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

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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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joannedefrancesca | Student

point 4 is incorrect.  bacon says public revenges are tolerable and acceptable because it is done for the good of a large community.  private revenge takers "live the lives of witches" and "end unfortunate".