Why we Accept Wrong Thingsby Francis Bacon
9 This facility of accepting things weakly authorised is of 2 kinds, according to the subject. It is either:
- A belief of history, or a matter of fact ( as the lawyers speak); or
This error is seen in ecclesiastical history; which hath too easily received and registered reports and narrations of miracles wrought by martyrs, hermits, or monks of the desert, and other holy men, and their relics, shrines, chapels and images: which though they had a passage for a time by the ignorance of the people, the superstitious simplicity of some and the politic toleration of others holding them but as divine poesies, yet after a period of time, when the mist began to clear up, they grew to be esteemed but as old wives’ fables, impostures of the clergy, illusions of spirits, and badges of Antichrist, to the great scandal and detriment of religion.
- A matter of art and opinion.
10 So in natural history, we see there hath not been that choice and judgment used as ought to have been; as may appear in the writings of Plinius, Cardanus, Albertus, and divers of the Arabians, being fraught with much fabulous matter, a great part not only untried, but notoriously untrue, to the great derogation of the credit of natural philosophy with the grave and sober kind of wits: wherein the wisdom and integrity of Aristotle is worthy to be observed, that, having made so diligent and exquisite a history of living creatures, hath mingled it sparingly with any vain or feigned matter;
Yet on the other side hath cast all prodigious narrations, which he thought worthy the recording, into one book, excellently discerning that matter of manifest truth, such whereupon observation and rule was to be built, was not to be mingled or weakened with matter of doubtful credit; and yet again, that rarities and reports that seem uncredible are not to be suppressed or denied to the memory of men.
11 As for the facility of credit which is yielded to arts and opinions, it is likewise of two kinds; either when too much belief is attributed to the arts themselves, or to certain authors in any art.
The sciences themselves, which have had better intelligence and confederacy with the imagination of man than with his reason, are three in number: astrology, natural magic, and alchemy; of which sciences, nevertheless, the ends or pretences are noble. For astrology pretendeth to discover that correspondence or concatenation which is between the superior globe and the inferior; natural magic pretendeth to call and reduce natural philosophy from variety of speculations to the magnitude of works; and alchemy pretendeth to make separation of all the unlike parts of bodies which in mixtures of natures are incorporate. But the derivations and prosecutions to these ends, both in the theories and in the practices, are full of error and vanity; which the great professors themselves have sought to veil over and conceal by enigmatical writings, and referring themselves to auricular traditions and such other devices, to save the credit of impostures.
Yet surely to alchemy this right is due, that it may be compared to the husbandman whereof Æsop makes the fable; that, when he died, told his sons that he had left unto them gold buried underground in his vineyard; and they digged over all the ground, and gold they found none;
But by reason of their stirring and digging the mould about the roots of their vines, they had a great vintage the year following: so assuredly the search and stir to make gold hath brought to light a great number of good and fruitful inventions and experiments, as well for the disclosing of nature as for the use of man’s life.
12 The authors in sciences have become dictators because of the overmuch credit given to them.
that their words should stand, and not consuls, to give advice; the damage is infinite that sciences have received thereby, as the principal cause that hath kept them low at a stay without growth or advancement.
For hence it hath come, that in arts mechanical the first deviser comes shortest, and time addeth and perfecteth; but in sciences the first author goeth furthest, and time leeseth and corrupteth.
This is why artillery, sailing, printing, and the like, were grossly managed at the first.
In time, these were accommodated and refined.
Contrariwise, the philosophies and sciences of Aristotle, Plato, Democritus, Hippocrates, Euclides, Archimedes, had most vigour at first.
In time, they degenerated.
This is because:
- in the arts, many wits and industries have contributed as one.
- in philosophy, many wits and industries have been spent around the wit of some person
- Water will not rise higher than the level of the first spring where it came from. Thus, knowledge derived from Aristotle, and exempted from liberty of examination, will not rise higher than the knowledge of Aristotle.
Therefore, although the position be good, Oportet discentem credere, yet it must be coupled with this, Oportet edoctum judicare; for disciples do owe unto masters only a temporary belief and a suspension of their own judgment till they be fully instructed, and not an absolute resignation or perpetual captivity;
Therefore, let the great authors have their due. Time is the author of authors and should not be deprived of its due—which is to discover truth further and further.
Thus have I gone over these 3 diseases of learning.
There are some other rather peccant humours than formed diseases, which, nevertheless, are not so secret and intrinsic, but that they fall under a popular observation and traducement, and, therefore, are not to be passed over.