Roger Bacon

Roger Bacon, c.1214–1294?, English scholastic philosopher and scientist, a Franciscan. He studied at Oxford as well as at the Univ. of Paris and became one of the most celebrated and zealous teachers at Oxford. Bacon was learned in Hebrew and in Greek and stressed the value of knowing the original languages in the study of Aristotle and of the Bible. He may also have known Arabic; his own philosophy drew upon Arab Aristotelianism as well as upon St. Augustine. He had an interest far in advance of his times in natural science, in controlled experiments, and in the accurate observation of phenomena. "It is the intention of philosophy," he said, "to work out the natures and properties of things." He declared that mathematics was the gateway to science, and experience, or verification, the only basis of certainty. This belief in experience as a guide to the outer world was, however, not divorced from theology; wisdom and faith were to him one. His writings were numerous. Three of his most important works were written for Pope Clement IV in one year (1267–68)—the Opus majus (tr. 1928), the Opus minor, and the Opus tertium. He was deeply interested in alchemy, an interest that may account for his being credited by his contemporaries with great learning in magical practices. He was long credited with the invention of gunpowder (because of a formula for gunpowder that appeared in a work attributed to him). A manuscript in cipher, discovered in the 20th cent. and attributed to him, would make Bacon the first man to have observed spiral nebulae through a telescope and to have examined cells through a microscope; but considerable doubt has been cast on the original date and the authenticity of the manuscript. Earlier editions of his major works were supplemented by an edition of his hitherto unedited works in various fascicles by Robert Steele and others (1909–35).

See A. G. Little, ed., Roger Bacon Essays (1914, repr. 1972); biography by F. Winthrop Woodruff (1938); studies by T. Crowley (1950) and S. C. Easton (1952, repr. 1971).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Roger Bacon: Selected full-text books and articles

Roger Bacon and the Origins of Perspectiva in the Middle Ages: A Critical Edition and English Translation of Bacon's Perspectiva with Introduction and Notes By David C. Lindberg; Roger Bacon Clarendon Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: Includes a translation of Bacon's "Perspectiva"
Makers of Science: Mathematics, Physics, Astronomy By Ivor B. Hart Oxford University Press; H. Milford, 1923
Librarian's tip: Chap. III "Roger Bacon"
The Franciscans in England, 1224-1538 By Edward Hutton Constable & company, ltd., 1926
Librarian's tip: Chap. IX "Roger Bacon"
The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind By H. G. Wells Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1931
Librarian's tip: "Apropos of Roger Bacon" begins on p. 8
FREE! The Mediaeval Mind: A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages By Henry Osborn Taylor Macmillan, vol.2, 1919 (3rd edition)
Librarian's tip: Chap. XLII "Roger Bacon"
Selections from Medieval Philosophers By Richard McKeon; Richard McKeon Charles Scribner's Sons, vol.2, 1930
Librarian's tip: "Roger Bacon (1210 or 1215-1294)" begins on p. 3
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Philosophy in the Middle Ages: An Introduction By Paul Vignaux; E. C. Hall Meridian Books, 1959
Librarian's tip: Chap. IV "The Intellectual Diversity of the Thirteenth Century: Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas and His Time, Movements Outside of Thomism"
Roger Bacon on the Division of Statements into Single/multiple and Simple/composed By Maloney, Thomas S The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 56, No. 2, December 2002
Crusading Peace: Christendom, the Muslim World, and Western Political Order By Tomaž Mastnak University of California Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: "The Scientific Crusade: Roger Bacon" begins on p. 196
Medicine in the English Middle Ages By Faye Getz Princeton University Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: "Roger Bacon and Medieval English Regimens of Health" begins on p. 53
Medieval Psychology By Simon Kemp Greenwood Press, 1990
Librarian's tip: "Roger Bacon's Account Of Vision" begins on p. 40
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