Francis Bacon’s Understanding of Method and KnowledgeJune 27, 2021
Towards the end of the Renaissance, pioneers of true modern thought emerged, among them Francis Bacon, who made important contributions to autonomous philosophical thinking in the New Age.
Bacon had a great interest in science and scientific subjects: he was one of the leading contributors to the method understanding of modern science at the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the New Age. His main book on method and knowledge is called Novum Organum (The New Organon). He signed another important work called Nova Atlantis (New Atlantis), which includes the beneficial results of scientific knowledge in the life of society.
In addition, he has another work called De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum (On the Value and Growth of Sciences), which refers to the technological developments and conveniences that scientific developments have brought about in social life. Novum Organum is a work that shows how the induction method should be applied in natural sciences and reveals Bacon’s own understanding of induction.
Bacon’s Overview of Knowledge and Method
Bacon foresaw that the human world of the future would be enlightened through science. According to him, knowledge was important in life. In his famous words, “knowledge is power.” The knowledge here is nothing but scientific knowledge. Because scientific knowledge allows us to know the workings of nature, and this makes it easier to control natural events. That is, “to know is to dominate nature.” However, it is not easy to discover natural events and the functioning of nature. In this regard, it is not possible to get anywhere by doing piecemeal studies on nature.
In order to solve the unknowns in nature in a systematic way with sequential and reliable steps, we must have a method that is consciously chosen and created, which is suitable for the structure of nature. Unless we have a solid method, scientific work is bound to be slow and random. He argues that the scientific discoveries made up to that time did not occur due to the application of a rationally structured method by scientists, but rather coincidentally. But how far can one go by chance? For this reason, it is time to work with a rational scientific method, not with random and individual method understandings in scientific studies.
According to Bacon, this rationally structured scientific method is induction. He begins by criticizing the method understanding that has hitherto been at work. This is the deduction method, which is the opposite of induction. As the most obvious example of this for centuries, Aristotle’s syllogism (comparison) method has been shown as if it were a method of invention.
However, it cannot be said that a new discovery and a new explanation can be put forward regarding the events in nature with this method. Because the structure of this method is not suitable for nature research. An idea contained in general and universal propositions that serve as a premise in deduction is put forward as a result. Therefore, this result does not reveal a new invention; it only reveals what is already known by making it clearer and more distinct. Therefore, this method is an analytical method; It is not a method that leads to new findings. Therefore, due to its nature, it is not a method suitable for making new discoveries in natural sciences alone.
Bacon is right in these criticisms of deduction. However, Galileo also put forward the same criticism in a precise language. Those who did research on natural science methods at that time started by criticizing the Aristotelian classical method understanding – the deductive method of comparison. Therefore, Bacon considered induction, which is the opposite of deduction in natural sciences, as a method leading to new discoveries. In fact, neither of these are sufficient on their own, at least they can be segments of a general method of science, as we saw with Galileo. Whereas, Bacon considered only induction as the method of natural sciences. We will see the deficiencies in Bacon’s method better at the end of our explanation of his understanding of induction.
According to Bacon, knowledge is power and to know is to dominate nature.
According to Bacon, the deductive method is an analytical method that does not say anything new about nature because it reveals an idea contained in universal propositions that serve as antecedents as a result. Therefore, it is not suitable for natural sciences.
“Why am I induction?” we may ask. Because it is not possible to illuminate the functioning of these events without observation and experimentation on natural events. Bacon, who advocated the indispensability of observation and experience in terms of explaining natural phenomena, was aware that important scientific discoveries of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo were achieved as a result of intense and patient observation processes.
By observing, it is inductive to reflect on what is observed and finally connect all observed to a general explanation that can express them in common. Bacon rightly thinks that in the field of natural sciences there can be no research method other than induction; Therefore, it should be considered as a model of real knowledge.