Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

This important work in scientific methodology was part of a larger work, Instauratio Magna (1620; The Great Instauration, 1653), which was to consist of a preface and six parts (the Novum Organum was to be the second) but was never completed. Even this work itself is partial, as is indicated by the fact that the author listed in aphorism 21 of book 2 a number of topics that he proposed to discuss but never did. The content of the book clearly indicates that he considered it to be a correction of, or a supplement to, Greek philosopher Aristotle’s logical writings, the Organon (Second Athenian Period, 335-323 b.c.e..; English translation, 1812). A large portion of Bacon’s text is devoted to a demonstration of the futility, if not the error, of trying to understand nature by the deductive method. People cannot learn about the world, he insists, by arguing, however skillfully, about abstract principles. On the contrary, people must interpret nature by deriving “axioms from the senses and particulars, rising by a gradual and unbroken ascent, so that the method arrives at the most general axioms last of all. This is the true way, but as yet untried.” In this work, Bacon disclosed the rules of a new “inductive logic.”

The work is divided into two books, the first concerned mainly with setting down the principles of the inductive method and the second with the method for collecting facts. Book 1 is further divided into two parts, the first of which is designed to purge the mind of the wrong methods (aphorisms 1-115), while the second is planned to correct false conceptions of the method that Bacon is proposing (aphorisms 116-120).