In the age of social media, how are Bacon's views relevant?
First, as Francis Bacon comments on human nature and the human condition, students of all periods can benefit from thinking about his work. Since social media did not exist in his period, and will no doubt be regarded as quaint and replaced by other technologies in the future, they are somewhat more ephemeral than the issues he discusses.
Students thinking about social media might want to consider Bacon's writings about idols. His concept of idols is one that applies to all periods and can help students think critically about online information. The four types of idol are:
- Idols of the Tribe, which are errors arising from human nature such as the tendency to impose order rather than accept coincidence. For example, if someone takes an unproven cold remedy and then feels better, that person may give credit to the cold remedy rather than considering the possibility that the cold would have gone away on its own.
- Idols of the Cave, which are errors growing out of one's own mind, including those derived from simplistic information based on limited personal experience not checked against facts or expert opinion.
- Idols of the Marketplace, which are errors arising from misuse or imprecise understanding of language, often received phrases used unthinkingly.
- and Idols of the Theater, which are false beliefs that are sustained by tradition and unquestioned.
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