How might Francis Bacon's essay "Of Truth" be analyzed?
In Francis Bacon's essay "Of Truth," the author extols the value of truth and critically explains that there are many people who do not place much value on truth, as they find lies more interesting. Bacon asserts that truth comes straight from God, so our relationship with truth brings humans closer to God. Hence, we can derive pleasure from truth. As one of Bacon's most famous prose works, "On Truth" employs rhetorical questions and allegories as a means of persuasion.
Francis Bacon is famous as an early empiricist, and what is notable about this essay is that he attempts to look at truth objectively. While he leans on the Bible to argue that God breathed the light of truth on humans, he also notes that this truth includes the light of reason: the ability of humans to think and discern for themselves what truth is.
Bacon makes some statements that may seem shocking from a strictly moral standpoint, such as
A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure
He also quotes the Roman poet Carus, who found a pleasure in observing the misconceptions ("errors") of others—but always from a vantage point of compassion, not pride. Bacon, thus, does not simply dismiss untruth as always evil, but he shows it can be a pleasure when we know it is a lie—as in a play or poem—or when we learn from it humbly.
With his interest in categorization—Bacon explores types of truth and lies—he notes that lies of the imagination do little harm because we know they are a fiction. It is the lie that we believe that causes the lasting damage.
Lies in "civil business" are distinct from lies in poetry: in this case, it is not permissible to be dishonest. These kinds of lies, Bacon states, come from the "serpent" and will be punished by God.
Bacon's careful distinctions used authority from both the Bible and the classical world to parse truth. In a short essay, Bacon demonstrates that the distinction between truth and lies is not black and white.
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