Francis Bacon

Bacon, Francis (English philosopher and statesman)

Francis Bacon, 1561–1626, English philosopher, essayist, and statesman, b. London, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and at Gray's Inn. He was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, lord keeper to Queen Elizabeth I. Francis Bacon was a member of Parliament in 1584 and his opposition to Elizabeth's tax program retarded his political advancement; only the efforts of the earl of Essex led Elizabeth to accept him as an unofficial member of her Learned Council. At Essex's trial in 1601, Bacon, putting duty to the state above friendship, assumed an active part in the prosecution—a course for which many have condemned him. With the succession of James I, Bacon's fortunes improved. He was knighted in 1603, became attorney general in 1613, lord keeper in 1617, and lord chancellor in 1618; he was created Baron Verulam in 1618 and Viscount St. Albans in 1621. In 1621, accused of accepting bribes as lord chancellor, he pleaded guilty and was fined £40,000, banished from the court, disqualified from holding office, and sentenced to the Tower of London. The banishment, fine, and imprisonment were remitted. Nevertheless, his career as a public servant was ended. He spent the rest of his life writing in retirement.

Bacon belongs to both the worlds of philosophy and literature. He projected a large philosophical work, the Instauratio Magna, but completed only two parts, The Advancement of Learning (1605), later expanded in Latin as De Augmentis Scientiarum (1623), and the Novum Organum (1620). Bacon's contribution to philosophy was his application of the inductive method of modern science. He urged full investigation in all cases, avoiding theories based on insufficient data. However, he has been widely censured for being too mechanical, failing to carry his investigations to their logical ends, and not staying abreast of the scientific knowledge of his own day. In the 19th cent., Macaulay initiated a movement to restore Bacon's prestige as a scientist. Today his contributions are regarded with considerable respect. In The New Atlantis (1627) he describes a scientific utopia that found partial realization with the organization of the Royal Society in 1660. Noted for their style and their striking observations about life, his largely aphoristic Essays (1597–1625) are his best-known writings.

See his works (14 vol., 1857–74, repr. 1968); biography by L. Jardine and A. Stewart (1999); studies by J. Weinberger (1985) and P. Urbach (1987); D. W. Davies and E. S. Wrigley, ed., Concordance to the Essays of Francis Bacon (1973).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Francis Bacon: Selected full-text books and articles

Francis Bacon: His Career and His Thought By Fulton H. Anderson University of Southern California Press, 1962
The Advancement of Learning and New Atlantis By Francis Bacon Oxford University Press, 1951
Francis Bacon's Intellectual Milieu By Virgil K. Whitaker Publications from the Clark Library Professorship, UCLA., 1962
Fault Lines and Controversies in the Study of Seventeenth-Century English Literature By Claude J. Summers; Ted-Larry Pebworth University of Missouri Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "The Ahistoricism of the New Historicism: Knowledge as Power versus Power as Knowledge in Bacon's New Atlantis" begins on p. 22
A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths about Science By Noretta Koertge Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "In Defense of Bacon"
Humanism and Early Modern Philosophy By Jill Kraye; M. W.F. Stone Routledge, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "The Myth of Francis Bacon's 'Anti-Humanism'"
The Domination of Nature By William Leiss McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Francis Bacon"
The Renaissance and Seventeenth-Century Rationalism By G. H.R. Parkinson Routledge, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Francis Bacon and Man's Two-Faced Kingdom"
The Kingdom of Science: Literary Utopianism and British Education, 1612-1870 By Paul A. Olson University of Nebraska Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Three "Bacon's Commonwealth Offspring"
Absolutism and the Scientific Revolution, 1600-1720: A Biographical Dictionary By Christopher Baker Greenwood Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "Bacon, Francis (1561-1626)" begins on p. 12
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