Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans (January 22, 1561 – April 9, 1626) was an English philosopher, statesman, spy and essayist. He was knighted in 1603, created Baron Verulam in 1618, and created Viscount St Albans in 1621; both peerage titles becoming extinct upon his death.
He began his professional life as a lawyer, but he has become best known as an philosophical advocate and defender of the scientific revolution. His works establish and popularize an inductive methodology for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method. Induction implies drawing knowledge from the natural world through experimentation, observation, and testing of hypotheses. In the context of his time, such methods were connected with occult trends of hermeticism and alchemy.
Francis Bacon was born at York House, Strand London.
He was the youngest of five sons of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal under Elizabeth I. His mother, Ann Cooke Bacon was the second wife of Sir Nicholas and a member of the Reformed or Puritan Church.
Biographers believe that Bacon received an education at home in his early years, and that his health during that time, as later, was delicate. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1573 at the age of 13, living for three years there with his older brother Anthony Bacon .
At Cambridge, his studies of science brought him to the conclusion that the methods (and thus the results) were erroneous. His reverence for Aristotle conflicted with his dislike of Aristotelian philosophy, which seemed barren, disputatious, and wrong in its objectives.
On June 27, 1576, he and Anthony were entered de societate magistrorum at Gray's Inn, and a few months later they went abroad with Sir Amias Paulet, the English ambassador at Paris. The disturbed state of government and society in France under Henry III afforded him valuable political instruction.
The sudden death of his father in February 1579 necessitated Bacon's return to England, and seriously influenced his fortunes. Sir Nicholas had laid up a considerable sum of money to purchase an estate for his youngest son, but he died before doing so, and Francis was left with only a fifth of that money. Having started with insufficient means, he borrowed money and became habitually in debt. To support himself, he took up his residence in law at Gray's Inn in 1579.
In the fragment De Interpretatione Naturae Prooemium (written probably about 1603) Bacon analyses his own mental character and establishes his goals, which were threefold: discovery of truth, service to his country, and service to the church. Knowing that a prestigious post would aid him toward these ends, in 1580 he applied, through his uncle, Lord Burghley, for some post at court. His application failed, and for the next two years he worked quietly at Gray's Inn until admitted as an outer barrister in 1582. In 1584 he took his seat in parliament for Melcombe in Dorset. He wrote on the condition of parties in the church, and he set down his thoughts on philosophical reform in the lost tract, Temporis Partus Maximus, but he failed to obtain a position of the kind he thought necessary for success.
During this period Bacon became acquainted with Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1567-1601), Queen Elizabeth's favourite. By 1591 he was acting as the earl's confidential adviser. Bacon took his seat for Middlesex when in February 1593 Elizabeth called a Parliament to investigate a popish plot against her. His opposition to a bill that would levy triple subsidies in half the usual time (he objected to the time span) offended many people; he was accused of seeking popularity, and was for a time excluded from the court. When the attorney-generalship fell vacant in 1594 and Bacon became a candidate for the office, Lord Essex's influence could not secure him the position; in fashion, Bacon failed to become solicitor in 1595.
During the next few years, his financial situation remained bad. His friends could find no public office for him, a scheme for retrieving his position by a marriage with the wealthy widow Lady Elizabeth Hatton failed, and in 1598 he was arrested for debt. His standing in the queen's eyes, however, was beginning to improve. She had begun to employ him in crown affairs a few years previously, and he gradually acquired the standing of one of the learned counsel, though he had no commission or warrant and received no salary. His relationship with the queen also improved when he severed ties with Essex, a fortunate move considering that the latter would be executed for treason in 1601.
The accession of James I brought Bacon into greater favour, and he was knighted in 1603. In the course of the uneventful first parliament session Bacon married Alice Barnham. Little or nothing is known of their married life: modern scholars speculate that he may have been a homosexual.
Bacon's services were rewarded in June 1607 with the office of Solicitor. In 1610 the famous fourth parliament of James met. Despite Bacon's advice to him, James and the Commons found themselves frequently at odds over royal prerogatives and the king's embarrassing extravagance, and the House was dissolved in February 1611. Through this Bacon managed in frequent debate to uphold the prerogative, while retaining the confidence of the Commons. In 1613, Bacon was finally able to become attorney-general, by dint of advising the king to shuffle judicial appointments. The parliament of April 1614 objected to Bacon's presence in the seat for Cambridge -- he was allowed to stay, but a law was passed that forbade the attorney-general to sit in parliament -- and to the various royal plans which Bacon had supported. His obvious influence over the king inspired resentment or apprehension in many of his peers.
However, Bacon continued to receive the King's favor, and in 1618 was appointed by James to the position of Lord Chancellor. His public career ended in disgrace in 1621 when, after having fallen into debt, he was convincted of taking bribes. He freely admitted his guilt and suffered only four days of imprisonment, but he was stripped of his position.
Francis Bacon's death had a considerable element of irony. He had been inspired by the possibility of using snow to preserve meat. Bacon purchased a chicken to investigate this possibility, but, during the endeavour of stuffing it with snow, contracted a fatal case of pneumonia. He died at Highgate.
Works and Philosophy
Bacon's works include his Essays, as well as the Colours of Good and Evil and the Meditationes Sacrae, all published in 1597; In felicem memoriam Elizabethae, a eulogy for the queen written in 1609; and various philosophical works which constitute the fragmentary and incomplete Instauratio magna, the most important part of which is the Novum organum (published 1620).
Bacon did not propose an actual philosophy, but rather a method of developing philosophy; he wrote that, whilst philosophy at the time used the deductive syllogism to interpret nature, the philosopher should instead proceed through inductive reasoning from fact to axiom to law. Before beginning this induction, the inquirer is to free his mind from certain false notions or tendencies which distort the truth. These are called "Idols" (idola), and are of four kinds: "Idols of the Tribe" (idola tribus), which are common to the race; "Idols of the Den" (idola specus), which are peculiar to the individual; "Idols of the Marketplace" (idola fori ), coming from the misuse of language; and "Idols of the Theater" (idola theatri ), which result from an abuse of authority. The end of induction is the discovery of forms, the ways in which natural phenomena occur, the causes from which they proceed.
Bacon's somewhat fragmentary ethical system, derived through use of his methods, is explicated in the seventh and eighth books of his De augmentis scientiarum (1623). He distinguishes between duty to the community, an ethical matter, and duty to God, a purely religious matter. Any moral action is the action of the human will, which is governed by reason and spurred on by the passions; habit is what aids men in directing their will toward the good. No universal rules can be made, as both situations and men's characters differ.
Bacon separates distinctly religion and philosophy, though the two can coexist. Where philosophy is based on reason, faith is based on revelation, and therefore irrational -- in De augmentis he writes that "[t]he more discordant, therefore, and incredible, the divine mystery is, the more honor is shown to God in believing it, and the nobler is the victory of faith."
Some have theorised that Bacon was the author of the plays usually attributed to William Shakespeare. See Shakespearean authorship.
Some material originally from the 1911 Encyclopędia Britannica and the 1911 Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religion.