In his essay "On Revenge," why is Bacon against taking revenge?

In his essay “On Revenge,” Bacon is against taking revenge primarily because it is not compatible with his Christian humanist values. Revenge is nothing more than “wild justice” in Bacon's eyes and, as such, is incompatible with the law.

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In this 1625 essay, Bacon uses religious precedent as a reason not to exact revenge, quoting Solomon as saying that "it is the glory of man" to overlook an offense. Likewise, he cites the book of Job, where it states that if we accept the good things that God gives us, we should also accept the bad.

However, the bulk of the essay looks at rational reasons for not turning to revenge. This is why Bacon is often called the "father" of empiricism and is named as any early figure in the Enlightenment. It is always Bacon's strategy to move beyond "because God said so" to explain the pragmatic reasons for moral principles. He believed in God and believed that God's words were important, but his goal is to focus on the rational.

The essay, therefore, offers many pragmatic reasons not to seek revenge. Not only does God frown on it, but it makes a person small and petty, and it threatens to upend the law, which is the basis of civilized society. Once people start taking the law into their own hands, the social fabric is threatened—or, as Bacon puts it, revenge "pulleth the law out of office."

Bacon also advises looking at a wrong action from the perspective of the wrong-doer and framing it in the context of people merely pursuing their own self interest. Doing so is rational and can take some of the sting out of a perceived insult: it's not really about you, he is saying.

Further, a person who nurses an injury simply hurts himself, and, finally, revenge can begin a cycle of violence that spirals upward with no end.

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Francis Bacon is against the whole idea of taking revenge, largely because it conflicts with his Christian humanist values. He cites approvingly the wise Solomon's dictum that “it is the glory of a man to pass by an offence.” In other words, instead of taking revenge over an insult or injury done to him, a man should turn the other cheek.

In doing so, a man will show himself to be superior to the person who injured or insulted him. As Bacon says, “It is a prince's part to pardon,” meaning that there is something intrinsically noble about pardoning those who do us wrong. As an aristocrat as well as a Christian humanist, Bacon unsurprisingly sets great store by acting like a gentleman.

What's more, Bacon is also a lawyer, and in that capacity he argues that revenge is nothing more than a “wild justice” that “pulleth the law out of office.” In other words, revenge takes the place of law, thus proving itself to be incompatible with it. That being the case, Bacon argues, the law ought to weed out revenge.

In an acute psychological insight, Bacon argues that if we set out for revenge, we keep our wounds fresh, whereas otherwise, if we pardon those who do us wrong, then those wounds will heal, and we will be able to move on with our lives.

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Sir Francis Bacon's short essay "On Revenge" (1625), which espouses a Judeo-Christian philosophy, lists the following reasons against taking revenge:

1.  Revenge is against the law, both God's (moral) and man's (justice).  Bacon says that revenge oversteps the boundaries of the law, that it places the avenger not only even with the avenged in term of the crime but above him in terms of taking "wild justice" into his own hands.  Bacon says that it is the duty of lawmakers (prince, king, court) to pardon and punish criminals, not vigilantes.

Revenge is selfish.  Again, the avenger places himself above the avenged and the lawmakers.  Vengeance has no place in a community; it is a rogue, egocentric, and self-satisfying vendetta.  Revenge does not exhibit any kind of communal morality or love of others (e.g., "philea," or brotherly love).

2.  Revenge dwells in the past.  Bacon says that a moral man will put past offenses behind him, but the selfish avenger will try to redress past wrongs done to him.  In this way, revenge takes on a component of time: the avenger is corrupted by the past because he refuses to forgive (an act of the present and future).

...revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well

3.  Revenge is cyclical; it will lead to more revenge (by the avenger or the avenged).  Bacon says:

...let a man take heed the revenge be such as there is no law to punish; else a man's enemy is still beforehand, and it is two for one.

Not only does the avenger by-pass the law, but he still must deal with the law (revenge is illegal) and counter-revenge.  So, the equation is simple, legally and morally: revenge does not pay.

4.  Revenge leads to exile.  The worst kind of revenge, Bacon says, is public revenge (like the murder of Julius Caesar) because the avengers "live the life of witches."  They are public outcasts, excommunicated from friends, family, public institutions, and the law.

 

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