Define "aphorism." Do you think that Bacon's aphorism, particularly portrayed in "Of Marriage and Single Life," is a socially biased one? Explain.

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An aphorism can be defined as a short, clever statement that contains a general truth. A good example would be Lord Acton's "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

In his many writings, Francis Bacon often used aphorisms as a way of making his point. This isn't altogether surprising when one considers that Bacon always strove for clarity and concision in the expression of his ideas, an example which he hoped that other learned men would follow.

All too many of Bacon's contemporaries expressed themselves in turgid, long-winded prose that made it difficult even for educated men to understand what on earth they were talking about. Using aphorisms was one of the ways that Bacon avoided falling into the same trap.

In one of his essays, "Of Marriage and the Single Life," Bacon gives us one of his most celebrated aphorisms:

He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.

What Bacon means by this is that having a wife and children can often limit men in what they can do. One should remember that, in making this remark, Bacon was addressing people like himself: wealthy, powerful, well-connected men. Like Bacon, such men tended to be fiercely ambitious, and what Bacon is telling them in this aphorism is that their ambitions may very well be held back by the challenges of raising a family.

In that sense, one could argue that Bacon shows the biases of his gender and class. But on the other hand, Bacon was always a much more subtle thinker than this brief analysis would suggest. Later on in the very same essay, Bacon goes on to say that having a wife and children may actually be of benefit to a man of means, not least because of the reflected virtue he'll derive from it. Even so, Bacon still seems to construe family life in utilitarian terms, as something that should be pursued for what benefits can be derived from it, rather any intrinsic worth it may have.

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