A helpful discussion of Sir Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Truth” might begin by simply paraphrasing the argument of the essay. Essentially, Bacon argues as follows:
- Although there are few philosophical skeptics left, many human beings still seem to prefer the freedom to adopt their own views over the hard work of pursuing truth, since they consider truth constricting.
- Human beings seem to have a natural disposition to want to lie.
- To many people, simple truth never seems as attractive as appealing falsehoods.
- People seem to take pleasure in lying.
- The worst lies are those that take deep root in people’s minds.
- The pursuit of truth is, or should be, “the sovereign good of human nature.” After all,
The first creature of God . . . was the light of the sense; the last was the light of reason.
- To possess truth is like standing on a tall hill and observing the follies and errors of mankind below.
- Yet we should pity those who lack truth rather than being proud of our superiority to them. Love of our fellow creatures is the true companion of truth.
- Truthfulness should especially be valued in daily conduct; no sin is more shameful than lying.
- Those who lie to others show their fear of other humans but their misguided bravery and foolish defiance in dealing with God.
Bacon’s essay is a typical reflection of Renaissance thought in a number of ways, including the following:
- It draws both on Christian scriptures and on classical literature and classical philosophy to make its points. Since one of the main purposes of the Renaissance was to reconcile Christian truth with truths also apparent in the classics, Bacon is here writing as a typical “Renaissance man.”
- Bacon clearly assumes that "truth" should be identified with the "truths" of Christianity.
- It emphasizes that reason is one of the earliest and most important of all the gifts God gave to man, and it implies that reason should be used properly – that is, as a means of discovering truth.
- It assumes, as most Renaissance Christians did, that humans are corrupt by nature (ultimately as a result of the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden).
- However, it also assumes that humans have a moral and spiritual obligation to struggle against that corruption in order to pursue truth and thus discover and love God.
- It emphasizes another of the key Christian virtues: charity, or love of other creatures as creatures made and loved by God.
- It doesn’t merely discuss truth in the abstract, as a simple philosophical concept, but also discusses the importance of truth-telling and truthful behavior in daily life. In other words, a main purpose of the essay is an ethical purpose, so that truth is linked with practical goodness.
- It ends by implying that the ultimate judge of human conduct is and will be God, and that humans should always think of God first in forming their thoughts and behavior.