How does Bacon present the importance of studies?

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Francis Bacon's Essays, written in groups between 1597 and 1625, are masterpieces of practical guidance in how to get along in the world of business, politics, government, and personal relations. His style is, for the seventeenth century, plain, direct, and unadorned, which makes his essays readily understandable even today. His perspective on all subjects can be characterized as balanced—he discusses both the negative and the positive elements of a particular subject. For example, in his essay on the value of marriage, he argues that a married man with children gives "hostages to fortune" but concludes that marriage and children moderate a man's natural aggressive behavior and make him a more valuable citizen. Bacon always advocates the practical application of pursuits, and in "Of Studies," he explores the various uses of studies and concludes that studies are good not for their own sake but for how they can enhance one's ability to succeed in the world.

Bacon argues that studies serve "for delight, for ornament, and for ability," but of the three, he believes that the only practical use is in "the judgment and disposition of business," by which he means one's ability to thrive in seventeenth century England. Most important, however, studies by themselves are not sufficient; rather, Bacon, always the practical man, argues that studies must be "perfected by experience" in order to allow a person to "weigh and consider" all of the variables of any particular issue.

Studies, of course, are found in books, and Bacon suggests that some books are to be skimmed, others to be read (but not closely), and others are "to be chewed and digested," which means that they are to be understood clearly from the first page to the last. Bacon's view of books is like his view of marriage—their chief utility is in practical situations, so a person must understand that the value of knowledge is not in knowledge per se but how that knowledge can be put to use to get ahead in the world of business, politics, or human relations. In other words, the idea of "knowledge for the sake of knowledge" would not appeal to Bacon.

One of the most well-known of Bacon's aphorisms comes from this essay: "reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man," by which he means that reading creates knowledge to "weigh and consider," conference (that is, speaking with others) creates a person who can think on his or her feet, and good writing allows one to communicate ideas with precision so that no ambiguity exists. Again, we see the influence of Bacon's overriding belief that pursuits, such as reading and writing, have practical ends that justify the effort to master those pursuits.

Bacon ends the essay by noting that studies are like remedies for diseases, so if a person is having a problem with wandering attention, he or she should study mathematics, which requires intense concentration. If a person has trouble figuring out the difference between outwardly similar things, he or she should study scholarly works because scholars are "splitters of hairs."

"Of Studies," then, is a short and practical analysis of how and why studies can be put to use in everyday life, including a prescription for using studies to remedy intellectual deficiencies that otherwise would make success difficult to achieve. One can argue, of course, that Bacon's view of knowledge is too utilitarian, but one cannot argue that his advice is impractical.

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