It is, however, true that if these errors in natural history and experiments become great, frequent, and continued, they cannot be corrected and amended by any dexterity of wit or art. If, then, even in our natural history, well examined and compiled with such diligence, strictness, and (I might say) reverential scruples, there be now and then something false and erroneous in the details, what must we say of the common natural history, which is so negligent and careless when compared with ours? or of systems of philosophy and the sciences based on such loose soil, or rather quicksand? Let none then be alarmed by such observations.
119. Again, our history and experiments will contain much that is light and common, mean and illiberal, too refined and merely speculative, and, as it were, of no use, and this, perhaps, may divert and alienate the attention of mankind. With regard to what is common; let men reflect, that they have hitherto been used to do nothing but refer and adapt the causes of things of rare occurrence to those of things which more frequently happen, without any investigation of the causes of the latter, taking them for granted and admitted.
Hence they do not inquire into the causes of gravity, the rotation of the heavenly bodies, heat, cold, light, hardness, softness, rarity, density, liquidity, solidity, animation, inanimation, similitude, difference, organic formation, but taking them to be self-evident, manifest, and admitted, they dispute and decide upon other matters of less frequent and familiar occurrence.
But we (who know that no judgment can he formed of that which is rare or remarkable, and much less any thing new brought to light, without a previous regular examination and discovery of the causes of that which is common, and the causes again of those causes) are necessarily compelled to admit the most common objects into our history. Besides, we have observed that nothing has been so injurious to philosophy as this circumstance, namely, that familiar and frequent objects do not arrest and detain men's contemplation, but are carelessly admitted, and their causes never inquired after; so that information on unknown subjects is not more often wanted than attention to those which are known. ...
125. Others may object that we are only doing that which has already been done, and that the ancients followed the same course as ourselves. They may imagine, therefore, that, after all this stir and exertion, we shall at last arrive at some of those systems that prevailed among the ancients: for that they, too, when commencing their meditations, laid up a great store of instantces and particulars, and digested them under topics and titles in their commonplace books, and so worked out their systems and arts, and then decided upon what they discovered, and related now and then some examples to confirm and throw light upon their doctrine; but thought it superfluous and troublesome to publish their notes, minutes, and commonplaces, and, therefore, followed the example of builders, who remove the scaffolding and ladders when the building is finished. Nor can we indeed believe the case to have been otherwise. But to any one, not entirely forgetful of our previous observations, it will be easy to answer this objection, or rather scruple. For, we allow that the ancients had a particular form of investigation and discovery, and their writings show it. But it was of such a nature, that they immediately flew from a few instances and particulars, (after adding some common notions, and a few generally received opinions most in vogue,) to the most general conclusions, or the principles of the sciences, and then by their intermediate propositions deduced their inferior conclusions, and tried them by the test of the immovable and settled truth of the first, and so constructed their art. Lastly, if some new particulars and instances were brought forward, which contradicted their dogmas, they either with great subtilty reduced them to one system, by distinctions or explanations of their own rules, or got rid of them clumsily as exceptions, labouring most pertinaciously in the mean time to accommodate the causes of such as were not contradictory to their own principles. Their natural history and their experience were both far from being what they ought to have been, and their flying off to generalities ruined every thing.
126. Another objection will be made against us, that we prohibit decisions, and the laying down of certain principles, till we arrive regular ly at generalities by the intermediate steps, and thus keep the judgment in suspense and lead to uncertainty. But our object is not uncertainty, but fitting certainty, for we derogate not from the senses, but assist them, and despise not the understanding, but direct it. It is better to know what is necessary, and not to imagine we are fully in possession of it, than to imagine that we are fully in possession of it, and yet in reality to know nothing which we ought. ...