Biography (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Article abstract: The first to use English instead of Latin for a philosophical treatise with his Advancement of Learning, Bacon is credited with the formulation of modern scientific thought. His Essayes is widely admired for its worldly witticisms and has become a classic of the form.
Francis Bacon was born January 22, 1561, at York House in London, to Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Seal of England, and his second wife, née Ann Cooke, who was related to nobility through her sister, the wife of Sir William Cecil, the later Lord Treasurer Burghley. In 1573, at the age of twelve, Bacon entered Trinity College, Cambridge, which he left in 1576 for Gray’s Inn, thus following in his father’s steps and beginning a legal career.
After a brief visit to the French court in the entourage of Sir Amias Paulet from 1576 until his father’s death in 1579, Bacon stayed with the Inn and was called to the bar in 1582, two years before he began to complement his legal work with an ambitiously undertaken political career that commenced with his membership in Parliament.
After advancement to the position of Queen’s Counsel in 1589, Bacon’s career stalled under Elizabeth I, whom he seemed to have offended in a parliamentary debate regarding the implementation of regal subsidiaries in 1593; his enemies at court used the opportunity to bar his way to promotion, seeing in Bacon (not wholly unjustly) not only an ambitious, prolific writer of political advice but also an unscrupulous seeker of preferment. Again, on the personal level, his friendship with the young earl of Essex did not bring him hoped-for political gain; in 1601, after Essex’s ill-considered rebellion against the queen, Bacon’s position required him to partake in the prosecution of his former friend.
Although the publication of An Advertisement Touching the Controversies of the Church of England (1589) had brought Bacon political advancement, his later work of political advice did not professionally benefit him. During a long period of arrested political development until Elizabeth I’s death, Bacon showed himself stubborn and inclined to use the common practice of patronage and favoritism to lobby for a higher position. In his own office, he became a rather successful mediator of conflicts and tried hard but finally ineffectively to smooth the waves after Essex’s insubordination preceding his open revolt against the queen.
A later painting shows Bacon as a tall, bearded officer wearing his regalia and insignia proudly; the picture suggests the reserved, somewhat unemotional yet nevertheless personally sensitive character that his later biographers have asserted on the basis of accounts from Bacon’s chaplain and secretary William Rawley. At forty-five, he married Alice Barnham, daughter of a London alderman, who survived him; they had no children.
His long period of relative political inactivity under Elizabeth I gave Bacon time to write the first ten of his Essayes, which saw publication in 1597, and again, because of their popularity, in 1612 and in 1625, both times with significant enlargements that brought the total number to fifty-eight. A master of the essay form, which he helped to forge, Bacon looked at people and their government realistically, free of passionate idealism and zeal for the betterment of humankind. What his critics have called his Machiavellian and emotionless coldness nevertheless facilitated a witty discourse on the world as it really is and not as it should be in the eyes of reformers. With this was coupled political advice, as in his essays “On Dissimulation” or “On Plantations,” which portrayed the shortsightedness, greed, and abuses of his time.
The Advancement of...
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A noted lawyer and statesman of Renaissance England, Bacon defended the prerogatives of the crown and endorsed the divine right theory of monarchy. In a rapid rise to power, he became England’s attorney-general in 1613 and lord chancellor in 1618. In 1621, however, his political career ended when he was convicted of taking bribes from litigants while their cases were pending. Forced into retirement, Bacon spent the remainder of his life writing on philosophy and literature. The most influential of his thirty works included The Advancement of Learning (1605, expanded in 1623), The New Organon and Related Works (1622), The New Atlantis (1626), and several volumes of essays.
Although Bacon was not a practicing scientist, he is considered one of the prophets of modern science because of his popularization of the inductive method in research. In place of speculation and the deductive logic emphasized by the Scholastic philosophers, he proposed a “new method of reasoning” that derives general principles from the study of particular facts or instances, with the use of experiments when possible. While he remained a faithful member of the Church of England, he taught that scientists should assume the existence of a mechanistic and materialistic universe, and he proclaimed a sharp...
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Bacon’s chief contribution to the history of philosophy was his effort to reconstruct completely the conception and practice of science. His own novel method of induction figures prominently in his reconstruction, which helped to launch the modern period of philosophy. His approach, however, was quickly surpassed by better accounts of scientific methodology. In ethics, the Essayes was Bacon’s main work. These essays were published in three editions (1597, 1612, 1625), the second one an enlargement upon the first, and the third a completion of the whole. No systematic moral theory is presented; Bacon’s style is more aphoristic than philosophical. The Essayes offers practical advice on moral and social questions. Bacon’s major preoccupation as a philosopher was to point the way in which individuals could be restored to a position of superiority over nature. His views about ethics exhibit a hint of this same spirit. Thomas Hobbes, who is best known for his own elaborate political and moral philosophy, was Bacon’s apprentice for a time. His emphasis on overcoming the state of nature may have been reinforced by his association with Bacon. On a personal note, Bacon pleaded guilty in 1621 to charges of political corruption. For this offense he paid a fine, was imprisoned in the notorious Tower of London for a brief time, and was permanently banned from political office. Although his particular actions clearly were illegal, the morality of a law that would impugn them has been disputed. As a happy consequence of the leisure thus afforded him, Bacon composed most of his writings during the last five years of his life.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Francis Bacon, founder of the inductive method of modern science, philosopher, essayist, politician, and historian, was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, an Anglican, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal under Queen Elizabeth I. Bacon’s mother, Anne Bacon, a Calvinist, second wife of Sir Nicholas, was a Greek and Latin scholar, and the family was prosperous. Bacon’s uncle by the marriage of his aunt was Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, one of the most important men in England.
Young Francis Bacon was often seen at court in the company of his father and was known to Queen Elizabeth, who thought the boy extremely clever. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in April, 1573, when he was twelve years old. There he achieved a notable academic record and became known for criticizing the logic and science of his teachers. It seemed to the young student that the logic and philosophy of Aristotle were not adequate as a practical way to knowledge of the world, a criticism that provided the theoretical ground for Bacon’s philosophy of science.
After leaving Trinity College in 1575 Bacon became a student of law at Gray’s Inn in 1576. His studies were interrupted by a stay of two and a half years in Paris as a member of the staff of the English ambassador, Sir Amias Paulet. During this time he traveled widely and encountered the new ideas that were gradually supplanting Scholasticism in Europe. Recalled to England in February, 1579, because of the death of his father, he discovered that he had been left practically penniless, largely because his father had not finalized the division of his estate among his sons. After borrowing money to complete his law studies, Bacon was admitted to the bar in 1582.
Continuing to reflect on the need for new methods in science, Bacon entertained hopes of achieving a philosophy that would liberate students of nature from the artificial restraints of ancient logic and allow their work to have practical value in the world. At the same time he had political ambitions and prepared to set himself up as a man of power at court. In pursuit of this objective, he became a member of Parliament in 1584. He gradually ingratiated himself with Robert Devereux, the second earl of Essex, and attempted to use his influence with Essex, who was six years his junior, to secure for himself a responsible position at court. Although Essex was wealthy enough...
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Bibliography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Anderson, Fulton H. Francis Bacon: His Career and His Thought. Los Angeles: University of Southern California Press, 1962. Discusses the public life of Francis Bacon. Based on a series of lectures, the book links Bacon’s philosophy to his politics. Attempts to relate Bacon’s philosophy to twentieth century problems are not entirely successful.
Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963. A very readable and interesting biography that brings Bacon to life but is still historically accurate. The author’s favorable treatment forgives Bacon for all of his faults except his coldness toward women.
Farrington, Benjamin. The Philosophy of...
(The entire section is 442 words.)