Sir Francis Bacon

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Sir Francis Bacon


Great Britain

Birth - Death

1561 - 1626




Sir Francis Bacon was one of Elizabethan England’s great citizens of the world. Over his lifetime he was a scientist, author, statesman, philosopher, and jurist – a learned man of many arts and letters who commanded a great deal of respect for his development of the scientific approach to problem solving and research

Bacon’s early education was grounded in the teachings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He supported himself initially as a lawyer while maintaining political aspirations and ties to both Parliament and the Crown. Bacon first entered Parliament in 1588 and was re-elected for five additional and successive terms. It was his investigation of the Earl of Essex’s failed attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth for which he gained her personal favour.

When James I succeeded to the throne, Bacon was knighted. He was subsequently appointed Attorney General in 1613 and then Lord Chancellor in 1618, at which point he was also elevated to the peerage. However, his string of successes ran out and in 1621 he was charged with corruption and bribery by Parliament, to which he confessed, and was thereby prohibited from further parliamentary office. At that point, Bacon retired from public life to focus on his philosophical writings.

That personal philosophy was centred on the development of his scientific principles. Bacon uniquely argues for a method of thought and governance based on fact and against doctrine or belief. As part of this, Bacon introduces the notion of inductive reasoning, wherein truth (on which fact is based) requires strong palpable evidence for a conclusion based on the likelihood or probability of the outcome. This analytical procedure henceforth became known as the Baconian Method, or Scientific Method. The increased popularity and adoption of this method gained Bacon the title ‘The Father of Science’.

This scientific method would underpin academic research in the sciences going forward. It represented a wholesale change in the structure of learning, which was henceforth to be based on empirical evidence and practical knowledge. The adoption of the scientific method separated the imaginative sciences of the time (the occultists, charlatans, and preachers) from the intellectual sciences.

Bacon is admired for his prolific writing on the various subjects he undertook to research. His Essays (1597) are masterful, his biographies highly regarded, his histories widely read, and his scientific writings still studied today.

It has been argued that his innovative approach moved the world of research forward into progress after it feared to be stagnating under the confines of doctrine. The scientific method opened new areas of research and production in the life sciences, botany, geography, and other fs. It has led the world down the path of technology and innovation that even today we have embraced as the way forward for the economy and society as a whole.

As part of this shift in approach,, Bacon de-emphasizes the role of history and the arts (including poetry and literature) to the advancement of society. He wants to remove the influence of emotion in any decision-making process. Bacon wants a society that recognizes the limitations of wishful thinking, premature judgement, human sense, and the tendency to impose order based on these. Thus, his critics see his shortcomings on social issues and morals. Bacon regarded morality as an issue of personal integrity and not social convention.

It is recognized that Sir Francis Bacon was homosexual. He exercised this through a pattern of patron or favourite, a process which mimicked the Crown during his time. The fate of his homosexual brother-in-law, who was executed for his homosexuality, reinforced his desire to suppress the knowledge of his sexual preference. Biographies such as Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon (1999) presents the evidence of his homosexuality.

Why do scientists, while acknowledging Bacon’s contribution to their profession, give such little recognition to the fact he was gay? Is it simply because the fact is irrelevant in the big picture and it is the contribution to science that is important, rather than the nature of the contributor? Could it be that the scientific method, in belittling sentiment and emotion, belittles the role of sexual preference?

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