Francis Bacon Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

A noted lawyer and statesman of Renaissance England, Bacon defended the prerogatives of the crown and endorsed the divine right theory of monarchy. In a rapid rise to power, he became England’s attorney-general in 1613 and lord chancellor in 1618. In 1621, however, his political career ended when he was convicted of taking bribes from litigants while their cases were pending. Forced into retirement, Bacon spent the remainder of his life writing on philosophy and literature. The most influential of his thirty works included The Advancement of Learning (1605, expanded in 1623), The New Organon and Related Works (1622), The New Atlantis (1626), and several volumes of essays.

Although Bacon was not a practicing scientist, he is considered one of the prophets of modern science because of his popularization of the inductive method in research. In place of speculation and the deductive logic emphasized by the Scholastic philosophers, he proposed a “new method of reasoning” that derives general principles from the study of particular facts or instances, with the use of experiments when possible. While he remained a faithful member of the Church of England, he taught that scientists should assume the existence of a mechanistic and materialistic universe, and he proclaimed a sharp separation between scientific knowledge based on empirical methods and religious faith based on divine revelation.

By teaching that scientists should pursue truth without the “idols” of traditional assumptions, Bacon encouraged skepticism and rejection of religious censorship, at least in the realm of empirical science. Bacon’s writings later inspired and influenced Denis Diderot and other liberals of the Enlightenment. Although Bacon has been held in high esteem by twentieth century philosophers, they typically argue that he did not pay sufficient attention to the necessity of using deductive logic and theoretical hypotheses in guiding research.

Since Bacon was a contemporary with Giordano Bruno and Galileo, conservative Roman Catholic theologians were naturally alarmed by the implications of his method. The Roman Catholic church also disliked his strong criticisms of medieval philosophy, as well as his tendency toward materialism. In 1640, all of his works were proscribed by the Spanish Inquisition, and they were also placed on Sotomayor’s Index. In 1668, The Advancement of Learning was placed on the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum, where it remained as late as 1948. Bacon was commonly classified with Thomas Hobbes as a materialist, although Bacon does not appear to have been an atheist or a consistent proponent of materialism.


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Bacon’s chief contribution to the history of philosophy was his effort to reconstruct completely the conception and practice of science. His own novel method of induction figures prominently in his reconstruction, which helped to launch the modern period of philosophy. His approach, however, was quickly surpassed by better accounts of scientific methodology. In ethics, the Essayes was Bacon’s main work. These essays were published in three editions (1597, 1612, 1625), the second one an enlargement upon the first, and the third a completion of the whole. No systematic moral theory is presented; Bacon’s style is more aphoristic than philosophical. The Essayes offers practical advice on moral and social questions. Bacon’s major preoccupation as a philosopher was to point the way in which individuals could be restored to a position of superiority over nature. His views about ethics exhibit a hint of this same spirit. Thomas Hobbes, who is best known for his own elaborate political and moral philosophy, was Bacon’s apprentice for a time. His emphasis on overcoming the state of nature may have been reinforced by his association with Bacon. On a personal note, Bacon pleaded guilty in 1621 to charges of political corruption. For this offense he paid a fine, was imprisoned in the notorious Tower of London for a brief time, and was permanently banned from political office. Although his particular actions clearly were illegal, the morality of a law that would impugn them has been disputed. As a happy consequence of the leisure thus afforded him, Bacon composed most of his writings during the last five years of his life.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Francis Bacon, founder of the inductive method of modern science, philosopher, essayist, politician, and historian, was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, an Anglican, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal under Queen Elizabeth I. Bacon’s mother, Anne Bacon, a Calvinist, second wife of Sir Nicholas, was a Greek and Latin scholar, and the family was prosperous. Bacon’s uncle by the marriage of his aunt was Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, one of the most important men in England.

Young Francis Bacon was often seen at court in the company of his father and was known to Queen Elizabeth, who thought the boy extremely clever. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in April, 1573, when he was twelve years old. There he achieved a notable academic record and became known for criticizing the logic and science of his teachers. It seemed to the young student that the logic and philosophy of Aristotle were not adequate as a practical way to knowledge of the world, a criticism that provided the theoretical ground for Bacon’s philosophy of science.

After leaving Trinity College in 1575 Bacon became a student of law at Gray’s Inn in 1576. His studies were interrupted by a stay of two and a half years in Paris as a member of the staff of the English ambassador, Sir Amias Paulet. During this time he traveled widely and encountered the new ideas that were gradually supplanting Scholasticism in Europe. Recalled to England in February, 1579, because of the death of his father, he discovered that he had been left practically penniless, largely because his father had not finalized the division of his estate among his sons. After borrowing money to complete his law studies, Bacon was admitted to the bar in 1582.

Continuing to reflect on the need for new methods in science, Bacon entertained hopes of achieving a philosophy that would liberate students of nature from the artificial restraints of ancient logic and allow their work to have practical value in the world. At the same time he had political ambitions and prepared to set himself up as a man of power at court. In pursuit of this objective, he became a member of Parliament in 1584. He gradually ingratiated himself with Robert Devereux, the second earl of Essex, and attempted to use his influence with Essex, who was six years his junior, to secure for himself a responsible position at court. Although Essex was wealthy enough and friendly enough to rescue Bacon from debt and even from debtor’s prison, he could not...

(The entire section is 1016 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Anderson, Fulton H. Francis Bacon: His Career and His Thought. Los Angeles: University of Southern California Press, 1962. Discusses the public life of Francis Bacon. Based on a series of lectures, the book links Bacon’s philosophy to his politics. Attempts to relate Bacon’s philosophy to twentieth century problems are not entirely successful.

Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963. A very readable and interesting biography that brings Bacon to life but is still historically accurate. The author’s favorable treatment forgives Bacon for all of his faults except his coldness toward women.

Farrington, Benjamin. The Philosophy of Francis Bacon. Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press, 1964. A valuable discussion of Bacon’s philosophical concepts. The author includes good translations of Bacon’s minor Latin writings, making them available to a broader audience.

Jardine, Lisa. Francis Bacon: Discovery and the Art of Discourse. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1974. Begins with a discussion of the dialectical methods of sixteenth century Europe. Discusses Bacon’s theory of knowledge, which Bacon referred to as logic. Analyzes his major writings and gives clear evaluations of them. Includes a good bibliography divided into time periods.

Sessions, William A. Francis Bacon Revisited. New York: Twayne,...

(The entire section is 442 words.)