Francis Bacon: The Advancement of Learning { Philosophy Index }

Philosophy Index

Philosophy Index

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Francis Bacon

The Advancement of Learning

Second Book

XIV. (1) Now we pass unto the arts of judgment, which handle the natures of proofs and demonstrations, which as to induction hath a coincidence with invention; for all inductions, whether in good or vicious form, the same action of the mind which inventeth, judgeth—all one as in the sense.  But otherwise it is in proof by syllogism, for the proof being not immediate, but by mean, the invention of the mean is one thing, and the judgment of the consequence is another; the one exciting only, the other examining.  Therefore, for the real and exact form of judgment, we refer ourselves to that which we have spoken of interpretation of Nature.

(2) For the other judgment by syllogism, as it is a thing most agreeable to the mind of man, so it hath been vehemently end excellently laboured.  For the nature of man doth extremely covet to have somewhat in his understanding fixed and unmovable, and as a rest and support of the mind.  And, therefore, as Aristotle endeavoureth to prove, that in all motion there is some point quiescent; and as he elegantly expoundeth the ancient fable of Atlas (that stood fixed, and bare up the heaven from falling) to be meant of the poles or axle-tree of heaven, whereupon the conversion is accomplished, so assuredly men have a desire to have an Atlas or axle-tree within to keep them from fluctuation, which is like to a perpetual peril of falling.  Therefore men did hasten to set down some principles about which the variety of their disputatious might turn.

(3) So, then, this art of judgment is but the reduction of propositions to principles in a middle term.  The principles to be agreed by all and exempted from argument; the middle term to be elected at the liberty of every man’s invention; the reduction to be of two kinds, direct and inverted: the one when the proposition is reduced to the principle, which they term a probation ostensive; the other, when the contradictory of the proposition is reduced to the contradictory of the principle, which is that which they call per incommodum, or pressing an absurdity; the number of middle terms to be as the proposition standeth degrees more or less removed from the principle.

(4) But this art hath two several methods of doctrine, the one by way of direction, the other by way of caution: the former frameth and setteth down a true form of consequence, by the variations and deflections from which errors and inconsequences may be exactly judged.  Toward the composition and structure of which form it is incident to handle the parts thereof, which are propositions, and the parts of propositions, which are simple words.  And this is that part of logic which is comprehended in the Analytics.

(5) The second method of doctrine was introduced for expedite use and assurance sake, discovering the more subtle forms of sophisms and illaqueations with their redargutions, which is that which is termed elenches.  For although in the more gross sorts of fallacies it happeneth (as Seneca maketh the comparison well) as in juggling feats, which, though we know not how they are done, yet we know well it is not as it seemeth to be; yet the more subtle sort of them doth not only put a man besides his answer, but doth many times abuse his judgment.

(6) This part concerning elenches is excellently handled by Aristotle in precept, but more excellently by Plato in example; not only in the persons of the sophists, but even in Socrates himself, who, professing to affirm nothing, but to infirm that which was affirmed by another, hath exactly expressed all the forms of objection, fallace, and redargution. 

And although we have said that the use of this doctrine is for redargution, yet it is manifest the degenerate and corrupt use is for caption and contradiction, which passeth for a great faculty, and no doubt is of very great advantage, though the difference be good which was made between orators and sophisters, that the one is as the greyhound, which hath his advantage in the race, and the other as the hare, which hath her advantage in the turn, so as it is the advantage of the weaker creature.

(7) But yet further, this doctrine of elenches hath a more ample latitude and extent than is perceived; namely, unto divers parts of knowledge, whereof some are laboured and other omitted.  For first, I conceive (though it may seem at first somewhat strange) that that part which is variably referred, sometimes to logic, sometimes to metaphysic, touching the common adjuncts of essences, is but an elenche; for the great sophism of all sophisms being equivocation or ambiguity of words and phrase, specially of such words as are most general and intervene in every inquiry, it seemeth to me that the true and fruitful use (leaving vain subtleties and speculations) of the inquiry of majority, minority, priority, posteriority, identity, diversity, possibility, act, totality, parts, existence, privation, and the like, are but wise cautions against ambiguities of speech.  So, again, the distribution of things into certain tribes, which we call categories or predicaments, are but cautions against the confusion of definitions and divisions.

(8) Secondly, there is a seducement that worketh by the strength of the impression, and not by the subtlety of the illaqueation—not so much perplexing the reason, as overruling it by power of the imagination.  But this part I think more proper to handle when I shall speak of rhetoric.

(9) But lastly, there is yet a much more important and profound kind of fallacies in the mind of man, which I find not observed or inquired at all, and think good to place here, as that which of all others appertaineth most to rectify judgment, the force whereof is such as it doth not dazzle or snare the understanding in some particulars, but doth more generally and inwardly infect and corrupt the state thereof.  For the mind of man is far from the nature of a clear and equal glass, wherein the beams of things should reflect according to their true incidence; nay, it is rather like an enchanted glass, full of superstition and imposture, if it be not delivered and reduced.  For this purpose, let us consider the false appearances that are imposed upon us by the general nature of the mind, beholding them in an example or two; as first, in that instance which is the root of all superstition, namely, that to the nature of the mind of all men it is consonant for the affirmative or active to affect more than the negative or privative.  So that a few times hitting or presence countervails ofttimes failing or absence, as was well answered by Diagoras to him that showed him in Neptune’s temple the great number of pictures of such as had escaped shipwreck, and had paid their vows to Neptune, saying, “Advise now, you that think it folly to invocate Neptune in tempest.”  “Yea, but,” saith Diagoras, “where are they painted that are drowned?”  Let us behold it in another instance, namely, that the spirit of man, being of an equal and uniform substance, doth usually suppose and feign in nature a greater equality and uniformity than is in truth. 

Hence it cometh that the mathematicians cannot satisfy themselves except they reduce the motions of the celestial bodies to perfect circles, rejecting spiral lines, and labouring to be discharged of eccentrics.  Hence it cometh that whereas there are many things in Nature as it were monodica, sui juris, yet the cogitations of man do feign unto them relatives, parallels, and conjugates, whereas no such thing is; as they have feigned an element of fire to keep square with earth, water, and air, and the like.  Nay, it is not credible, till it be opened, what a number of fictions and fantasies the similitude of human actions and arts, together with the making of man communis mensura, have brought into natural philosophy; not much better than the heresy of the Anthropomorphites, bred in the cells of gross and solitary monks, and the opinion of Epicurus, answerable to the same in heathenism, who supposed the gods to be of human shape.  And, therefore, Velleius the Epicurean needed not to have asked why God should have adorned the heavens with stars, as if He had been an ædilis, one that should have set forth some magnificent shows or plays.  For if that great Work-master had been of a human disposition, He would have cast the stars into some pleasant and beautiful works and orders like the frets in the roofs of houses; whereas one can scarce find a posture in square, or triangle, or straight line, amongst such an infinite number, so differing a harmony there is between the spirit of man and the spirit of Nature.

(10) Let us consider again the false appearances imposed upon us by every man’s own individual nature and custom in that feigned supposition that Plato maketh of the cave; for certainly if a child were continued in a grot or cave under the earth until maturity of age, and came suddenly abroad, he would have strange and absurd imaginations.  So, in like manner, although our persons live in the view of heaven, yet our spirits are included in the caves of our own complexions and customs, which minister unto us infinite errors and vain opinions if they be not recalled to examination.  But hereof we have given many examples in one of the errors, or peccant humours, which we ran briefly over in our first book.

(11) And lastly, let us consider the false appearances that are imposed upon us by words, which are framed and applied according to the conceit and capacities of the vulgar sort; and although we think we govern our words, and prescribe it well loquendum ut vulgus sentiendum ut sapientes, yet certain it is that words, as a Tartar’s bow, do shoot back upon the understanding of the wisest, and mightily entangle and pervert the judgment.  So as it is almost necessary in all controversies and disputations to imitate the wisdom of the mathematicians, in setting down in the very beginning the definitions of our words and terms, that others may know how we accept and understand them, and whether they concur with us or no.  For it cometh to pass, for want of this, that we are sure to end there where we ought to have begun, which is, in questions and differences about words.  To conclude, therefore, it must be confessed that it is not possible to divorce ourselves from these fallacies and false appearances because they are inseparable from our nature and condition of life; so yet, nevertheless, the caution of them (for all elenches, as was said, are but cautions) doth extremely import the true conduct of human judgment.  The particular elenches or cautions against these three false appearances I find altogether deficient.

(12) There remaineth one part of judgment of great excellency which to mine understanding is so slightly touched, as I may report that also deficient; which is the application of the differing kinds of proofs to the differing kinds of subjects.  For there being but four kinds of demonstrations, that is, by the immediate consent of the mind or sense, by induction, by syllogism, and by congruity, which is that which Aristotle calleth demonstration in orb or circle, and not a notioribus, every of these hath certain subjects in the matter of sciences, in which respectively they have chiefest use; and certain others, from which respectively they ought to be excluded; and the rigour and curiosity in requiring the more severe proofs in some things, and chiefly the facility in contenting ourselves with the more remiss proofs in others, hath been amongst the greatest causes of detriment and hindrance to knowledge.  The distributions and assignations of demonstrations according to the analogy of sciences I note as deficient.

The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon.