Essays Questions and Answers
by Francis Bacon

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“A man’s nature runs either to herbs or weeds; therefore, let him seasonably water the one, and destroy the other” (Bacon, “Of Nature in Men” 141). In what ways does this quotation reflect Francis Bacon’s approach to knowledge and the human condition in his Essays and in his New Atlantis?

This quote reflects the pragmatic emphasis on both morality and rationalism that threads through Bacon's Essays and his New Atlantis.

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In both his Essays and his New Atlantis, Bacon promotes an ideal world founded on Christian ethics conjoined with an enlightened view of scientific inquiry and rationalism. The Essays examine a variety of moral subjects in a dispassionate and pragmatic way, while the New Atlantis explores an ideal utopia near Peru that has been converted to Christianity, runs on enlightened and scientific principles, and is pure and morally uncorrupted in a way Europe is not, expanding on Montaigne's idea of the Noble Savage.

The quote that "A man's nature runs either to herbs or weeds; therefore let him seasonably water the one, and destroy the other," the last line of his essay "On Nature in Men," encapsulates Bacon's emphasis on both morality and rationalism. Herbs represents virtues or good qualities, while weeds represent evil or destructive qualities in human beings. This symbolism places us squarely in a moral universe of good and evil, where humans engage in an ongoing struggle to embrace the good and reject the wicked. However, the sentence also encompasses the idea that humans are rational agents with control over their souls and the ability to chose and cultivate the good. This power to improve oneself, and, therefore, one's society, through the exercise of rationality is a key component of Enlightenment thought.

Further, the "either/or" balance in this sentence exemplifies the practical way Bacon approaches ethical issues: morality is not an abstract quality to him but a way to function more beneficially in the real world. Moral development here is depicted as akin to the everyday task of weeding a garden to obtain a better produce yield.

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