Bacon and his Method

Bacon’s scientific method, in his own words, is ‘hard in practice but easy to explain’ (NO, Preface). Bacon proposes ‘to establish degrees of certainty’ (NO, Preface) by starting from ‘sense-perception’ (NO, Preface). He is determined to reject ‘ways of thinking that track along after sensation’ (NO, Preface). The aim is to be able to derive ‘notions’ and ‘axioms’ (NO, 1.18) and to acquire a ’more certain way of conducting intellectual operations’ (NO, 1.18). In the project of searching into and discovering the truth, Bacon proposes to ‘derive axioms from senses and particular events in a gradual and unbroken ascent’ (NO, 1.19).


We need a ‘form of induction’ that is able to ‘separate out a nature through appropriate rejections and exclusions’ (NO, 1.105). Bacon says that no-one has ever done this with the exception of Plato who used this form of induction when he discussed definitions and ideas (NO, 1.105).
When ascertaining an axiom we have observe carefully how is it shaped: ‘to fit only the particulars from which it is derives’ or if it is ‘larger and wider’ (NO, 1.106). In this way we will not be stuck with things that we already know.
When we investigate nature the tables we need to analyze are, first, those of ‘Essence and Presence,’ second, those of ‘Divergence or of Nearby Absence,’ and third those of ‘Degrees or Comparison’ (NO, 2.13). These tables are used because the ‘present instances to the intellect’ (NO, 2.15). After going through this presentation it is time for induction to come into play. We need to find ‘a nature which 1) is always present when the given nature is present, 2) is always absent when the given nature is absent, 3) always increases or decreases with the given nature, and 4) is a special case of a more general nature’ (NO, 2.15).
The induction has the task to reject natures that 1) are not found in some instance where the given nature is present, or 2) are found in some instance from which the given nature is absent, or 3) are found to increase in some instance when the given nature decreases, or 4) are found to decrease when the given nature increases (NO, 2.16). After this we are left with ‘an affirmative form that is solid, true and well defined’ (NO, 2.16). This process of exclusion is ‘the foundation of true induction’ (NO, 2.19). On this foundation it has to be built something affirmative. For that we need ‘aids for the intellect’ (NO, 2.19).
It is sad that after this point in Bacon’s argument we do not have a conclusion for it. Bacon gave 9 topics (privileged instances, supports for induction, the correcting of induction, adapting the investigation to the nature of the subject, which natures should be investigated first and which later, the limits of investigation, practical consequences, preparations for investigation, the ascending and descending scale of axioms) to cover the ‘aids to the intellect’ but he managed to write only about the first one.

Bacon, Francis. 1620. The New Organon or True Directions Concerning the Interpretation of Nature.

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