Page images
PDF
EPUB

self-same King James whom Bacon revered as his great patron, and, in many of his own dedications, had styled a second Solomon.

Bacon's works have appeared in repeated editions, both in separate treatises and in a collected form. Many of them have no bearing upon our present inquiry; such, for instance, as the "Political Speeches," the “Essays, Civil and Moral," the "History of the Reign of Henry VII.” etc. On the contrary, bis philosophical works proper are of the utmost value in their relation to the science of education, although, on a cursory glance, it may not appear so. What Bacon advanced directly on this subject, is comparatively unimportant; but the indirect influence which, as the founder of the inductive method of philosophizing upon nature, or "real realism," as I have elsewhere styled it, he exerted upon education, this, though we are unable always to analyze it, is nevertheless invaluable. The reader will therefore follow me without surprise, if, in the succeeding pages, I shall appear to have lost sight, for a time, of the purely educational element.

Bacon has bimself given us a sketch of the great philosophical work, which he designed to write, and parts of which he completed. The work was called “Instauratio Magna,” and it was divided into six parts. The first part was an encyclopedia of all human learning, whether ancient or modern. In this he purposed, especially, to point out deficiencies, and suggest new subjects of inquiry. This part we bave; it is the “De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum,” is in nine books, and is the best known of all his works. Some portions of it are completely elaborated; others consist of a more or less thoroughly meditated plan. The second part of the "Instauratio Mag. na,” Bacon published under the title of “Novum Organum, Sive judicia vera de interpretatione Naturæ.” He worked upon this part for many years; at bis death, there were found twelve different elaborations of it. It is a collection of great thoughts, remarkable for their depth, their freshness, and the extreme nicety with which they are adjusted, the one to the other,--and all are intelligibly expressed in aphorisms, whose every word we feel has been carefully weighed.

The third part of the "Instauratio Magna" was designed to present a collection of the facts of natural history, and experimental philosophy, or “ Phænomena universi :” some portions of this were completed. In the fourth part, or “ Scala intellectus,” Bacon gives special applications of his philosophy in examples of the correct method of investigating nature. The fifth, or“ Anticipationes philosophiæ secun," was to be a sketch of the preparations of preceding ages for the fipal introduction of the new philosophy; while the sixth was to embody the new philosophy, in all its completeness and grandeur. This crowning part of the whole work Bacon left wholly untouched.

We shall confine our attention, at the present time, however, chiefly to the two first and completest divisions of this great work, viz., to the "De augmentis scientiarum" and the “Novum Organum." But, in order to judge Bacon aright, we must first cast a glance at the intellectual character, not only of the age in which he lived, but of the centuries just preceding.

We have seen that, in those centuries, supreme homage was paid to the word alone in all books, in disputations and declamations, and + that thinking men displayed neither sense nor feeling for any thing

but language, deriving from this, and basing upon this, all their knowledge. Every avenue to nature, to a direct and independent investigation of the external world, was closed. That gifted monk, Roger Bacon, a most worthy predecessor of Lord Bacon, was, in the middle ages, regarded as a magician; and, as a magician, suffered persecution, because he was not content to view nature through the eyes of Aristotle, choosing rather to go himself to the fountain-head and converse with her, face to face. He maintained that men ought not to be satisfied with traditional and accepted knowledge. Reason and experience were the two sources of science; but experience alone was the parent of a well-grounded certainty, and this true empiricism had hitherto been wholly neglected by most scholars. That Roger Bacon did not speak of experimental knowledge, as a blind man would discourse of colors, is proved by some remarkable expressions of his, anticipatory and unambiguous, upon spectacles, telescopes, and gunpowder. But Roger stood alone in that age of the world, like a solitary preacher in the desert; and hence it was that he was regarded with wonder, as a magician, and persecuted.

But that which showed in Roger Bacon as mere anticipation, and obscure prophecy, appeared, after the lapse of three hundred years, full-formed and clear in Francis Bacon. Even as Luther came forth to strip off the thick veil of human traditions, that had been woven over the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures, distorting its features, concealing it, and even burying it in oblivion, for multitudes of his fellow men, so did Bacon make war upon the traditions and postulates of men, which had quite darkened over the revelation of God, in the material world. He wished men no longer to put their faith . in arbitrary and fanciful glosses upon this revelation, but to go themselves directly to its living record.

He saw, moreover, that the more sagacious intellects of his time were wholly divorced from nature, and wedded to books alone; their

+

energies all expended upon words, and belittled by the endless hairsplitting subtleties of logic. He perceived that the physical philosophy current among his contemporaries, was gathered from Aristotle, or his disciples; and that it no where rested upon the solid basis of nature. Men read in books what authors said concerning stones, plants, animals, and the like; but to inspect these stones, plants, and animals, with their own eyes, was far enough from their thoughts. And hence were they compelled to defer to the authority of these authors, whether they would or no, because they cherished not the remotest idea of subjecting these descriptions and recitals to the test of actual experiment. Consider, too, that such test was the more needed, since these very authors had, mostly themselves, received their information even from third or fourth hands. We are amazed when we read the farrago of incredible and impossible stories, in which the books of natural history, especially those of the middle ages, abounded; when we contemplate, for example, the monsters to which we are introduced in the zoologies of this period, or the marvelous virtues which were foolishly claimed for various stones, &c. And even if these books, thus treating of nature, did contain many things that were true, yet it was manifest, that progress in natural science was not to be hoped for, so long as men remained satisfied with their teachings. And how, I ask, could men have been otherwise than satisfied, when they appeared not even to realize the existence of nature, the mighty fountain-head of all authorities.

Now, from this unworthy and slavish homage and deference to authors, authors too, mostly, with no title to confidence, Bacon purposed to recall men, by inviting them to a direct communion with the creation around them, and by pointing them to those eternal truths, whose obligation they were bound humbly to acknowledge, and yet whose claims would never tarnish their honor.

For an implicit obedience to nature is attended with a double reward, viz., an understanding of her processes and dominion over her. “Forsooth," he

suffer the penalty of our first parents' sin, and yet follow in their footsteps. They desired to be like God, and we, their posterity, would be so in a higher degree. For we create worlds, direct and control nature, and, in short, square all things by the meastire of our own folly, not by the plummet of divine wisdom, nor as we find them in reality. I know not whether, for this result, we are forced to do violence to nature or to our own intelligence the most; but it nevertheless remains true, that we stamp the seal of our own image upon the creatures and the works of God, instead of carefully searching for, and acknowledging, the seal of the Creator, mani

says,

we

fest in them. Therefore have we lost, the second time, and that deservedly, our empire over the creature; yea, when, after and notwithstanding the fall, there was left to us some title to dominion over the unwilling creatures, so that they could be subjected and controlled, even this we have lost, in great part, through our pride, in that we have desired to be like God, and to follow the dictates of our own reason alone. Now then, if there be any humility in the presence of the Creator, if there be any reverence for, and exaltation of, his handiwork, if there be any charity toward men, any desire to relieve the woes and sufferings of humanity, any love for the tight of truth, any hatred toward the darkness of error,-I would beseech men, again and again, to dismiss altogether, or at least for a moment to put away, their absurd and intractable theories, which give to assumptions the dignity of hypotheses, dispense with experiment, and turn them away from the works of God. Then let them with teachable spirit approach the great volume of the creation, patiently decipher its secret characters, and converse with its lofty truths; so shall they leave behind the delusive echoes of prejudice, and dwell within the perpetual outgoings of divine wisdom. This is that speech, and language, whose lines have gone out into all the earth ; and no confusion of tongues has ever befallen it. This language we should all strive to understand; first condescending, like little children, to master its alphabet.' "Our concern is not,” he says in another place, ," with the inward delights of contemplation alone, but with all human affairs and fortunes, yea, with the whole range of man's activity. For man, the servant and interpreter of nature, obtains an intelligent dominion over her, only in so far as he learns her goings on by experiment or observation; more than this, he neither knows, nor can he do. For his utmost power is inadequate to loosen or to break the established sequence of causes ; nor is it possible for him to subjugate nature, except as he submits to her bidding. Hence, the twin desires of man for knowledge, and for power, coincide in one; and therefore the ill-success of his operations springs mainly from his ignorance of their essential causes.”

“This, then,” he continues, " is the substance of the whole matter, that we should fix the eyes of our mind upon things themselves, and thereby form a true conception of them. And may God keep us from the great folly of counting the visions of our own fancy for the types of his creation; nay, rather may he grant us the privilege of tracing the revelation and true vision of that seal and impress which he himself has stamped upon his creatures.” In another place Bacon entreats men "for a little space to abjure all traditional and inherited views and notions, and to come as new-born children, with open and unworn sense, to the observation of nature. For it is no less true in this human kingdom of knowledge than in God's kingdom of heaven, that no man shall enter into it except be become first as a little child !" Man must put himself again in direct, close, and personal contact with nature, and no longer trust to the confused, uncertain, and arbitrary accounts and descriptions of her historians and would-be interpreters. From a clear and correct observation and perception of objects, their qualities, powers, etc., the investigator must proceed, step by step, till he arrives at axioms, and at that degree of insight, that will enable him to interpret the laws, and analyze the processes of nature. To this end, Bacon proffers to us his new method, viz., the method of induction. With the aid of this method, we attain to an insight into the connection and mutual relation of the laws of matter, and thus, according to him, we are enabled, through this knowledge, to make nature subservient to our will.

“Natural philosophy,” he says in another place,“ is either speculative or operative; the one is concerned with the invention of causes, the other with the invention of new experiments. Again, speculative natural philosophy, or theory, is divided into Physic and Metaphysic. Natural history describes the variety of things; Physic, the causes, but variable or respective causes. As, for instance, it seeks to know why snow is white; but Metaphysic inquires after the true nature of whiteness, not only as it finds this quality in snow, but also in chalk, silver, lilies, &c. Thus Metaphysic mounts, at last, to the knowledge of essential forms, or absolute differences,—the Ideas of Plato. These forms constitute the ultimate aim of science. Physic leads, through acquaintance with immediate causes, to Mechanic; but Metaphysic, by virtue of dealing with ultimate forms, leads to Magic. Thus mechanic and Magic carry into practice what Physic and Metaphysic advance as theory. The knowledge of occult forms brings the power to work marvels."

Natural philosophy Bacon compares to a "pyramid, whose basis is Natural History; the stage next the basis, is Physic branching into Practical Mechanic; the stage next the vertical point, is Metaphysic. As for the vertical point, 'Opus quod operatur Deus a principio usque ad finem,' the summary law of nature, we know not whether man's inquiry can attain unto it.”

Thus have we given a very general sketch of the positive side of the Baconian philosophy. Its gradations are as follows: beginning at + observation and experiment, it lays down, by a process. of induction, higher and higher axioms, till at last it penetrates to essential

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »