If the name Francis Bacon rings a muffled bell, he is sometimes refered to as the midwife of the scientific method. However, he is also commonly confused with another famous Bacon. The confusion is parodied by Thomas Weller in Science Made Stupid:
Science as we know it today owes a great debt to a man named Francis Bacon, or perhaps Roger Bacon, or both. It is a debt…seldom acknowledged, as few scholars…risk public embarrassment by confusing the two. Such concern is unnecessary…the important facts are nearly identical. Francis (or Roger) Bacon was born sometime between 1212 and 1561. Of both humble and noble birth…Roger (or Francis) Bacon wrote a large body of works with indistinguishable Latin titles, which for that reason are no longer read. He died circa 1292-1626 while attempting to invent frozen food, gunpowder, or the submarine.
To set the record straight, Francis Bacon was born in 1561, he studied at Cambridge and became a lawyer and politician. In 1621 he became Lord Chancellor to the Queen: “Bacon was noted among his contemporaries for his knowledge of law and the pithy eloquence of his speeches on legal and political matters”. At age 60, in his fourth year as Lord Chancellor, he was convicted for accepting bribes, sacked from his post and sentenced to confinement in the Tower of London (p736); the sentance was eventually remitted, but his political career was ruined. He “devoted renewed attention to the…philosophical and scientific studies that had always occupied him”. He died from a cold that he contracted while stuffing snow into chickens as an experiment in refrigeration.
Part of his methodology was institutional; he saw “the advancement of science as a social activity” and lobbied for a college to be established with scientific research facilities: “Though he failed to secure royal support for this venture…he was widely credited later in the seventeenth century with having inspired the foundation of the Royal Society”.
Francis Bacon is a mysterious, “complex, and admittedly confusing, genius”. Part of this mystery may lie in his dual conviction: his dogmatic religious faith and his advocacy of experimental science. Indeed, Francis Bacon “de-mythologized the magical science of the Renaissance and brought its concepts down to earth by straining its concepts through the sieve of biblical doctrine". In this paper we will explore:
- how Bacon transposed various rhetorical elements from Christian culture to the New Philosophy; and
- how the Royal Society promoted a Baconian style, utilizing ethical appeals to the figures of Francis Bacon and (especially) Robert Boyle, borrowing a knowledge-legitimation technique from Gentlemanly culture.
Now that we’re clear about Bacon, let’s examine his role—Francis Bacon’s role—in the development of scientific style.
Bacon & the Masses
Bacon had a grand plan to “refound human knowledge” based on a systematic methodology for scientific inquiry:
Bacon used the device of binary opposition popularized by Ramus...but he was no advocate of Ramus. Indeed, he regarded Ramist dialectic as no more than a version of Scholasticism, dependant on syllogistic disputations. Moreover…Bacon does not subscribe to the Ramist separation between dialectic and rhetoric...Bacon divided knowledge into two branches, theology and philosophy, and then subdivided the latter into theoretical inquiry, which seeks causes, and practical inquiry, which seeks effects. He further subdivided the theoretical into physics and metaphysics, and the scheme brachiates through all the sciences.
As a politician he tried, and failed, to institute broad education reforms. He saw “the advancement of science as a social activity” and lobbied for the establishment of a research college with scientific facilities.
Bacon’s abortive education reform included a program to teach his "masculine" and "unaffected" style. He was well known among his peers for the pithy eloquence of his speeches, and his early works display, in general, a "retreat from affective prose".
Bacon's fear of the common man informs all his works to the extent that his works convey sweeping "contempt for the vulgar". He was a staunch royalist and proponent of the vast-chain-of-being doctrine.
Bacon & Style
For his attempts to outline the appropriate scientific style, Bacon is commonly referred to as the, "father of modern scientific prose". In another analogy, Bacon is seen as a kind of “midwife of a new epoch in scientific thought". According to Harrold Nebelsick, “more than anyone else of the seventeenth century, Bacon was responsible for translating Ockham's ‘empirical habit of mind’ into an apologia for experimental science". In other words, Bacon expounded the experimental mood, the proper attitude of a scientist, supporting his argument with an epistemology that separated the mind into faculties of reason, memory and imagination.2 Rhetoric in Bacon’s definition, applies Reason to Imagination, to move the will.
Bacon & Rhetoric
Rhetoric, in Bacon’s famous definition, applies reason to the imagination to move the will. Bacon concurs with the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno’s popular characterization of dialectic as a fist and rhetoric as an open hand—that is, the idea that scientific discourse is a technical treatment of truth, whereas rhetoric links knowledge to social concerns suggests a split between thought and speech. Rhetoric is a serious art and a great responsibility, for it brings knowledge into play with the world. It links morality with reason, although Bacon notes that this is not sufficient to enforce ethical behaviour.
Next Page: Prophet of Science (p2)
- Weller, Thomas. Science Made Stupid. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1985.
- Bizzell, Patricia, and Bruce Herzberg, eds. The Rhetorical Traditions: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.
- The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 1995
- Zappen, James P. (1965) "Francis Bacon and the rhetoric of Science". College Composition and Communication 26: 244-247.
- Stephens, James. Francis Bacon and the Style of Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1975.
- Nebelsick, Harold P. The Renaissance, The Reformation and The Rise of Science. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992.
- Bacon, Francis. "The Advancement of Learning". The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis, et al. New York: Garrett Press, 1968.
- Conley, Thomas M. Rhetoric in the European Tradition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.