Chapter 3b

The Goal of Science

by Francis Bacon Icon

81 The slow advancement of the sciences is also caused by the fact that the end and goal of science is ill defined.

  • It is impossible to advance properly when the goal is not properly fixed.

The real and legitimate goal of the sciences is to endow human life with new inventions and riches.

  • The great crowd of teachers know nothing of this

The majority, so far from proposing to themselves the augmentation[59] of the mass of arts and sciences, make no other use of an inquiry into the mass already before them, than is afforded by the conversion of it to some use in their lectures, or to gain, or to the acquirement of a name, and the like.

But if one out of the multitude be found, who courts science from real zeal, and on his own account, even he will be seen rather to follow contemplation, and the variety of theories, than a severe and strict investigation of truth.

Again, if there even be an unusually strict investigator of truth, yet will he propose to himself, as the test of truth, the satisfaction of his mind and understanding, as to the causes of things long since known, and not such a test as to lead to some new earnest of effects, and a new light in axioms. If, therefore, no one have laid down the real end of science, we cannot wonder that there should be error in points subordinate to that end.


Nobody should have cared or wished to open and complete a way for the understanding, setting off from the senses, and regular, well-conducted experiment;

Everything has been abandoned either to:

  • the mists of tradition
  • the whirl and confusion of argument, or
  • the waves and mazes of chance, and
  • desultory, ill-combined experiment.

When anyone prepares himself for discovery, he first inquires and obtains[60] a full account of all that has been said on the subject by others.

  • He then adds his own reflections, and stirs up and invokes his own spirit, after much mental labor, to disclose its oracles.
  • All which is a method without foundation, and merely turns on opinion.

Another, perhaps, calls in logic to assist him in discovery, which bears only a nominal relation to his purpose.

The discoveries of logic are not discoveries of principles and leading axioms, but only of what appears to accord with them.[46]

When men become curious and importunate, and give trouble, interrupting her about her proofs, and the discovery of principles or first axioms, she puts them off with her usual answer, referring them to faith, and ordering them to swear allegiance to each art in its own department.

There remains but mere experience, which, when it offers itself, is called chance; when it is sought after, experiment.[47] But this kind of experience is nothing but a loose fagot; and mere groping in the dark, as men at night try all means of discovering the right road, while it would be better and more prudent either to wait for day, or procure a light, and then proceed. On the contrary, the real order of experience begins by setting up a light, and then shows the road by it, commencing with a regulated and digested, not a misplaced and vague course of experiment, and thence deducing axioms, and from those axioms new experiments: for not even the Divine Word proceeded to operate on the general mass of things without due order.

Let men, therefore, cease to wonder if the whole course[61] of science be not run, when all have wandered from the path; quitting it entirely, and deserting experience, or involving themselves in its mazes, and wandering about, while a regularly combined system would lead them in a sure track through its wilds to the open day of axioms.

83 The evil, however, has been wonderfully increased by an opinion, or inveterate conceit, which is both vainglorious and prejudicial, namely, that the dignity of the human mind is lowered by long and frequent intercourse with experiments and particulars, which are the objects of sense, and confined to matter; especially since such matters generally require labor in investigation, are mean subjects for meditation, harsh in discourse, unproductive in practice, infinite in number, and delicate in their subtilty. Hence we have seen the true path not only deserted, but intercepted and blocked up, experience being rejected with disgust, and not merely neglected or improperly applied.

84 The reverence for antiquity,[48] and the authority of men who have been esteemed great in philosophy, and general unanimity, have retarded men from advancing in science, and almost enchanted them. As to unanimity, we have spoken of it above.

The opinion which men cherish of antiquity is altogether idle, and scarcely accords with the term. For the old age and increasing years of the world should in reality be considered as antiquity, and this is rather the character of our own times than of the less advanced age of the world in those of the ancients; for the latter, with respect to ourselves,[62] are ancient and elder, with respect to the world modern and younger. And as we expect a greater knowledge of human affairs, and more mature judgment from an old man than from a youth, on account of his experience, and the variety and number of things he has seen, heard, and meditated upon, so we have reason to expect much greater things of our own age (if it knew but its strength and would essay and exert it) than from antiquity, since the world has grown older, and its stock has been increased and accumulated with an infinite number of experiments and observations.

We must also take into our consideration that many objects in nature fit to throw light upon philosophy have been exposed to our view, and discovered by means of long voyages and travels, in which our times have abounded. It would, indeed, be dishonorable to mankind, if the regions of the material globe, the earth, the sea, and stars, should be so prodigiously developed and illustrated in our age, and yet the boundaries of the intellectual globe should be confined to the narrow discoveries of the ancients.

With regard to authority, it is the greatest weakness to attribute infinite credit to particular authors, and to refuse his own prerogative to time, the author of all authors, and, therefore, of all authority. For truth is rightly named the daughter of time, not of authority. It is not wonderful, therefore, if the bonds of antiquity, authority, and unanimity, have so enchained the power of man, that he is unable (as if bewitched) to become familiar with things themselves.


Men have rested satisfied with present discoveries from the force of:

  • the admiration of antiquity, authority, and unanimity
  • the admiration of the effects already placed within his power.

[63] Whoever passes in review the variety of subjects, and the beautiful apparatus collected and introduced by the mechanical arts for the service of mankind, will certainly be rather inclined to admire our wealth than to perceive our poverty: not considering that the observations of man and operations of nature (which are the souls and first movers of that variety) are few, and not of deep research; the rest must be attributed merely to man’s patience, and the delicate and well-regulated motion of the hand or of instruments.

For example, the manufacture of clocks;

  • is delicate and accurate.
  • appears to imitate:
    • the heavenly bodies in its wheels, and
    • the pulse of animals in its regular oscillation

Yet it only depends on 1-2 axioms of nature.

We [64] would pity instead of admire humans for our vast lack of things and discoveries for so many ages.

Yet even the discoveries we have mentioned were more ancient than philosophy and the intellectual arts; so that (to say the truth) when contemplation and doctrinal science began, the discovery of useful works ceased.

This is true even in our knowledge.

  • If we look at our libraries, we might admire the immense variety of books.
  • But if we examine the contents of these books, we find that they repeat the same thing over again.
  • We will change from admiration into an astonishment at its poverty and the scarcity of topics which has hitherto filled men’s minds.

But if any one should condescend to consider such sciences as are deemed rather curious than sound, and take a full view of the operations of the alchemists or magii, he will perhaps hesitate whether he ought rather to laugh or to weep.

The alchemist cherishes eternal hope.

  • When his efforts fail, he accuses his own mistakes
    • He thinks that he has not properly understood the words of art or of his authors.
    • He then repeats his experiments endlessly

In his casual experiments, he falls upon something new in appearance which he ostentatiously publishes and keeps up his hope.

The alchemists[65] have:

  • made several discoveries
  • given mankind with useful inventions.

There is a fable of a old man who bequeathed to his sons some gold buried in his garden.

  • He pretended not to know the exact spot
  • So they worked diligently in digging the vineyard
  • They found no gold, but the vintage was rendered more abundant by their labor.

This can be applied to the alchemists.

  • They have assigned false powers and marvellous operations to things by gratuitous and idle conjectures


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