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Francis Bacon: The First Philosopher of Modern Science

Francis Bacon was born in January 1561 in Elizabethan England. His father, Sir Nicholas Bacon, held the highest judicial office of State, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, at the court of Elizabeth I. His mother, Anne, was the daughter of Edward VI’s tutor, and Anne’s sister was married to the Lord Treasurer. Born into this highly political family, the first love of Francis Bacon, it seems, was palace politics. After finishing his education at Trinity College, Cambridge, at the early age of sixteen, he was admitted to Gray’s Inn, which he left in 1576 for France. He lived there for a few years under the care of the Queen’s ambassador to the French Court. He returned to England for good in February 1579, resumed his studies and then pursued a career in law and politics. It is said that he was adept at palace intrigue, flattery of the powerful, and conspiring against friends. He did prosecute a personal benefactor, the Earl of Essex, and then, after the execution of the Earl, he wrote a pamphlet condemning him, allegedly to curry favour with the Queen. Aided by such means, he rose, slowly, to the position of Lord Keeper (later designated Lord Chancellor) that his father had held. He also obtained the title of Baron Verulam, and later that of Viscount St. Albans.

Lord Bacon in his judicial office is known to have misused his authority to torture prisoners and to issue injudicious monopolies to please his superiors at court. He accepted bribes from litigants while occupying the highest judicial chair in England. For this he was impeached by the House of Commons and sentenced by the House of Lords in 1626 to a large fine, imprisonment at the pleasure of the King, and banishment from court for life. The sentence was not fully executed as Lord Bacon died in 1626.[1]

Despite a hectic political career, Lord Bacon found the time to write a number of literary and philosophical works. These works mainly preach a reorientation of learning, providing a new direction, organisation and method for the business of acquiring knowledge about the world. In this attempt he, like Aristotle, wanted to take all knowledge as his domain, even though he criticised Aristotle, often sharply. In his major work, A Treatise on the Advancement of Learning, first written in English in 1605, and later expanded in the Latin version De Augmentis, we find him propounding authoritatively his theories on all subjects under the sun. This book largely defines the new direction and organisation of learning and also outlines the ethics and norms of Bacon’s ideal society. In his other major work, Novum Organum, published in 1621, Bacon proposed to establish a new method for acquiring knowledge, promising to give humanity a ‘new engine’ that would simplify the art of discovery and lead men quickly to the final truths about nature.

Bacon wrote his philosophical and literary works at the threshold of the ‘modern scientific revolution’. His understanding of the future direction of western society was so exact that in no time knowledge in Europe began to be organised on the lines he had suggested, and academicians everywhere were venerating him as a pioneer. Prophet of the new science, and the new society that Europe was to build, he is still one of its pillars. Much of the scholarship expended on modern science since his time remains more or less true to the Baconian prescription for science and learning. So much so that the modern sciences that have developed since the sixteenth century are often known as Baconian sciences, and modern scholars try to resolve their often irresolvable disputes about the nature and method of modern science by referring to Bacon.[2]

That a corrupt judge and an unscrupulous politician should be the prophet of a new science and a new society perhaps reflects the nature of that science and society. Also, a study of Bacon’s thought and life can be a particularly useful exercise because Bacon, in his time, did not feel the need to clothe his ideas in liberal political terminology and the scholarly jargon that has become a requisite since. Perhaps Bacon could not afford to sound liberal and vague. Liberalism - both in its broad and political senses - was the privilege of later western philosophers and politicians who wrote at a time when the west and western science had already established their dominance over the world. Bacon, writing earlier, had to be clear, precise, and forceful.

In the following pages we shall try to trace the roots of modern science as revealed in Bacon’s works, relying mainly on his two major ones: his work as a methodologist of a new science in Novum Organum and as a prophet of the new ethics of knowledge in The Advancement of Learning (De Augmentis). At a time when anyone talking or writing of science finds it expedient to clothe himself in the sophisticated language of the modern philosophy of science, it is a pleasure to turn to the clarity and precision of Bacon’s writing. That is why we often quote him extensively, hoping that it will help the reader get an insight into the mind from which modern science derives its world-view.

I. The Methodologist

Bacon saw himself, and is often seen by others, as a philosopher of science who revolutionised the method of gaining knowledge about the world. He was convinced that the ages before him had failed to make any visible progress in the sciences because they lacked the method. Thus, in The Advancement of Learning he declares:

Invention is of two very different kinds: the one of arts and science, the other of arguments and discourse. The former I set down as absolutely deficient… And as the immense regions of the West Indies had never been discovered, if the use of the compass had not first been known, it is no wonder that the advancement of arts hath made no greater progress, when the art of inventing and discovering the sciences remains hitherto unknown…[3]

And again in Novum Organum:

Let men, therefore, cease to wonder if the whole course of science be not run, when all have wandered from the path, quitting it entirely, and deserting experience, or involving themselves in mazes, and wandering about, whilst a regularly combined system would lead them in a sure track, through its wilds to the day of axioms. … (I.82)[4]

He was also convinced that he had arrived at the correct method which would lead people ‘in a sure track to the day of axioms’, through the use of which, ‘if we had but anyone who could actually answer our interrogations of nature, the invention of all causes and sciences would be the labour of but a few years’ (I.112). An entire treatise, the Novum Organum, which he declared was ‘more important than the rest’ of his work, was devoted to expounding his methodological discoveries. About the importance of this work, he said:

And as there are three ways of walking, viz., either by feeling out one’s way in the dark; or 2. when being dismighted, another leads one by the hand; and 3. by directing one’s steps by a light; so when a man tries all kinds of experiments without method or order, this is mere groping in the dark; but when he proceeds with some direction and order in his experiments, it is as if he were led by the hand; and this we understand by learned experience; but for the light itself, which is the third way, it must be derived from the Novum Organum.[5]

It is not surprising that Bacon is best known as the originator of the ‘scientific method’ of discovery, or a ‘new machine for the mind’ as Bacon himself prefers to call it.

Nature of the Method

The method that Bacon claims to have discovered is the dream-method of a positivist; a set of rules which allows the understanding ‘to proceed by a true scale and successive steps, without breach and interruption, from particular to the lesser axioms, thence to the intermediate (rising one above the other), and lastly, to the most general’ (I.104). And thus it allows one to found ‘a real model of the world in the understanding, such as it is found to be, not such as man’s reason has distorted’ (I.124).

The method is such that it leaves no scope for the freedom of a person’s mind; it leads the mind along the correct path, ‘not leaving it to itself, but directing it perpetually from the very first, and attaining our end as it were by mechanical aid’.[6] It is so mechanical ‘as to leave little to the acuteness and strength of wit, and to rather level wit and intellect. For as in the drawing of a straight line, or accurate circle by the hand, much depends upon its steadiness and practice, but if a ruler or compass be employed, there is little occasion for either, so it is with our method’ (I.61).

Bacon is quite aware that the human understanding, left to itself, does not act as a mechanical engine. Man sees the world in his own image. And this image derives its features from the nature of the mind in general, from the idiosyncrasies of the individual, from the individual’s interaction with others, and from the philosophical dogmas current at the time. Bacon realised that these aspects of the human condition which intervene between the world and man’s understanding of it are important constraints on human knowledge. He formulated the famous Doctrine of the Four Idols (I.39-68) in a lucid exposition of the constraints under which the human understanding operates. The constraints are grouped under four categories: the Idols of the Tribe, the Idols of the Den, the Idols of the Market and the Idols of the Theatre. Bacon holds that:

i. The Idols of the Tribe are inherent in human nature and the very tribe and race of man;… all the perceptions both of the senses and the mind bear reference to man and not to the universe, and the human mind resembles those uneven mirrors which impart their own properties to different objects, from which rays are emitted and distort and disfigure them.(I.41)

He then lists the numerous features that define the structure of human understanding. It is tempting to quote at least a few of these to illustrate how keenly Bacon was aware of the way the human mind constructs the world according to its own pre-dispositions:

The human understanding, from its peculiar nature, easily supposes a greater degree of order and equality in things, than it really finds… (I.45)

The human understanding is, by its own nature, prone to abstraction, and supposes that which is fluctuating to be fixed. But it is better to dissect than abstract nature; such was the method employed by the school of Democritus, which made greater progress in penetrating nature than the rest… (I.51)

The human understanding resembles not a dry light, but admits a tincture of the will and passions, which generate their own system accordingly, for man always believes more readily that which he prefers. (I.49)

Such are the idols of the tribe, which arise either from the uniformity of the constitution of man’s spirit, or its prejudices, or its limited faculties or restless agitation, or from the interference of the passions, or the incompetency of the sense, or the mode of their impression. (I.52)

ii. The idols of the den derive their origin from the peculiar nature of each individuals’s mind and body, and also from education, habit, and accident…(I.53)

iii. [The idols of the market are] formed in the reciprocal intercourse and society of man with man. (I.43).

[This intercourse has to be necessarily carried out through the medium of words and names. And the idols of the market are the ones which] have entwined themselves round the understanding from the association of words and names. For men imagine that their reason governs words, whilst, in fact, words react upon the understanding… (I.50)

iv. Lastly, there are idols which have crept into men’s minds from the various dogmas of peculiar systems of philosophy… We regard all the systems of philosophy hitherto received or imagined, as so many plays brought out and performed, creating fictitious and theatrical worlds. (I.44)

These idols of the theatre are not innate, nor do they introduce themselves secretly into the understanding, but they are manifestly instilled and cherished into the memory by the fictions of theories and depraved rules of demonstration. (I.61)

Bacon conducts this phenomenological exercise of clearly listing the various ways through which the human mind can colour human knowledge of the world not to point out the innate limitations of human knowledge, but to exhort us to get rid of them:

We have now treated of each kind of idols, and their quantities, all of which must be abjured and renounced with firm and solemn resolution, and the understanding must be completely freed and cleared of them, so that the access to the kingdom of man, which is founded on the sciences, may resemble that to the kingdom of heaven, where no admission is conceded except to children. (I.68)

Bacon is not naive enough to believe that these idols, some of which, according to him, are rooted in the very structure of the human understanding, can be eliminated by mere exhortation. But, he is convinced that the method of true induction which he has discovered is potent enough to free the understanding from these idols. For him ‘the formation of notions and axioms on the foundation of true induction is the only fitting remedy by which we can ward off and expel these idols’ (I.40). And this true inductive method, the Novum Organum, will help man move away from the idols of the human mind to the ideas of the Divine mind-‘from idle dogmas to the real stamp of created objects as they are found in nature’. Let us see how far this promise of a sure mechanical method is fulfilled in Bacon.

An Outline of the Method

Bacon gives us an outline of his conception of the scientific method in Book I of Novum Organum (I.100-7). This method involved collection of particulars through observation and systematic experimentation (I.100), putting down this data in writing (I.101) in a proper and well arranged fashion (I.102), deriving axioms by certain method and rules from the above particulars (I.103), and finally deriving new particulars from these axioms, so that the axioms could confirm their own extent and generality (I.106). Thus the scientific method in Bacon’s conception is what all of us regard as the only method; that of observation, induction of axioms from the observed, and testing those axioms in further observation. In Bacon’s words:

Our course and method, however (as we have often said, and again repeat), are such as not to deduce effects from effects, nor experiments from experiments (as the empirics do), but in our capacity of legitimate interpreters of nature, to deduce causes and axioms from effects and experiments; and new effects and experiments from those causes and axioms. (I.117)

Bacon is wary both of the empiricists who refuse to generalise beyond the limited particulars of their observation, and the sophists or theologists who make no or little contact with experiment. For him:

There are three sources of error and three species of false philosophy; the sophistic, the empiric and the superstitious (I.62). …Aristotle affords the most eminent instance of the first; for he corrupted natural philosophy by logic-thus he formed the world of categories …being everywhere more anxious as to definitions in teaching and the accuracy of the wording of his propositions, than the internal truth of things. Nor is much stress to be laid on his frequent recourse to experiment in his books on animals, his problems and other treatises, for he had already decided, without having properly consulted experience as the basis of his decisions and axioms, and after having so decided, he drags experiments along as a captive constrained to accommodate herself to his decisions; so that he is even more to be blamed than his modern followers (of the scholastic school) who have deserted her altogether (I.73)… The empiric school produces dogmas of a more deformed and monstrous nature than the sophistic or theoretic school; not being founded in the light of common notions (which however poor and superstitious, is yet in a manner universal and of general tendency), but in the confined obscurity of a few experiments… We have a strong instance of this in the alchemists and their dogmas; it could be difficult to find another in this age, unless perhaps in the philosophy of Gilbert (I.64). …The corruption of philosophy by the mixing up of it with superstition and theology is of much wider extent, and is most injurious to it both as a whole and in parts. Against it we must use the greatest caution, for the apotheosis of error is the greatest evil of all, and when folly is worshipped, it is, as it were, a plague spot upon the understanding. Yet some of the moderns have indulged this folly with such consummate skill that they have endeavoured to build a system… of natural philosophy on the first chapter of genesis…, [though] it is most wise to render unto faith the things that are faith’s. (I.68)

The true Baconian method thus achieves a golden mean, avoiding the pitfalls of both the empirics and the sophists, and Bacon expresses his conception of the method in a poetic vein:

Those who have treated of sciences have been either empirics or dogmatical. The former like ants only heap up and use their store, the latter like spiders spin out their own webs. The bee, a mean between both, extracts matter from the flowers of the garden and the field, but works and fashions it by its own efforts. The true labour of philosophy resembles hers, for it neither relies entirely nor principally on the powers of the mind, nor yet lays up in the memory the matter afforded by the experiments of natural history and mechanics in its raw state, but changes and works it in the understanding. (I.95)

It is obvious that the method outlined above is not a new one. Men have always reasoned from the particular to the general, and no generalisations which were not confirmed in their effects could have survived. In Bacon’s England, which was just emerging from the scholastic age, his strong exhortation to come back ‘to particulars and their regular series and order, and renounce their notions and begin to form an acquaintance with things’, must have been of great value. It must have been important to remind school-men that ‘the human mind, if it acts upon matters, and contemplates the nature of things, and the works of God, operates according to the stuff, and is limited thereby, but if it works upon itself as the spider does, then it produces cobwebs of learning, admirable indeed for the fineness of thread, but of no substance or profit.’[7] But we cannot possibly attribute any novelty to this method. Further, even if it were novel, it is just not adequate to fulfil the Baconian promise of a certain and sure method that would lead from the idols of the mind to the ideas of the Divine. Such idols are so deep-rooted that they always intervene between the world and our conception of it, and as Bacon knows, ‘many theories can be deduced from the phenomenon of the sky’ (I.62).

Bacon is aware of both these objections: the method is not novel, and if followed it need not lead to a unique result (I.125). His reply is that it is the ‘new inductive’ method which will make the process of going from the particular to the general a smooth, mechanical process unaffected by any idols that the mind may harbour, unaffected even by the level of intelligence and wit of the individual.

The whole of Book I is in the nature of an introduction to the new induction that Bacon develops in the second book. It is a moving introduction. Bacon surveys the whole field of thought, shows the incapacities it has been heir to, gives glimpses of his remedies to these infirmities, lists the causes of the failures of earlier times and earlier people, and the reasons for hope, the most important of them being that he can now bestow upon humanity a mechanical method of discovery, an aid for the mind, an inductive engine, the Novum Organum.

The New Induction: Book II

In the second book of Novum Organum, Bacon, after some abstruse remarks about the nature and objectives of knowledge, quickly comes to the question of defining the rules of his method. He begins by repeating the outline of the scientific method already given in Book I, and it may be appropriate to repeat it here to make clear the important place that the rules for induction occupy in the Baconian framework. He defines the scientific method, which according to him is the method that allows interpretation of nature as against merely ‘anticipations of nature’ that have been obtained by the ancients, in the following words:

The signs for the interpretation of nature comprehend two divisions, the first regards the eliciting or creating of axioms from experiment, the second the deducing or deriving of new experiments from axioms. The first admits of three subdivisions into ministrations: 1. To the senses, 2. To the memory, 3. To the mind or reason. For we must first prepare as a foundation for the whole, a complete and accurate natural and experimental history. … But natural and experimental history is so varied and diffuse, that it confounds and distracts understanding unless it be fixed and exhibited in due order. … Even when this is done, the understanding, left to itself and its own operation, is incompetent and unfit to construct its axioms without direction and support. Our third ministration, therefore, must be true and legitimate induction, the very key of interpretation. (II.10)

Induction, therefore, is to help as a ‘mechanical aid’ to understanding so that it does not fall prey to its usual incompetencies, including its idols. Immediately after the aphorism quoted above, Bacon lists the various steps involved in induction, which he illustrates by an investigation of the ‘form of heat’.[8]

The first step in the Baconian inductive process is the collection of all instances that exhibit the presence of the ‘nature’ being investigated. This collection is to form the ‘Table of Existence and Presence’. Their collection is to ‘be made as a mere history and without any premature reflection, or too great degree of refinement’ (II.11). Thus, for the example of heat, Bacon puts together in this Table of Existence twenty-seven instances of the presence of heat at random. In the table we find instances as varied as ‘the rays of the sun particularly in summer, and at noon’, and ‘a severe and intense cold’ which also ‘produces a sensation of burning’.

The second step is to construct the ‘Table of Deviation’ or of ‘Absence in Proximity’. Under this table instances are collected which agree with or resemble those in the ‘Table of Presence’, but differ from those in that the ‘given nature’ is absent. Thus the ‘proximate instance wanting in the nature of Heat’, corresponding to the presence of it in ‘the rays of the sun, particularly in summer and at noon’, is afforded by the ‘rays of the moon, stars, and comets’, which ‘are not found to be warm to the touch’.

The third step is to record the data on variations of the degree of the given nature in the same body at different times, and also in comparison with different objects. This is because ‘no nature can be considered a real form which does not uniformly diminish and increase with the given nature’. This collection is to be called the ‘Table of Degrees’, or ‘Comparative Instances’.

Armed with these tables, one is finally ready to start the process of induction. This is to be carried out through the process of Exclusions, keeping in mind ‘that not only is each table sufficient for the rejection of any nature, but even each single instance contained in them’. For it is clear ‘that every contradictory instance destroys a hypothesis as to the form’ (II.18). Thus the next step in this method is formation of the ‘Exclusive Table’. This table is supposed to indicate what phenomena are not essential to the form of the nature being investigated. For example, in the case of heat the Exclusive Table tells us that:

I. On account of the sun’s rays, reject elementary [terrestrial] nature…


XI. On account of the expansion of the air in the thermometers and the like, which is absolutely moved and expanded to the eye, yet acquires no manifest increase of heat, [again] reject absolute or expansive motion of the whole [as the form of heat]. (II.18)

The process of induction so far has proceeded more or less mechanically as promised. Though one suspects that a mere listing of instances which agree in the form of heat, and instances which are wanting in the nature of heat, already requires some idea of what ‘heat’ is, and one is afraid that the so-called Idols of the Market associated with the word ‘heat’ have some effect on the way these tables are formed. This seems to be the only way of explaining how instances like ‘aromatic substances and warm plants’ creep into the Table of Presence of heat. Again, in the formation of the Table of Exclusions one finds some evidence of the interference of the various Idols of the Mind. For example, the rejection of the ‘expansive motion of the whole’ in the example noted above does not seem to be indicated so much by the observation that thermometers acquire no manifest increase in heat (they do!), but by a pre-formed notion, which at this stage can only be called an Idol of the Theatre, that ‘heat is not a uniform expansive motion of the whole, but of the small particles of the body’ (II.20).[9] This Idol seems to have affected Bacon’s observation. It would be absurd to cavil at Bacon’s tables from today’s viewpoint; the important point is that even this mechanical process of first compiling the various tables does not seem to be free of the influence of the idols that is Bacon’s main purpose here to exorcise.

The next step in the Baconian inductive process is, however, absolutely baffling. Having formed the ‘Tables of Presence’, ‘Tables of Absence in Proximity’, ‘Tables of Degrees’, and ‘Tables of Exclusions’, and yet not having arrived at an axiom about the form of the nature to be investigated, Bacon advises us now to leave the mechanical path and form what we call a ‘hypothesis’. Bacon calls it ‘The First Vintage’, and gives an ingenious reason for now finally letting the understanding run free:

Since, however, truth emerges more readily from error than confusion, we consider it useful to leave the understanding at liberty to exert itself and attempt the interpretation of nature in the affirmative, after having constructed and weighed the three tables of preparation, such as we have laid them down, both from instances there collected, and others occurring elsewhere. Which attempt we are wont to call the liberty of the understanding or the commencement of interpretation or the first vintage.

The first vintage that Bacon obtains from his elaborate inductive exercise on the form of heat is that:

Heat is an expansive motion restrained, and striving to exert itself in the smaller particles. The expansion is modified by its tendency to rise, though expanding towards its exterior; and the effort is modified by its not being sluggish, but active and somewhat violent. (II.20)

How correct this inductive hypothesis is in the light of modern physicists’ conception of heat is irrelevant. In fact a comparison is impossible, because the modern physicists’ world is peopled by atoms and molecules, while Bacon’s smaller particles are ‘not the very minutest particles, but …rather those of some tolerable dimension’. However, it is clear that a hypothesis like the above, claiming that ‘heat is a motion… of the smaller particles’, could not have been formed by someone completely free of all Idols. No amount of observation, negation and exclusion is likely to lead to such a hypothesis. In fact, Bacon concedes this when he finally agrees to let the understanding be free and form its own hypothesis. And the hypothesis that he makes is, interestingly, a statement of the seventeenth century ‘Idol of the Theatre’ which asserted that the appropriate explanation of all phenomena is in terms of the size, shape, position and motion of the elementary corpuscles of the base matter.[10]

After explaining this step-wise process of induction, Bacon then lists the ‘remaining helps of the understanding’ that are necessary for a ‘true and perfect induction’. These helps include: (1) Prerogative Instances, (2) Supports of Induction, (3) Correction of Induction, (4) Varying Investigation according to the nature of the subject, (5) Prerogative Natures, or what should be investigated first and what last, (6) Limits of Investigation, or a Synopsis of all Natures that exist in the Universe, (7) Applications to Practice, (8) Preparation for Investigation, and (9) Ascending and Descending Scale of Axioms.

Bacon deals at length with only the first of these additional aids in his Novum Organum. He isolates twenty-seven ranks of Prerogative Instances, and gives examples of each from various fields of science. The whole exposition is long-winded and abstruse, quite unlike the crystal-clear, prophetic style of Bacon in the first Book - and is full of factual errors. It is surprising that the learned Bacon, the prophet of science, living at the time of Gilbert and Galileo, both of whom he condemns, was not aware of many of the simple achievements of the science of his time. Mercifully, Bacon does not pursue his attempt at offering all his ‘helps of understanding’ in detail, though he ends Book II with the confident assertion that ‘we must next, however, proceed to the supports and correction of induction’ (II.52). He never picks up these other parts of his induction, and here ends Bacon’s methodological adventure.

How do we assess this elaborate exercise in methodology? The first question we must ask is: Does this new induction fulfil the purpose for which it has been invented - that of providing a mechanical aid to understanding so that it does not get influenced by its own idols and is able to move through ‘certain methods and rules’ to the ‘ideas of the Divine mind’? Is it ‘the fitting remedy by which we can ward off and expel the idols’? We have partly answered this question by showing that the method does deviate from its mechanistic ideal in inviting the understanding to form a hypothesis, albeit after tabulating the elements selected. This exercise in hypothesis-formation, which is surely non-mechanical, is likely to be vitiated by prevalent notions, and it seems that Bacon was himself influenced in his hypothesis on the form of heat by the prevalent mechano-corpuscular world-view of the seventeenth century. As one reads Book II of Novum Organum, one encounters more and more examples of observation being influenced by hypothesis, hypothesis being influenced by prevalent notions, ambiguous meanings of words generating ambiguous experiment and theory, and so on. Here we shall give just two such instances.

First, in the ‘First Vintage of the form of Heat’, we find the following hypothesis: ‘The motion of heat is both expansive and tending upwards’. In support of this hypothesis Bacon makes the following observation:

This difference is shown by putting the tongs or poker into the fire. If placed perpendicularly with the hand above, they soon burn it, but much less speedily, if the hand hold them sloping or from below.

From our modern vantage-point this hypothesis seems absurd; we ‘know’ that heat does not exhibit any such behaviour. But, then, how did Bacon confirm his hypothesis in experiment? Perhaps the explanation lies in the open-fire furnaces that were the only source of heat in Bacon’s time and which do direct heat upwards. Today if we were to test Bacon’s hypothesis we would take pains to design a furnace that directs heat isotropically. Thus it seems Bacon was not ‘wrong’ in his hypothesis. He was talking about a different type of heat, the only type that would have been available to any experimenter unless he was already convinced that heat flows isotropically and went about designing a furnace that would prove this latter hypothesis. One is reminded of Kuhn’s observation based on the history of Baconian sciences that the very experimental data on which a hypothesis is based starts changing when the hypothesis is changed. Thus, as Kuhn tells us, before Dalton’s theory became acceptable, chemists saw all sorts of ratios between the various elements forming a compound. Proust’s own measurements of the two oxides of copper yielded, for example, an oxygen weight ratio of 1.47:1 instead of the 2:1 demanded by the atomic theory. And Proust was a fine experimentalist. By the time, however, the atomic theory was finally accepted nature had been beaten into line to fit the theory. At the end, even the percentage composition of well-known compounds had changed. In fact the meaning of the term ‘compound’ itself had changed by then.[11] Such is the influence of the idols that Bacon sets out to exorcise, and fails.

For our second example, we shall take a prerogative instance of the sixth rank which includes instances that show physical parallels or resemblances with other forms (II.27). Talking of such instances, Bacon proposes the following:

The scrotum of males and the matrix of females are also similar instances; so that the noble formation which constitutes the difference of the sexes appears to differ only as to the one being internal and the other external; a greater degree of heat causing the genitals to protrude in the male, whilst the heat of the female being too weak to effect this they are retained internally.

How many idols have gone into making this absurd observation: (1) An attempt to see a higher degree of order and equality in things than really exists; an attempt to force resemblances: an Idol of the Tribe (I.45); (2) An attempt to explain diverse phenomena through his pet theory of heat as an expansive motion: an Idol of the Den (I.54); (3) An equation of heat with vitality, derived from normal usage of the word heat: an Idol of the Market (I.59); (4) an assumption that the heat of the female is weaker than that of the male, obviously derived from the contemporary world-view: an Idol of the Theatre (I.62).

Thus one sees Bacon, in spite of his method, falling into the very traps he had discerned and analysed. We happen to recognise the influence of these idols here not because we have a superior method, but because we no longer believe in the idols that were current in Bacon’s time. We have our own idols, and only those who are free of them will be able to see the flaws in arguments that we take for granted. In spite of Bacon and his method, we have to live with the knowledge that our knowledge of the world is always tinctured with the peculiar assumptions that we hold. There are no royal roads to the ideas of the Divine. We as humans can aspire only to human knowledge. Bacon’s method does not come up to his positivist dream: it does not free man from his idols. It could not free Bacon from his.

Next we turn to Bacon’s second claim, of having discovered a new method. Is the new induction described above really new? The answer depends upon how you view the method. If it is taken as a procedural discovery, that is, if the actual drawing up of tables of review and exclusions before going through the exercise of constructing a hypothesis is taken as a necessary component of induction, then the method is obviously new. Nobody before Bacon had followed this prescription, but unfortunately, nor did anybody after him follow it, not even the western scientists who claim to belong to the tradition of Baconian science. Bacon can claim novelty only at the cost of becoming irrelevant. However, one may look upon the method as useful general advice, to keep all the experimental information summed up in various tables in mind while making an induction. In which case, the induction Bacon is talking about turns out to be a very ordinary affair. As Macaulay rather irreverently describes it in his ‘Essay on Bacon’, induction is something ‘which we are all doing from morning to night, and which we continue to do in our dreams. A plain man finds his stomach out of order. He has never heard of Lord Bacon’s name. But he proceeds in strictest conformity with the rules laid down in the second book of Novum Organum, and satisfies himself that minced pies have done the mischief. “I ate minced pies on Monday and Wednesday, and I was kept awake by indigestion all night.” This is the Table of Presence. “I did not eat any on Tuesday and Friday, and I was quite well.” This is the Table of Absence in Proximity. “I ate very sparingly of them on Sunday, and was very slightly indisposed in the evening. But on Christmas day I almost dined on them, and was so ill that I was in great danger.” This is the Table of Degrees. “It cannot have been the brandy which I took with them. For I have drunk brandy daily for years without being the worse for it.” This is the Table of Exclusion. Our invalid then proceeds to what is termed by Bacon as the First Vintage, and pronounces that minced pies do not agree with him.’[12] True, Macaulay’s invalid has performed all these steps instinctively. We can give Bacon the credit for making these steps explicit, for perhaps being the first to have analysed induction in the western tradition, for having done for induction what Aristotle had done for logic. But, Aristotle did not discover logic, and Bacon discovered no ‘new’ induction.

Once we recognise that Bacon’s method should be looked upon not as a new method but as an analysis of the inductive process, we begin to realise how perspicacious this analysis is. He strongly emphasises the importance of the negative instance in carrying out a true induction, a point on which Karl Popper has constructed a whole theory of ‘falsifiability’. In fact, Bacon’s grouse against the method of induction prevalent in his day seems to be that it did not accord sufficient attention to the negative instance and induced axioms from what Bacon calls simple enumeration. This process, Bacon declares, is wrong:

From a bare enumeration of particulars in the logical manner, follows a wrong conclusion, nor does such an induction infer anything more than a probable conjecture. For who will undertake, when the particulars of a man’s knowledge of memory appear only on one side, that something directly opposite shall not lie concealed on the other?[13]

In Novum Organum he expresses the same sentiment more picturesquely:

It was well answered by him who was shown in a temple the votive tablets suspended by such as had escaped the peril of shipwreck, and was pressed as to whether he should then recognise the power of gods, by an enquiry: But where are the portraits of those who have perished in spite of those vows. (I.46)

This emphasis on the negative instance in induction is important. However, if we follow Bacon’s instruction on the negative instance to the letter, that any single negative instance must be sufficient to reject any hypothesis (II.18) - we find that while the method is novel, nobody follows it. If we take it as an analysis of the inductive process where negative instances are generally important, then there cannot be anything new about it. One cannot think of anyone in the history of science who induced a hypothesis which was patently negated even before being established, even though Bacon claims that before him all induction was mere simple enumeration.

Thus, whichever way we look at the new induction presented in Novum Organum, we cannot accept that Lord Bacon had really any new methodological concept to offer at the beginning of the so-called ‘scientific revolution’. Nor can we accept that Bacon’s method would lead to ultimate truths, uncoloured by the social and individual perceptions of reality, to which people had earlier had no access because of their lack of ‘method’. Hence, the credit due to Bacon for being the herald of a revolution in human knowledge - which he undoubtedly was as the first philosopher of the western scientific revolution - cannot be on account of his methodological contributions. The elements of this revolution must be looked for elsewhere in Bacon’s thought - in his prescriptions about the organisation of science and society, in his ideas about the objective of knowledge, in his ethics and in his politics, to which we shall turn in the next section.

However, in this elaborate methodological exercise, which he considered to be more important than the rest of his work, we can already see a major element of the Baconian conception of science. He wanted the new science to be seen as a faithful representation of the truth about the world, as a transcript of the Divine mind. Even though Bacon failed to produce the promised ‘new engine’ that would lead the human mind from merely human knowledge to ideas of the Divine, the idea of constructing epistemologies that would somehow prove the unique absolute truth of the Baconian sciences has remained. And while philosophers have been making prodigious efforts to provide a methodology that might show the Baconian sciences to be true, everyone involved has meanwhile assumed that what developed as modern western science, since Bacon, has a claim to absolute, unique truth, whether the claim can be proved or not. Thus, though Bacon failed in his methodological exercise, he succeeded in establishing the idea of according a mere human discipline the sanctity of divine truth. Even that idea was perhaps not very new in the western world, since at about that time, the American continent was being decimated in the name of the absolute truth of Christianity. However, Bacon successfully channelled the idea of absolute truth into a new direction. He gave a clear exposition of the new direction that the western idea of absolute truth was to take. This is what makes Bacon the prophet of the industrial society.

II. The Prophet

While Bacon’s claim to be the methodologist of the new science that emerged in Europe is often disputed, his position as the prophet of a new culture in which the new science took root is universally acknowledged. Even Macaulay - who ridiculed Bacon’s methodological claims, and felt indignation and contempt for the despicable acts for which Bacon was responsible as a lawyer and a politician - seems to be spellbound by the prophetic ‘moral and intellectual constitution which enabled Bacon to exercise so vast an influence on the world’. Even Macaulay allowed that he was one of those few imperial spirits whose rare prerogative it was to give the human mind a direction which it would retain for ages.[14] Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833), in his moving petition to the Governor General for the provision in India of a new education that would instruct the ‘natives’ in the subtleties of the new culture, referred to Lord Bacon as the dividing line between the old and the new. His protest against the Sanskrit schools, that ‘the pupils will thereby acquire what was known two thousand years ago, with the addition of vain and empty subtleties since produced by speculative men, such as is already taught in all parts of India’, echoes Bacon in both style and content. Rammohan Roy even accords Bacon the status of a prophet for India:

If it had been intended to keep the British nation in ignorance of real knowledge, the Baconian philosophy could not have been allowed to displace the system of the school-men, which was the best calculated to perpetuate their ignorance. In the same manner the Sanskrit system of education would be the best calculated to keep this country in darkness if that had been the policy of the British Legislature.[15]

Bacon’s reputation as the prophet of the new culture of the west has persisted to our day. Thus, Farrington, writing in 1951, devotes his popular book on Bacon to undo the impression that Bacon was a failed methodologist of the new science and to assign him his ‘rightful place as the founder of English materialism’.[16] Therefore, to understand Bacon, and the scientific revolution he presaged, it is important to look at the new moral, ethical, and cultural ideas that he preached.

The first element in the Baconian cultural-ethical complex is the freeing of knowledge from the constraints of the prevalent ideas of good and evil. Bacon declares this freedom of knowledge in the first few pages of his major work, Advancement of Learning. And, curiously, he manages to have his God on his side in his plan to make knowledge irresponsible. In his oft-quoted words:

It was not the pure knowledge of nature, by the light whereof man gave names to all the creatures in Paradise agreeable to their nature, that occasioned the fall; but the proud knowledge of good and evil, with an intent in man to give law to himself, and depend no more upon God.[17]

This advice to split ‘pure knowledge’ from the ‘knowledge of good and evil’, from ethics, becomes more explicit later in Novum Organum. There we find Bacon strongly censuring those who tend to mix ‘natural philosophy’ with religion and faith: ‘They celebrate the union of faith and senses as though it were legitimate, with great pomp and solemnity, and gratify men’s pleasing minds with a variety, but in the meantime confound most improperly things divine and human’ (I.89). And he exhorts all to free natural philosophy from this ‘corruption’ while rendering unto faith the things that are faith’s (I.65); though, as we shall see later, the things that are faith’s in the Baconian conception turn out to be precious few.

Though separating knowledge from ethics is a basic component of the Baconian culture, it does not amount to making a separation between ‘facts’ and ‘values’ - as it is often portrayed and understood. Bacon does not want knowledge to be pursued for its own sake, or it to be freed from all values. Having freed knowledge from all constraints of good and evil, he subjects it to a new overriding constraint - it should generate power. Power and utility are in fact the key-words in Bacon’s thought. These words appear as the principal values in everything that Bacon has written. For him the value of power and utility is so great that often truth, power and utility become identical concepts in his perception. Thus we find him saying in the Novum Organum:

Truth, therefore, and utility are here perfectly identical, and effects are of more value as pledges of truth than from the benefit they confer on man (I.24). …There is a most intimate connection between the ways of human power and human knowledge …and that which is most useful in practice is most correct in theory. (II.4)

Thus, since knowledge and power acquire a single identity in Bacon’s perception, he does not see that the commandment - that knowledge be exclusively directed towards gaining power - imputes a new value to knowledge. And so, he confidently asserts that he is advocating a knowledge free of all ‘idols of the understanding’ - a value-free knowledge, in more modern terminology. Yet, this assertion of the identity of knowledge and power is quite obviously a new idol. We do not see the change envisaged by Bacon as a split between facts and values, opening the way to value-free factual knowledge. We only see the older values of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ being replaced by the new values of ‘useful’ and ‘useless’.

Using Bacon’s own categorisation of the idols that beset human understanding, we are tempted to call this new idol of power and utility an idol of Bacon’s Den; seeing that it had taken hold of him rather early in life.[18] But this idol of his Den was also fast becoming an ‘Idol of the Tribe’ for the western world. Bacon was formulating his thesis of the identity of knowledge and power and of the freedom of knowledge from all ethics, when Christian monasteries - the custodians of the prevalent ethics - had already lost out to the new temporal powers. It was also a time when, as Farrington says, Christian ideas of mercy and love had to take a back seat in the face of the lucrative possibilities of plunder and slave-trade made possible by ‘little vessels, like the celestial bodies’, that sailed around the whole world, and by the power of gunpowder. And ‘all the wealth, from whatever source it came - distribution of monastic lands, plunder of the treasure ships of Spain, or the new and lucrative trade in black slaves - was being invested in industry’ to further increase the hold of the temporal power.[19] It was only a matter of time before the intellect would align itself with these new powers, before new idols of the tribe and the theatre emerged. It is no exaggeration to say, as Will Durant does, that ‘the real nurse of Bacon’s greatness was Elizabethan England…’[20]

Although Bacon only gave expression to an idea which was already in the air, an idea whose time had come, the formulation was all his own. He offered a justification for the drive for power by declaring that truth is power; and he sanctioned all the misery being inflicted upon whole continents - Africa and the Americas - by declaring that the truth which was power had no business to bother itself about what was good and what was evil.

Going further, he sought to cement the union of knowledge and temporal power by asserting that knowledge in the pursuit of power ought to be organised by the King. All his books are addressed to the King. In the second book of The Advancement of Learning, we find him making specific recommendations to King James I to organise knowledge for the sake of power. The opening words of this appeal to the King are interesting, particularly in the context of Bacon’s concept of knowledge as a handmaiden of power:

It is befitting, excellent King, that those who are blessed with a numerous offspring, and who have a pledge in their descendants that their name will be carried down to posterity, should be keenly alive to the welfare of future times, in which their children are to perpetuate their power and empire. Queen Elizabeth, with respect to her celibacy, was rather a sojourner than an inhabitant of the present world, yet she was an ornament to her age and prosperous in many of her undertakings. But to your Majesty, whom God has blessed with much royal issue, worthy to immortalise your name, it particularly appertains to extend your cares beyond the present age, which is already illuminated with your wisdom, and extend your thoughts to those works which will interest remotest posterity.[21]

Bacon then gives a blueprint of an organisation of knowledge which sounds like a description of modern academia. He advises the establishment of schools and universities; of endowments, privileges and charters; of libraries, professorships, etc. He recommends improvement in the salaries of lecturers and professors. He advises establishing contacts between European universities. And he advises generous grants for laboratories: ‘And if Alexander placed so large a treasure at Aristotle’s command, for the support of hunters, fowlers, fishers, and the like, in much more need do they stand of this beneficence who unfold the labyrinths of nature.’ And ‘therefore as the secretaries and spies of princes and states bring in bills for intelligence, so you must allow the spies and intelligences of nature to bring in their bills, or else you will be ignorant of many things worthy to be known.’

Bacon’s advice to the temporal powers to take knowledge under their wings was heeded. The Royal Society was founded in 1662, and its founders named Bacon as their model and inspiration. Soon knowledge began to be organised all over Europe on the Baconian model. The separation of knowledge from ethics and its custodians, the monasteries, was thus complemented by the marriage of knowledge with power and its nascent repository, the secular state.

In sum, then, the new ideal that makes Bacon the prophet of the scientific revolution was that knowledge ought to be organised under the tutelage of the temporal authority for the exclusive purpose of gaining power without regard to the questions of good and evil.

To complete the picture, however, we must also answer the question: power for whom and over what? Theoretically Bacon’s answer to this question is that knowledge is power over nature for the benefit of mankind. Thus in a much quoted passage of Novum Organum, Bacon states:

It will, perhaps, be as well to distinguish three species and degrees of ambition. First, that of men who are anxious to enlarge their own power in their country, which is vulgar and degenerate kind; next, that of men who strive to enlarge the power and empire of their country over mankind, which is more dignified but not less covetous; but if one were to endeavour to renew and enlarge the power and empire of mankind in general over the universe such ambition (if it may be so termed) is both sound and more noble than the other two. (I.129)

It is this ‘universal’ aspect of Bacon’s ethics that has made him the prophet of almost all mankind since the scientific revolution. It is this aspect which prompted Rammohan Roy to advocate Baconian ethics for his people, even when the latter were being immiserised by Bacon’s compatriots armed with power acquired through the Baconian sciences. The statement that power should be exercised over nature for the benefit of all mankind - this crucial assumption, which alone can make Baconian ethics a universal ethics as distinct from the ethics of a plundering nation - is not supported either by the general tenor of Baconian philosophy or by Bacon’s own life. Let us take these two aspects separately and see how far we can find support for them in Bacon.

First, let us take the statement that Baconian science is a search for power over nature, not over man. It is true that in Baconian philosophy the major attack is aimed at nature. In Bacon’s writings, nature appears almost as an enemy, to be dissected and tortured to make it yield its secrets. ‘For as a man’s temper is never well-known until he is crossed; in like manner the turns and changes of nature cannot appear so fully, when she is left at her liberty, as in the trials and tortures of art.’[22] And this is the source of that much-vaunted Baconian stress on unbridled experimentation. Bacon is emphatic that we must ‘put nature on the rack and compel her to bear witness’. And he is prophetic in his declaration: ‘I stake all on the victory of art over nature in the race’.[23]

Such explicit formulations as these support the view that the Baconian search for power is directed against nature. However, Bacon’s ‘nature’ includes man - not only his body but also a large part of his soul. While talking about the human soul in The Advancement of Learning (Book IV, Ch. III), he divides the doctrine of the human soul into two parts: the doctrine of the inspired substance (proceeding from the breath of God), and the doctrine of the produced or the sensitive soul. He then generously grants, though still with some reservations, that the former may be turned over to religion, leaving it beyond the range of experiments for subjugation. The other part, however, must be fully subjected to human intervention. It may, like the rest of nature, be coaxed, vexed, and tortured to extract its secrets. This part of the soul and its substance may be justly enquired into.

What does this part of the soul contain? ‘The faculties of the soul are known, viz. the understanding, reason, imagination, memory, appetite, will, and all those wherewith ethics and logic are concerned. In the doctrine of the soul the origin of these faculties must be physically treated.’ Having brought all this within his definition of physical nature, one wonders what Bacon has left so magnanimously for religion!

For all practical purposes, man for Bacon is a part of nature over whom power must be acquired through knowledge. Novum Organum clearly states that most of the human mental and social faculties come within the realm of the Baconian method:

Again, some may raise this question rather than objection, whether we talk of perfecting natural philosophy alone according to our method or the other sciences also, such as logic, ethics, politics. We certainly intend to comprehend them all… For we form a history and tables of invention for anger, fear, shame, and the like, and also for examples in the civil life, and the mental operations of memory, composition, division, judgement, and the rest, as well as for heat and cold, light, vegetation and the like…(I.127)

Thus, the search for knowledge as power is extended to all aspects of human life. In The Advancement of Learning (Book VIII, Ch. II), Bacon gives a long prescription for the ‘art of rising in life’. He tells us how one could acquire power over others by ‘knowing’ them: ‘Men may be known six different ways, viz., (1) by their countenances; (2) their words; (3) their actions; (4) their tempers; (5) their ends; (6) by their relation of others.’ In the chapter on ‘The Military Statesman, Or a Specimen of the Doctrine of Enlarging the Boundaries of Empire’, we find him exhorting the state to war: ‘No state [may] expect any greatness of empire, unless it be immediately ready to seize any just occasion for war.’ The conclusion is clear: Bacon’s nature includes man; and when he talks of knowledge as power over nature, power over man and other nations is also implied.

The second assertion, that power is for the benefit of mankind in general, seems as nominal as the first. In Bacon’s scheme of things the world is to be ruled by a small élite which has power and knowledge, and which is in the service of temporal powers, preferably the king. The common man has no place in this dispensation except as a hewer of wood and drawer of water. This was the existing social structure in Bacon’s society, and the structure he envisaged for the scientific utopia sketched in the New Atlantis: A King, a scientific élite in the service of King and the people.[24] It is not obvious how the benefits of power acquired by this élite over man and nature would benefit mankind. In practice, in Bacon’s time, as now, the benefits always went to the élite at the cost of mankind. Bacon never thought there was anything wrong in this dispensation. On the contrary, he asserted:

Again, let anyone but consider the immense difference between men’s lives in the most polished countries of Europe, and in any wild and barbarous region of the new Indies, he will think it so great, that man may be said to be a God unto man, not only on account of mutual aid and benefits, but from their comparative states - the results of arts, and not of the soil or climate. (I.129)

The arts, he referred to, were of course the ‘true’ arts of gaining power over man and nature, mostly over the former in his time at least. Two of the three discoveries he chooses for reference in the aphorism (I.129) where he declares that power over nature is better than that over man, are gunpowder and the compass - the two objects which served no conceivable purpose of gaining power over nature in his time, but indeed vastly increased man’s power over man. Bacon anticipating this objection against his ethics asserted:

Lastly, let none be alarmed at the objection of the arts and sciences becoming depraved to malevolent and luxurious purposes and the like, for the same can be said of every worldly good, talent, courage, strength, beauty, riches, right itself, and the rest. Only let mankind regain their rights over nature, assigned to them by the gift of God, and obtain that power, whose exercise will be governed by right reason and true religion. (I.129)

It is curious that Bacon should at this point refer to ‘right reason’ and ‘true religion’ while he himself tried so hard to hound out all religion (except the study of the inspired substance, which is to have no social or psychological reality) and almost all reason except the reason of power.

It seems that the idea of Baconian science generating benefits for all mankind is a misreading of the idiom of his time. For Bacon, mankind meant the gentry of Britain and aristocratic groups in other societies. This was the accepted usage of the term ‘mankind’ in his time. The Oxford Dictionary in its earlier editions defined gentlemen as those who were entitled to have a coat of arms; according to one contemporary source, in the England of 1696, there were 12,000 gentlemen in a population of more than 5.5 million.[25] It is for these gentlemen that the Baconian discoveries were intended.

To summarise, the new ethics called for an unbridled search for power over man and nature and equated truth with power; it promoted infinite intervention in nature (and man as part of nature) in the search for truth that is power; it envisaged that a small group of élite scientists would acquire this power in collaboration with the ruling élite. And mankind at large was offered a vague hope that at some point in the future they would share the benefits of this power.

III. Baconism

We have seen that the Baconian conception of the new knowledge, which was to develop into modern science, had two aspects. Firstly, it was to be the study of nature, and of man as a component of nature, so as to reduce both to controllable and ‘usable’ entities. Secondly, this knowledge of control was to be regarded not merely as a human acquisition but as the absolute truth about nature and man, in fact as a transcript of the mind of the creator of the universe. Bacon in his Advancement of Learning laid down detailed plans for the orientation of learning towards knowledge that would be sheer power. And in his Novum Organum he constructed an epistemology to indicate how this knowledge could be seen as a glimpse into the divine mind.

The conceptions that the whole world is potentially ‘usable’, that the divine mind can be deciphered to find ways to put the world to use, and that human knowledge at any given stage can be regarded as the uniquely true representation of reality, are perhaps not originally Bacon’s or even of his times. It would be interesting to trace their origins and record the varied practical forms taken by these core Baconian concepts in ancient and medieval Europe. Our present interest, however, is limited to core ideas of modern science within which the Baconian concepts still seem to reign supreme.

For the notion that the proper objective of science is the study of everything in the universe as a potentially ‘usable’ object has not been seriously challenged. Occasionally one may come across an expression of anguish at the thought of a world in which nothing exists that cannot be put to some use, and from where human subjectivity is banished. Martin Heidegger, for example, in A Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, offers a moving insight into this anguish and fear. However, for him, too, the Baconian-scientific world-view is something that need not be challenged or opposed. As far as he is concerned, this is the mode of expression of ‘Being’ that happens to be supreme at this juncture. Nothing can be done about it, except achieving awareness of the dangers inherent in the situation. That seems to be the position of most people, including modern ecologists who harbour anxieties about the objectifying nature of the Baconian world-view. Bacon’s epistemological axioms are thus accorded an ontological status, implicitly denying the authenticity of the varied modes in which the ‘Being’ happened to reveal itself in non-western societies.

The other feature of science that Bacon stresses, that of science being a true and, hence, uniquely valid representation of reality, has also remained largely unchallenged. It is true that Bacon’s own attempt at constructing an epistemology that would make science the unique truth about the world was not very successful. Alternative conceptions of what is, and what ought to be, the appropriate epistemology for science were put forward almost immediately, Descartes being the obvious example. However, whatever be the epistemological theories put forward by various people at various times, scholarship on science seems intent upon establishing the validity of the Baconian concept of science as the uniquely true representation of reality. To see its stranglehold, one has merely to move away from conventional scholarship (which is anyway known to be heavily infected with positivist ideas) and look at modern scholars who have supposedly given up the positivist claims in favour of a ‘liberal’ view of science. In spite of the liberal cloak, it is easy to discern in them the Baconian urge to prove that modern science is the uniquely true, uniquely valid system of apprehending the real world.

In this context it is instructive to first look at the work of Thomas Kuhn. In his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn sketches a picture of modern science that shows it to be an activity far removed from the Baconian ideal of a mechanical process of systematic, objective accretion of knowledge free of all ‘idols’. The history of Baconian sciences shows that normal scientific activity in any particular discipline consists in the application and articulation of an already accepted set of concepts, categories, theories, exemplary problem-solutions, experimental procedures, etc. This shared complex Kuhn calls a paradigm. The routine process of application and articulation of paradigms is, according to Kuhn, punctuated by crisis situations, wherein a paradigm current in a field is found to be deficient for various reasons, and an intense readjustment of concepts and categories, etc., takes place within the concerned scientific community, leading to the establishment of a new paradigm.

The process of normal science, that of articulation and application of the paradigm, is more or less mechanical. But despite being mechanical in nature, this process has nothing to do with the objective, value-free apprehension of reality that Bacon advocated. On the contrary, nature is approached in terms of categories and concepts supplied by the paradigm, and the data are worked upon through the ideal problem-solutions and experimental procedures offered by the paradigm. In fact, according to Kuhn, the paradigms so deeply condition the scientist’s perceptions during his normal activity that it can be said that not only normal science, but the scientists’ world itself is constituted by the paradigms.[26]

The hold of the categories supplied by paradigms on the scientists is weakened in crisis situations, when the load of empirical evidence contrary to an established theory in a given field becomes too overpowering to ignore or dismiss, and scientists begin looking for a new theory to fit the observed world. In these revolutionary stages of scientific activity, the scientists do behave to some extent like innocent children free of all preconceptions about the world, according to the Baconian ideal. However, according to Kuhn, these are precisely the situations when one finds nothing mechanical at all in the scientific activity, and when all the ‘idols’ that Bacon set out to exorcise get free play in the scientists’ mind:

Individual scientists embrace a new paradigm for all sorts of reasons and usually for several at once. Some of these reasons - for example, the sun worship that helped make Kepler a Copernican - lie outside the apparent sphere of science entirely. Others must depend upon the idiosyncrasies of autobiography and personality. Even the nationality or the prior reputation of the innovator and his teachers can sometimes play a significant role…[27]

Perhaps the scientific community as a whole is less swayed by these idols of the mind. But even for the community, acceptance of a new paradigm is hardly a mechanical process based on ‘certain rule and method’, but involves intangible considerations like aesthetic appeal, neatness, simplicity, etc.[28]

Having arrived at this completely non-Baconian understanding of the process of scientific development, and having seen the influence of non-mechanical cultural and personal factors in the crucial stages of the history of science, one expects that Kuhn would abandon the idea of modern science being somehow a uniquely valid representation of reality. One would expect him to take a relativistic position, allowing for the possibility of different cultures arriving at different yet equally valid apprehensions of reality. Particularly so, because, given his understanding of scientific progress, Kuhn refused to agree that science, through its revolutionary paradigm changes, could be seen to be moving towards absolute truth in the Baconian sense of becoming a perfect representation of reality.

However, as Kuhn is quick to point out, for him this does not mean that scientific understanding of reality is relative. He tells us that even though modern science cannot be shown to be a transcript of the divine mind, yet it remains the uniquely valid apprehension of reality available to humanity, simply because no other culture has ever possessed any science. In the last chapter of his book, Kuhn claims:

Every civilisation of which we have records has possessed a technology, an art, a religion, a political system, laws, and so on. In many cases those facets of civilisations have been as developed as our own. But only the civilisations that descended from Hellenic Greece have possessed more than the most rudimentary science. The bulk of scientific knowledge is a product of Europe in the last four centuries. No other place and time has supported the very special communities from which scientific productivity comes.[29]

Later, in the postscript to his book, appended to the 1970 edition, he makes his non-relativistic position more explicit:

Applied to culture and its development that position is relativistic. But applied to science it may not be, and it is in any case far from mere relativism…Taken as a group or in groups, practitioners of the developed sciences are… fundamentally puzzle-solvers. Though the values that they deploy at times of theory-choice derive from other aspects of their work as well, the demonstrated ability to set up and solve puzzles presented by nature is… the dominant criterion for most members of a scientific group… [30]

And in his 1970 paper in honour of Sir Karl Popper,[31] the ability to support a puzzle-solving tradition, which so far seemed one of the many considerations that go into paradigm choice, becomes the mechanical criterion that can be used to separate science from non-science. Kuhn in 1970 triumphantly claimed that, like Sir Karl Popper, he, too, could prove astrology, psychoanalysis and Marxist historiography to be non-scientific. Kuhn even concluded with Karl Popper that if ‘we have deliberately made it our task to live in this unknown world of ours… then there is no more rational procedure than the method of… conjecture and refutation’. Or for that matter, any other method that Bacon, Popper or Kuhn determine that modern science has followed or ought to follow.

The net result of Kuhn’s liberal understanding of the phenomenon of modern science is that what Bacon wanted to prove as the unique truth about the world on epistemological considerations, now becomes so on the grounds of the historical uniqueness of the western scientific community. But it remains the unique truth about the world and the uniquely appropriate way of living in the world. The discipline of the philosophy of science may have gained new insights and fresh vitality because of the Kuhnian exercise, but the core Baconian conception of a uniquely true science has lost no ground thereby.

Kuhn established the non-relative unique validity of western science by asserting that the descendants of the Hellenic civilisation alone were able to arrive at the correct societal-epistemological formula that would ensure the development of anything more than the most rudimentary science. However, Kuhn, notwithstanding his scholarship in the history of western science, does not happen to be an authority on the non-Hellenic civilisations and their sciences. In Joseph Needham we have a contemporary scholar who has extensively studied the sciences of a non-western civilisation along with its detailed cultural, social and philosophical background. His conclusions about the Chinese sciences are of interest in the context of Kuhn’s summary dismissal of the sciences of non-Hellenic civilisations; and so is the way Needham deals with the Baconian injunction that modern science be looked upon as the uniquely true transcription of reality.

Joseph Needham, after his investigation into the Chinese science and civilisation, finds no evidence in favour of the claim that descendants of Hellenic Greece alone proved capable of producing anything approaching a science. On the contrary, Needham comes to the conclusion that ‘between the first century BC and fifteenth century AD Chinese civilisation was much more efficient than the occidental in applying human natural knowledge to practical human needs’, and that, ‘in many ways this [the Chinese intellectual and philosophical tradition] was much more congruent with modern science than was the world outlook of Christendom.’[32]

Needham in his major work, Science and Civilisation in China, offers a vision of the amazing range and sophistication of the sciences and technologies that developed in China before their independent development was stifled by the impact of Europe.[33] In his Legacy of China article, Needham also gives a list of the discoveries, inventions and concepts which travelled from China to the west and had a seminal influence in precipitating the scientific revolution there.[34] Incidentally, in this list of important inventions transmitted from China to Europe are included the three which, according to Bacon, ‘changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world’ (I.129), namely, printing, gunpowder and the magnetic compass. Needham also points out that while these three and many other techniques were invented in China and were developed and extensively utilised in the Chinese society over centuries without disrupting that society in any way, they, strangely, shook occidental society to its roots.

One of the striking examples Needham gives in this connection is that of the invention and transmission of the mechanical clock. According to Needham, a working hydro-mechanical clock was built in China about AD 725. From then onwards, one can trace in Chinese society a tradition of clock-building which continued up to the seventeenth century. It seems that the invention reached Europe six hundred years later, in the fourteenth century, and it immediately caused a ferment there. The idea of the mechanical clock so gripped the European imagination that by the middle of the fourteenth century ‘no European community felt able to hold up its head unless in its midst the planets wheeled in cycles and epicycles, while angles trumpeted, cocks crew, and apostles, kings and prophets marched and counter-marched at the booming of the hour.’[35] And while the European communities rested content with building fancy clocks, the European intellectuals went further and started seeing the whole world as an analogue of the clockwork mechanism. For bishops and mathematicians, the universe became a vast mechanical clock created by God so that ‘all the wheels moved as harmoniously as possible’.[36]

Chinese society could absorb and take in its stride its major technological achievements. These achievements on reaching Europe often caused cultural indigestion which, according to Needham, led to major metamorphoses. The reasons for this strangely unstable behaviour of Europe compared to the quiet response of China have to be looked for in the complex of cultural-philosophical values and socio-political organisations current in the west and in China. However, whatever the reasons for this phenomenon, the prevalence of some unique scientific outlook in the west and its absence in China is not one them. We have mentioned that Needham found the intellectual and philosophical tradition of China to be much more in conformity with modern science than that of the west. He was also categorical in his assertion that the technological achievements of China were not the result of merely empirical efforts, but were made possible through the application of sophisticated scientific concepts and theories. He insists that just ‘because practical inventions were the only things that the Indian, the Arabic, or Western cultures were generally capable of taking over from the Chinese cultural area, this does not mean that the Chinese themselves had been mere “sooty empiricks”. On the contrary, there was a large body of naturalistic theory in ancient and medieval China, there was systematic recorded experimentation, and there was a great deal of measurement often quite surprising in its accuracy.’[37]

According to Needham, the Chinese, before the European impact, had not only evolved more sophisticated sciences and technologies than those of the west, but also retained an entirely different conception of the law of nature.[38] In the west, nature has always been thought of as being governed by laws laid down by an external God. We have seen that the primary urge in Bacon was to find a method of deciphering these Divine laws, and then playing God with nature and man. Needham says that for Kepler, Descartes, Boyle and Newton, the laws of nature which they believed ‘they were revealing to the human mind, were edicts which had been issued by a supra-personal supra-rational being’.[39] For the Chinese, however, there never was any celestial lawgiver issuing commands to nature. Nature was self-governed, unfolding itself according to its own internal harmonies. The object of science for the Chinese therefore was not to decipher the law in order to put nature to human uses, but to find out the way of nature, the Tao of Heaven, in order to be able to go along with it, to live according to the Tao.

Such vastly different conceptions of the law of nature in China and the west arose, according to Needham, because of their different conceptions about their role of the political authority in society. The Chinese society, except during the draconian authoritarianism of the Chi’n (Chhin) dynasty (221-207 BC), never accepted the legalist idea that the king could dictate law for the people. The political authority could only codify the complex of customs, usages or ceremonies of the people and administer the law accordingly. And just as the Chinese could not tolerate the idea of a terrestrial king laying down the law for people, they could not think of a celestial authority doing the same for nature. Needham also believes that with these ideas about the political authority, the Chinese also evolved an essentially ‘democratic’ polity, administered by a non-hereditary bureaucracy to which admission was strictly according to merit.[40]

In Europe, on the other hand, the idea of the positive law dictated by the king came to be accepted rather early. Correspondingly, the idea of a supreme being dictating laws for natural objects also became a part of orthodoxy. Needham makes this point explicit:

Without doubt one of the oldest notions of Western civilisation was that just as earthly imperial lawgivers enacted codes of positive law, to be obeyed by men, so also the celestial and supreme rational creator deity had laid down a series of laws which must be obeyed by minerals, crystals, plants and stars in their courses.[41]

This idea that natural objects must obey natural laws just as human beings obey human laws was so strong in Europe that in 1474 a cock was prosecuted and sentenced to be burnt alive for the ‘unnatural crime’ of laying an egg, and there was a similar prosecution in Switzerland as late as 1730.[42]

We have given a rough sketch of Needham’s ideas about Chinese science and civilisation. With such high appreciation of the sciences and technologies developed by the Chinese, and with such a clear conception of the differing social, political and epistemological moorings of Chinese science and society, one would have expected that Needham would discard the Baconian idea of the unique validity of western science, and explore the possibility of different societies developing different yet equally valid sciences. However, we find him protecting the Baconian ideas through a curious two-step procedure.

First, he admits that not only were the Chinese sciences and technologies better developed, but China also had a better conception about the laws of nature, and better socio-political organisations. However, through their own logic of evolution, European science and society have already arrived at conceptions similar to those of the Chinese. Thus, Needham points out, a democratic bureaucracy is now considered the appropriate instrument of governance all over Europe, and laws of nature in modern science are now thought of as statistical regularities rather than divine edicts. Next, Needham claims that though Chinese conceptions about science and society were essentially correct, yet they held those conceptions rather early, much before their appropriate time. The Chinese, according to Needham, had established a bureaucracy much before the advent of telephones and computers, which alone could bring out the potentials of bureaucracy as ‘a magnificent instrument of human social organisation’.[43] And the Chinese rejected the idea of a celestial lawgiver before the full potential of the idea in the form of Newtonian sciences could be explored, and also before any development similar to quantum physics necessitated acceptance of the idea of the law of nature as a mere statistical regularity. Towards the end of the chapter on the laws of nature, Needham asks:

The problem is whether recognition of such statistical regularities and their mathematical expression could have been reached by any other road than that which science actually travelled in the West. Was the state of mind in which an egg-laying cock could be prosecuted at law necessary in a culture which should later have the property of producing a Kepler?[44]

And his answer seems to be that there could not be any other road: ‘Who shall say that the Newtonian phase was not an essential one?’

The implication is that not only are the final truths arrived at by western science uniquely valid, but the exact historical sequence through which they were arrived at in the west was essential and necessary. The Chinese had, rather early, held positions about science and society which Needham believes were congruent with those of modern western science and society. But that happened to be ‘too early’ for such positions to be useful in apprehending the true nature of reality. The Chinese, through those positions, perhaps achieved what Bacon would have called ‘anticipations of nature’; the Chinese, being hasty, failed to arrive at the ‘true’ sciences.

It seems strange to insist that authoritarian concepts of nature and society are essential for the evolution of ‘true’ democracy and the ‘true’ laws of nature. It seems even stranger that Needham, a humanist and scholar who has known another civilisation in its full glory, should take such a stand. That he does take this stand shows the persisting influence of the Baconian injunction that Baconian sciences be looked upon as the true and hence unique transcriptions of reality. It also perhaps indicates what diverse forms European parochialism can take.

For our third example of a scholar who does not belong to the positivist tradition and yet upholds the Baconian conception of the unique validity of the western science, we take a modern Cartesian, Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. Husserl’s major interest is of course to establish the study of subjectivity as the proper concern of philosophy, and construct a methodology that will lead to apodictic certainty in this context. However, in a number of his essays and lectures, especially in the Crisis of European Sciences, the Vienna Lecture, and the Origin of Geometry, Husserl offers systematic reflections on the nature of the positive sciences and on the question of their unique validity.[45]

Husserl, of course, does not agree with the Baconian epistemology that looks upon science as ‘objective’ knowledge of the world, acquired without any subjective intervention, without subjectivity playing any role in it. For Husserl, this objectivism, which takes the ‘form of various types of naturalism’, is naive because ‘what is acquired through scientific activity is not something real but something ideal’. The naiveté of objectivism has marked the philosophy of the whole modern period since the Renaissance, and all the sciences, the beginnings of which were, according to Husserl, already there in Greek antiquity, have been caught in this naiveté. He finds only German idealism, proceeding from Kant, as being passionately concerned with overcoming this fault.[46]

Though for Husserl this naiveté of objectivism is an error, like Needham in another context, he finds this error a necessary stage in the development of European philosophy which for him includes all sciences as its branches. Through this naiveté, ‘the world becomes the objective world as opposed to representations of the world, those which vary according to nation or individual subject, thus truth becomes objective truth.’ Objectivism thus appears as the first unfolding of the theoretical attitude which, according to Husserl, is the essence of the European scientific spirit.[47]

However, by adopting the objectivist-positivist attitude, science drops from its domain all questions regarding ‘reason’ and ‘meaning’ of the world, and thereby loses sight of its own ‘meaning’. This leads to human faith in ‘reason’ and ‘science’ becoming diluted. There arises a feeling of ‘distress’ in all the sciences regarding their meaning. This is the Crisis of European Sciences. And, ‘this is a crisis which… shakes to the foundations the whole meaning of their truth.’[48]

It is the promise of phenomenology that, through an investigation into subjectivity, it will overcome the crisis, it will reveal with apodictic certainty the ‘meaning of the truth’ of the ‘science’, and restore man’s faith in ‘reason’ and ‘science’, because lack of this faith means nothing less than the loss of faith ‘in himself, in his own true being’. This meaning of the truth of science will presumably be discovered through a phenomenological exercise, and in that sense Husserl’s Crisis becomes another introduction to phenomenology. However, he already offers an intimation of the meaning of the sciences. This meaning, according to him, lies in the theoretical attitude which, roughly speaking, looks upon the world as an infinity of idealities, to be discovered one after the other in an infinite horizon in which the truth-in-itself counts as an infinitely distant point, while at any time the finite number of idealities discovered are retained as persisting validities.[49] This theoretical attitude, according to Husserl, made its appearance amongst the Greeks, and remains unique to Europe. Therefore it is not valid to talk of a Chinese or an Indian Philosophy or Science as one talks of the European Philosophy or Science. In the second part of the Crisis and in the Origin of Geometry, Husserl also sketches the unfolding of this theoretical attitude through the intellectual history of Europe in a way that is reminiscent of the Marxian unfolding of history through its various stages. Husserl’s work carries with it the same sort of determinism and finality as Marx’s.

Having already arrived at a deterministic account of the intellectual development of man, one wonders what more is to be achieved through the phenomenological exercise. It seems that Husserl wants to achieve an apodictically certain answer to a question, which he repeatedly asks, and to which he already seems to have the answer, if one goes by his ‘historical reflections’ that we have talked about above. The question he asks is:

There is something unique here in Europe that is recognised in us by all other human groups, too, something that, quite apart from all considerations of utility, becomes a motive for them to Europeanise themselves even in their unbroken will to spiritual self-preservation, whereas we, if we understand ourselves properly, would never Indianise ourselves, for example.[50]

The question then is: whether the spectacle of the Europeanisation of all other civilisations bears witness to the rule of an absolute meaning, one which is proper to the sense, rather than to a historical non-sense, of the world.[51]


Whether the telos which was inborn in European humanity at the birth of Greek philosophy… is merely a factual, historical delusion, the accidental acquisition of merely one among many other civilisations and histories, or whether Greek humanity was not rather the first breakthrough to what is essential to humanity as such… [52]

Thus Husserl through his phenomenology will not only provide apodictic certainty about the ‘meaning of the truth’ of Baconian sciences, but will also ‘prove’ with the same certainty the unique ‘humanity’ of the Greek humanity and its descendants, the European people.

It is indeed curious that someone concerned with the exploration of subjectivity, of consciousness, should formulate such a parochial version of the Truth.

IV: Epilogue.

In this final section we offer a few brief comments on the consequences of holding such a Baconian view of knowledge. First, we feel that the Baconian project of orienting all knowledge towards a search for power, towards control over both man and nature, and at the same time insisting that this knowledge has unique validity, is inherently violent. It gives the participants in this project the power to control nature and man, and the license to use this power indiscriminately in the name of truthfulness of the knowledge from which the power flows. It is no wonder, therefore, that Francis Bacon, who rejoiced over the acquisition of power by Europe over the rest of humanity through the use of the ‘true’ arts, such as that of gunpowder and the compass,[53] also often recommended to King James I various ways of expanding his empire. Such expansion would be useful, he urged, both for acquiring material benefits and for the honour of civilising barbarians through spreading truth and casting out superstition.[54] Bacon’s compatriots, even the liberals like Macaulay, who was disgusted with the morals of Lord Bacon in his personal life, continued the Baconian project of civilising others with the ‘truths’ they had found. The project in a way continues till today; the Baconian sciences and corresponding social norms continue to make deep incursions into all other knowledge systems and societies.

It is not accidental that Hobbes, who was at one time secretary to Bacon, while expanding Baconian ideas into the political domain, comes to the conclusion in his Leviathan that no individual has the right to challenge the absolute authority and the absolute truthfulness of the existing powers. Hobbes therefore also claims that in a Baconian society the virtuous man, the man who claims to know what is right and what is wrong, is the most dangerous person.

This brings us to our second point. Baconian truth, which is synonymous in Bacon’s system with power, necessarily requires an ‘other’ in the form of nature, society or man, on whom the power is to be exercised, through whom the ‘truth’ is to be made manifest. As a consequence, this truth remains absolutely non-universalisable, notwithstanding its claim to absolute validity. What is true for the one who holds power is necessarily false for the other who must be manipulated according to it. What is more, sooner or later the other, be it nature or man, strikes back and punctures the myth of universal validity. The intractable ecological problems that started surfacing in the 1960’s are perhaps nature’s way of striking back at man, who takes her as an object to be manipulated according to his supposedly universally valid truth. Perhaps this is the message Mahatma Gandhi conveys in Hind Swaraj when he says of European civilisation: ‘This civilisation is such that one only has to be patient, and it will be self-destroyed.’[55] Mahatma Gandhi’s perception of the self-destructiveness of the European civilisation, in turn, echoes the realisation expressed in the Bhagavadgita that civilisations based on concepts such as those of Bacon destroy themselves again and again.[56]

The Baconian idea of truth is in no way universal to mankind. At the root of the Baconian idea lies a confusion between ‘truth’ and ‘power’, between ‘good’ and ‘useful’; and ultimately between contingent realities of the mortal world and the absolute truth that transcends it. Other civilisations have often been able to avoid this kind of confusion. In India, the ultimate ‘truth’ has always been held to be different from both avidya, the knowledge of the mortal world, and vidya, the knowledge of the immortal in man and the universe. The Isavasya Upanisad advises us:[57]

anyadevahurvidyaya anyadahuravidyaya
itisusrumadhiranam yenastadvicacakshire

One result they say is obtained by vidya and quite another by avidya. Thus we have heard from the wise who explained it to us.


vidyanchavidyancha yastadvedobhayamasaha
avidyaya mrityum tirtva vidyayamritamsnute

Those who know both vidya and avidya along with the Ultimate Truth, they [alone] live through the mortal world through avidya and enjoy the immortal through vidya.

andham tamah pravisanti ye avidyamupasate
tatobhuya iva te tamo ya u vidyayam ratah

Those who worship avidya [alone] enter into blind darkness. Into darkness still greater than that, as it were, do they enter who delight in vidya [alone].

What is the extent of darkness in which those who do not even know the difference between the two live! What depths of blind darkness the Baconian conception of knowledge perpetuates!


[1] For a quick survey of Bacon’s political life see, ‘Lord Bacon’, in T. H. Macaulay, Critical and Historical Essays: Contributed to the Edinburgh Review, Longman Green, London 1877, p.346-414.

[2] See J. W. N. Watkins, ‘The Popperian Approach to Scientific Knowledge’, in G. Rodnitzky and G. Andersen (eds.), Progress and Rationality in Science, Reidel, Dordrecht 1978.

[3] Francis Bacon, ‘On the Dignity and Advancement of Learning’, Bk. V, Ch. II, in Joseph Devey (ed.), The Physical and Metaphysical Works of Lord Bacon, Bell and Sons, London 1911, p. 183. In the following this text is referred to as the Advancement of Learning. All page references for Bacon’s works are to Devey’s edition unless otherwise indicated.

[4] Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, Bk. I, Aph. 82. References to Novum Organum have been placed in this form within the text, indicating the book number and the aphorism numbers in Devey’s edition.

[5] Bacon, Advancement of Learning, Bk. V, Ch. II, p.188.

[6] Bacon, Preface to Novum Organum, p.381.

[7] Bacon, Advanced of Learning, Bk. I, preface, p. 45.

[8] It is difficult to determine what Bacon means by ‘form’ or ‘nature’. In Novum Organum one comes across phrases like ‘forms’ or ‘true specific differences’ or ‘nature engendering nature’ or ‘source of emanation’. We can offer no better definition than the statement that in the case of ‘investigation of the form of heat’ the given ‘nature’ is heat.

[9] Emphasis added. Notice that for Bacon heat is the motion of small particles, not of the atoms or molecules. Bacon does not subscribe to these later idols; and he makes his disapproval of the concept of atoms explicit: ‘This method will not bring us to atoms, which takes for granted the vacuum, and the immutability of matter (neither of which hypothesis is correct), but to real particles such as we discover then to be.’ (II.8)

Earlier we read: ‘Hence men cease not to abstract nature till they arrive at potential and shapeless matter, and still persist in their dissection, till they arrive at atoms; and yet were all this true, it would be of little use to advance man’s estate.’ (I. 66)

[10] See T. S. Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1970, p.104, for another interesting hypothesis derived from the ‘idol’ of corpuscularism.

[11] T. S. Kuhn, cited above, p.134-5.

[12] T. H. Macaulay, cited earlier, p.381.

[13] Bacon, Advancement of Learning, Bk. V, Ch. II, p.186.

[14] T. H. Macaulay, cited earlier, p.387.

[15] Raja Rammohan Roy, ‘Letter on English Education to Lord Amherst, Governor General in Council (1827)’, in J.C.Ghose (ed.), The English Works of Raja Rammohan Roy, Oriental Press, Bhowanipur, Calcutta 1885, Vol.1, p.472-3.

[16] Benjamin Farrington, Francis Bacon: The Prophet of Industrial Science, Macmillan, London 1973. See preface.

[17] Bacon, Advancement of Learning, Bk. I, p.30.

[18] Dr. William Rawley, his private secretary, recounted: ‘Whilst he was commorant in the University, about sixteen years of age, as his lordship hath been pleased to impart unto myself, he first fell into dislike of the philosophy of Aristotle; not for the worthlessness of the author to whom he would ever ascribe all high attributes, but for the unfruitfulness of the way; being a philosophy (as his lordship used to say) only strong for disputation and contentions, but barren of the production of works for the benefit of the life of man; in which mind he continued to his dying day.’ Quoted in Farrington, cited above, pp. 23-4; emphasis added.

[19] Farrington, cited earlier, p.46.

[20] Will Durant, Story of Philosophy, Simon & Schuster, New York 1947, p.106.

[21] Bacon, Advancement of Learning, preface, Bk. II, p.71. The quotations in the following paragraph are also from the same chapter in Bk. II, pp.74-5.

[22] Bacon, Advancement of Learning, Bk. II, Ch. II, p.82.

[23] These two quotations are from Will Durant, cited above, p.128 and 133.

[24] This threefold division of society seems an essential ingredient of the positivistic vision of society. Thus, as J. P. S. Uberoi, in Science and Culture (Oxford University Press, New Delhi 1978), points out, the first official positivist St. Simone envisages a similar split of society:

‘(a) The first [class] to which you and I have the honour to belong, marches beneath the banner of human progress: it consists of the Scientists, the artists and of all men of liberal ideas. (b) On the banner of the second class is inscribed “No Innovation”. All property owners who do not qualify for the first class belong to the second. (c) The third class which rallies to the word “Equality” comprises the rest of humanity.’

This threefold division continues to our day with the additional qualification that all third-world societies that have decided to march behind the banner of human progress have got consigned to the third class. Marx, as Uberoi points out, changes nothing in this scheme of things except replacing ‘property owners’ by ‘political leaders’ (of the west, he might have added).

[25] Gregory King, Natural and Political Observations and Conclusions upon the State and Condition of England, London 1696; new ed., Lancaster Herald, 1810.

[26] See especially Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chs. 9 and 10.

[27] Kuhn, cited above, pp.152-3.

[28] Kuhn, cited above, pp.155-6. The whole of the last chapter of his book, ‘Resolution of Revolutions’, is relevant in this context.

[29] Kuhn, cited above, pp.167-8.

[30] Kuhn, cited above, p. 205-6.

[31] Thomas Kuhn, ‘Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research’, in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (ed.), Criticism and Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge University Press, 1970.

[32] Joseph Needham, ‘Science and Society in East and West’ (1964), in The Grand Titration, Allen and Unwin, London 1969. Sentiments like those expressed in the statements quoted here are found scattered everywhere in Needham’s work.

[33] Joseph Needham et al., Science and Civilisation in China, Cambridge University Press, 1954 onwards, Vols. 1-7.

[34] Joseph Needham, ‘Science and China’s Influence on the World’, in Needham, The Grand Titration, cited earlier, p. 55-112.

[35] Lynn White, quoted in Needham, The Grand Titration, cited earlier, pp. 83-4.

[36] Same as above.

[37] Needham, The Grand Titration, cited above, p. 62. In this essay and elsewhere, Needham also gives a number of specific examples of techniques that evolved out of the current concepts and theories of Chinese science.

[38] See Joseph Needham, ‘Human Law and the Laws of Nature’, in his Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 2, p.518-83; and the essay with the same title in The Grand Titration, p. 299-330.

[39] Needham et al., Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 2, p.518.

[40] See Needham, The Grand Titration, p.65, and also ‘Science and Society in East and West’, cited earlier, pp. 190-217.

[41] Needham et al., Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 2, p. 518.

[42] Same as above, p. 574.

[43] Needham, ‘Science and Society in East and West’, in The Grand Titration, p. 204-5.

[44] Needham et al., Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 2, p. 582.

[45] Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr, Northwestern University, Evanston 1970; ‘The Vienna Lecture’ and the ‘Origin of Geometry’ appear as appendices in this edition.

[46] Edmund Husserl, ‘The Vienna Lecture’, cited above, p. 272, 292.

[47] Same as above, p. 292-4

[48] Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences, p. 7-14.

[49] Edmund Husserl, ‘The Vienna Lecture’, p.278.

[50] Same as above, p. 275.

[51] Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences, p.16.

[52] Same as above, p.15.

[53] These two and many other artefacts that the west used for acquiring control over the world were actually discovered elsewhere. For the discoverers, perhaps, these artefacts did not have the status of the ‘true’ arts and they did not, therefore, go about imposing their truth on others. See in this connection Joseph Needham, The Grand Titration, cited above, Ch. 2.

[54] See, for example, Francis Bacon, ‘Certain Considerations Touching the Plantation of Ireland, presented to His Majesty in 1606’, in Montagu Basil (ed.), The Works of Francis Bacon, Vol. 1-16, William Pickering, London 1825-39.

[55] M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (1908), Reprint, Navjivan, Ahmedabad 1962, p.37.

[56] Srimad Bhagavadgita, Ch. 16, verses 6-20.

[57] Isavasya Upanisad, verses 10-11 and 9. (author’s translation).