Francis Bacon Questions and Answers

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What, according to Bacon, are the uses and abuses of studies?

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Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was a nobleman who served as Lord Chancellor of England and legal counsel to Queen Elizabeth I. He was also a scientist, philosopher, and essayist whose knowledge was much respected by his contemporaries. In his essay entitled "Of Studies," Bacon presents his ideas about the value and proper use of "studies" or learning. This essay is packed with aphorisms—very brief statements that express wise thoughts or opinions.

Bacon writes that study serves a threefold purpose: to promote personal growth ("delight"), to provide background needed for conversations with others ("ornament"), and to help a person develop good judgment and decision-making skills worthy of a leader ("ability"). However, one must not "believe and take for granted" what one reads. It is best to "weigh and consider" the information.

Bacon warns that too much time spent studying turns into "sloth" (laziness), and overuse of one's knowledge in conversation becomes "affectation" (behavior that is pretentious or calculated to impress others). Bacon also writes that, like food, some books are meant only for "tasting." By this he means that they do not have to be read cover-to-cover. Others may be "swallowed"—read entirely but not with great attention, while a third category of "some few" books need to "chewed and digested," or read with great focus and care.

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