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Natural Science - Year I

Unit 35: Francis Bacon

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History Lecture for Unit 35


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History Lecture for Unit 35: Francis Bacon and the idea of Nature

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Lecture outline:

Francis Bacon, His Life and Times

Scientists like Andreas Vesalius and Nicolai Copernicus changed the way people thought about nature and pursued scientific knowledge, but they were aided by philosophers like Francis Bacon. Unlike Vesalius, who discovered new information about the human body, or Kepler, who realized that planets move in elliptical orbits rather than circles, Bacon examined the methods of science itself and proposed new approaches to the study of Nature. He emphasized using instruments to make objective measurements, and encouraged the use of inductive reasoning to establish national law, which are fundamental to methods of modern science, but he also changed the view of nature.

The Idea of Nature before Bacon

In the ancient world and middle ages, Nature was something external to man. We've seen how the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians sought to explain natural events as directed by the whim of the gods. Although the Greeks used abstractions to explain nature, the natural world was what it was. In the middle ages, Western European and Arab philosophers saw nature as under the control of God (or Allah), but often mysterious and always uncontrollable.

This perception changed with the Renaissance and voyages of exploration to the new world. While the idea of nature as mysterious and even evil in its own way persisted in some groups (a perception that found its way into Puritan perceptions of New England, as evidenced in Nathaniel Hawthorne's stories), philosophers like Bacon began to view nature as something that coud be tamed and controlled, using machines and science.

Bacon's Ideas of Nature

Read about Francis Bacon's life and accomplishments in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy site.

  1. When and where did Bacon live? Who were the rulers of his country during his lifetime?
  2. How as Francis Bacon educated? Who were his teachers?
  3. What is a "utopian" society? What was the central goal of Bacon's New Atlantis story?
  4. What are the vanities or "distempers" of learning? What is the main problem with these types of learning?
  5. Bacon said "Knowledge is Power". What did he mean? How can information change cultures and living conditions?
  6. Why did Bacon want to "reclassify knowledge"? How does his classification system differ from Aristotle's system, which had been the bedrock of the medieval education he received?
  7. How does Bacon's process of induction function as a scientific method?

Read through the brief descriptions of the Mechanical Philosophers.

  1. Where did each of the "mechanical philosophers" live?
  2. What were their religious backgrounds?
  3. Which of these men knew each other?
  4. Which of these philosophers also produced scientific theories or discoveries?

Study/Discussion Questions:

Further Study/On Your Own