Francis Bacon,
The Great Instauration

Basil Montague, ed. and trans.
Excerpts from The Works, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Parry & MacMillan, 1854)

Hanover Historical Texts Project
Scanned by Alison Waugh and proofread by Monica Banas in 1996.
Proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.

Preface to the Novum Organum

[Page 343] Preface to the second part of the work which is called novum organum; or, true suggestions for the interpretation of nature.

THEY who have presumed to dogmatize on Nature, as on some well-investigated subject, either from self-conceit or arrogance, and in the professorial style, have inflicted the greatest injury on philosophy and learning. For they have tended to stifle and interrupt inquiry exactly in proportion as they have prevailed in bringing others to their opinion: and their own activity has not counterbalanced the mischief they have occasioned by corrupting and destroying that of others. They again who have entered upon a contrary course, and asserted that nothing whatever can be known, whether they have fallen into this opinion from their hatred of the ancient sophists, or from the hesitation of their minds, or from an exuberance of learning, have certainly adduced reasons for it which are by no means contemptible. They have not, however, derived their opinion from true sources, and, hurried on by their zeal, and some affectation, have certainly exceeded due moderation. But the more ancient Greeks (whose writings have perished) held a more prudent mean, between the arrogance of dogmatism, and the despair of skepticism; and though too frequently intermingling complaints and indignation at the difficulty of inquiry, and the obscurity of things, and champing, as it were, the bit, have still persisted in pressing their point, and pursuing their intercourse with nature: thinking, as it seems, that the better method was not to dispute upon the very point of the possibility of any thing being known, but to put it to the test of experience. Yet they themselves, by only employing the power of the understanding, have not adopted a fixed rule, but have laid their whole stress upon intense meditation, and a continual exercise and perpetual agitation of the mind.

Our method, though difficult in its operation, is easily explained. It consists in determining the degrees of certainty, whilst we, as it were, restore the senses to their former rank, but generally reject that operation of the mind which follows close upon the senses, and open and establish a new and certain course for the mind from the first actual perceptions of the senses themselves. This no doubt was the view taken by those who have assigned so much to logic; showing clearly thereby that they sought some support for the mind, and suspected its natural and spontaneous mode of action. But this is now employed too late as a remedy, when all is clearly lost, and after the mind, by the daily habit and intercourse of life, has become prepossessed with corrupted doctrines, and filled with the vainest idols. The art of logic therefore being (as we have mentioned) too late a precaution, and in no way remedying the matter, has tended more to confirm errors, than to disclose truth. Our only remaining hope and salvation is to begin the whole labour of the mind again; not leaving it to itself, but directing it perpetually from the very first, and attaining our end as it were by mechanical aid. If men, for instance, had attempted mechanical labours with their hands alone, and without the power and aid of intruments, as they have not hesitated to carry on the labours of their understanding with the unaided efforts of their mind, they would have been able to move and overcome but little, though they had exerted their utmost and united powers. And, just to pause a while on this comparison, and look into it as a mirror; let us ask, if any obelisk of a remarkable size were perchance required to be moved, for the purpose of gracing a triumph or any similar pageant, and men were to attempt it with their bare hands, would not any sober spectator avow it to be an act of the greatest madness? And if they should increase the number of workmen, and imagine that they could thus succeed, would he not think so still more? But if they chose to make a selection, and to remove the weak, and only employ the strong and vigorous, thinking by this means, at any rate, to acheive their object, would he not say that they were more fondly deranged? Nay, if, not content with this, they were to determine on consulting the athletic art, and were to give orders for all to appear with their hands, arms, and muscles regularly oiled and prepared, would [Page 344] he not exclaim that they were taking pains to rave by method and design? Yet men are hurried on with the same senseless energy and useless combination in intellectual matters, so long as they expect great results either from the number and agreement, or the excellence and acuteness of their wits; or even strengthen their minds with logic, which may be considered as an athletic preparation, but yet do not desist (if we rightly consider the matter) from applying their own understandings merely with all this zeal and effort. Whilst nothing is more clear, than that in every great work executed by the hand of man without machines or implements, it is impossible for the strength of individuals to be increased, or for that of the multitude to combine.

Having premised so much, we lay down two points on which we would admonish mankind, lest they should fail to see or to observe them. The first of these is: that it is our good fortune, (as we consider it,) for the sake of extinguishing and removing contradiction and irritation of mind, to leave the honour and reverence due to the ancients untouched and undiminished, so that we can perform our intended work, and yet enjoy the benefit of our respectful moderation. For if we should profess to offer something better than the ancients, and yet should pursue the same course as they have done, we could never, by any artifice, contrive to avoid the imputation of having engaged in a contest or rivalry as to our respective wits, excellences, or talents; which, though neither inadmissible or new, (for why should we not blame and point out any thing that is imperfectly discovered or laid down by them, of our own right, a right common to all,) yet, however just and allowable, would perhaps be scarcely an equal match, on account of the disproportion of our strength. But, since our present plan leads us to open an entirely different course to the understanding, and one unattempted and unknown to them, the case is altered. There is an end to party zeal, and we only take upon ourselves the character of a guide, which requires a moderate share of authority and good fortune, rather than talents and excellence. This first admonition relates to persons, the next to things.

We make no attempt to disturb the system of philosophy that now prevails, or any other which may or will exist, either more correct or more complete. For we deny not that the received system of philosophy, and others of a similar nature, encourage discussion, embellish harangues, are employed and are of service in the duties of the professor, and the affairs of civil life. Nay, we openly express and declare that the philosophy we offer will not be very useful in such respects. It is not obvious, nor to be understood in a cursory view, nor does it flatter the mind in its preconceived notions, nor will it descend to the level of the generality of mankind, unless by its advantages and effects.

Let there exist then (and may it be of advantage to both) two sources, and two distributions of learning, and in like manner two tribes, and as it were kindred families of contemplators or philosophers, without any hostility or alienation between them; but rather allied and united by mutual assistance. Let there be, in short, one method of cultivating the sciences, and another of discovering them. And as for those who prefer and more readily receive the former, on account of their haste, or from motives arising from their ordinary life, or because they are unable from weakness of mind to comprehend and embrace the other, (which must necessarily be the case with by far the greater number,) let us wish that they may prosper as they desire in their undertaking, and attain what they pursue. But if any individual desire and is anxious not merely to adhere to and make use of present discoveries, but to penetrate still further, and not to overcome his adversaries in disputes, but nature by labour, not, in short, to give elegant and specious opinions, but to know to a certainty and demonstration, let him, as a true son of science, (if such be his wish,) join with us; that when he has left the antechambers of nature trodden by the multitude, an entrance at last may be discovered to her inner apartments. And, in order to be better understood, and to render our meaning more familiar by assigning determinate names, we have accustomed ourselves to call the one method the anticipation of the mind, and the other the interpretation of nature.

We have still one request left. We have at least reflected and taken pains in order to render our propositions not only trtce, but of easy and familiar access to men's minds, however wonderfully prepossessed and limited. Yet it is but just that we should obtain this favour from mankind, (especially in so great a restoration of learning and the sciences,) that whosoever may be desirous of forming any determination upon an opinion of this our work, either from his own perceptions, or the crowd of authorities, or the forms of demonstrations, he will not expect to be able to do so in a cursory manner, and whilst attending to other matters; but in order to have a thorough knowledge of the subject, will himself by degrees attempt the course which we describe and maintain; will become accustomed to the subtilty of things which is manifested by experience; and will correct the depraved and deeply rooted habits of his mind by a seasonable and as it were just hesitation: and then finally (if he will) use his judgment when he has begun to be master of himself.

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