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And as the instruments of the hand either give motion or guide it, so the instruments of the mind supply either suggestions for the understanding or cautions. (Bacon Novum Organum Book One; II)
Bacon attested that barriers to knowledge of the truth could not be overcome without the conscious removal (individual and societal) of preconceptions of understanding, and scientific inquiry and creation. One must be willing to set aside long held beliefs and reexamine the world in which one lives. At all turns, bacon believed there is an opportunity for greater partial understanding of Nature and her pull upon us if we set aside our sets of "one truths."
Men become attached to certain particular sciences and speculations, either because they fancy themselves the authors and inventors thereof, or because they have bestowed the greatest pains upon them and become most habituated to them. But men of this kind, if they betake themselves to philosophy and contemplation of a general character, distort and color them in obedience to their former fancies; a thing especially to be noticed in Aristotle, who made his natural philosophy a mere bond servant to his logic, thereby rendering it contentious and well-nigh useless. (Bacon Novum Organum Book One; LIV)
Bacon give a name to preconceptions man holds to be the one right answer to a variety of questions. He calls them the Idols and categorizes the Idols through a more or less despicable list of faults that can be found in each. He describes those that man shares as part of his simply being a man as, the Idols of the Tribe. Bacon them moves on to the Idols of the Cave, those Idols which each man alone holds individually because of his own view of the world, and his own preoccupation and habituations. In his description of the Idols of the Theater one finds a particular assault on the tendency for man to fixate upon religion.
Idols of the Theater, or of Systems, are many....For were it not that now for many ages men's minds have been busied with religion and theology; and were it not that civil governments, especially monarchies, have been averse to such novelties, even in matters speculative; so that men labor therein to the peril and harming of their fortunes -- doubtless there would have arisen many other philosophical sects like those which in great variety flourished once among the Greeks. (Bacon Novum Organum Book One; LXII)
According to bacon the saving grace of man is not the grace of religion but man's own restrictions on faith and dogma, found in secular government. Yet, Bacn finds most troubling the Idols of the Market Place, which he describes as those which are brought about by the limted understanding of words and names. Man goes about trying to give name to countless objects and systems and in so doing restricts their nature.
But the Idols of the Market Place are the most troublesome of all -- idols which have crept into the understanding through the alliances of words and names. For men believe that their reason governs words; but it is also true that words react on the understanding; and this it is that has rendered philosophy and the sciences sophistical and inactive.... whenever an understanding of greater acuteness or a more diligent observation would alter those lines to suit the true divisions of nature, words stand in the way and resist the change. (Bacon Novum Organum Book One; LIX)
Within this resistance to change, precipitated by the idols of man, both innate and learned there is a natural barrio to full understanding, or even the partial understanding which Bacon attests man to be possible of.
Within the unfinished fiction of the New Atlantis is Bacon's determination to show a world where preconceptions do not block greater understanding of truth. The quest to the unknown is the just of the work. Many men find themselves sailing into unknown waters, toward an unknown goal and quickly loosing health and provision. They reach this unknown land and are given assistance by unknown men who are, and who possess things like but unlike those that exist in the memories of the men on the questing ship. "holding in his hand a fruit of that country, like an orange, but of color between orange-tawny and scarlet, which cast a most excellent odor." (Bacon, New Atlantis) it is with this comparison that Bacon gives detail but not names to the discoveries that abound in these unknown lands.
About three hours after we had despatched our answer, there came toward us a person (as it seemed) of a place. He had on him a gown with wide sleeves, of a kind of water chamolet, of an excellent azure color, far more glossy than ours; his under-apparel was green, and so was his hat, being in the form of a turban, daintily made, and not so huge as the Turkish turbans...(Bacon, New Atlantis)
The man resembled someone who would be revered and yet his style and dress were unique, and his and the actions of his vassals were far more giving than was expected by those asking for help. The men of this party found themselves in a completely unknown and unexpected position of purgatory, a peaceful and loving purgatory but a purgatory nonetheless.
My dear friends, let us know ourselves, and how it standeth with us. We are men cast on land, as Jonas was out of the whale's belly, when we were as buried in the deep; and now we are on land, we are but between death and life, for we are beyond both the Old World and the New; and whether ever we shall see Europe, God only knoweth. It is a kind of miracle hath brought us hither, and it must be little less that shall bring us hence. Therefore in regard of our deliverance past, and our danger present and to come, let us look up to God, and every man reform his own ways. (Bacon, New Atlantis)
The society which the explorers happened upon, where of Christina morals, without the restrictive resistance to change that can be found in the religions of Bacon's day and the present. They are open to change and revel in the past creations of technology.
A we have divers inventors of our own, of excellent works; which, since you have not seen) it were too long to make descriptions of them; and besides, in the right understanding of those de- scriptions you might easily err. For upon every invention of value we erect a statue to the inventor, and give him a liberal and honorable reward. (Bacon, New Atlantis)
It is hard to know the full breadth of this work as it is unfinished but it seems that Bacon meant to create a theater of perfection, a city on the hill if you will in which Christian values were adhered to without the strict resistance to change so often found where religion is concerned. It is a glimpse at the picture of Bacon's ideal world, where science and technology are embraced with acceptance and without fear.
In a sense much of Bacon's work went unfinished, as his thoughts were shortened by his searching for perfection, and no doubt by his resistance to the concrete. In many ways his life might be thought of as parallel to his unfinished quest in the New Atlantis, a quest in whichm, he chose a vocation of civil service, not without necessity but through what he was given, his mind and what he lacked, economy. "A sum of money which his father had set apart to purchase an estate for him had not been invested, and he inherited a fifth part of it only. He had therefore to look to the bar for an income..."
Sorley 16) His life was not without depravity and scandal, as he lost his hard earned position in office when he allowed himself to be paid twice by his followers. "So he left us; and when we offered him some pistolets, he smiling, said, "He must not be twice paid for one labor:" meaning (as I take it) that he had salary sufficient of the State for his service. For (as I after learned) they call an officer that taketh rewards twice paid." (Bacon New Atlantis) Just a few weeks after he attained the offices for which he had so worked and so longed for, charges of having received bribes from suitors in his court were brought against him in the newly-summoned House of Commons; these were remitted to the House of Lords for trial; he was convicted on his own confession, and sentenced to deprivation of all his offices, to imprisonment in the tower during the king's pleasure, to a fine of £40,000, to exclusion from the verge of the court, and to incapacity from sitting in parliament. The imprisonment lasted a…[continue]
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