Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

admirable precision and force he has explained and illustrated the inductive method of research ; and the powerful impression which so masterly an analysis has made upon subsequent thinkers has undoubtedly contributed to sustain such prevailing opinion. . It has also been popularly believed that Bacon was the first man who rose up against the philosophy of Aristotle when at the height of its power. Yet, strictly speaking, if there be any one who could rightly be regarded as the father of the inductive philosophy, it is Aristotle himself; for he it was who first conceived and announced its primary principle, proclaiming with a clearness never get excelled, that facts derived from observation and experience were the only grounds of real knowledge; and that our ideas, even the most abstract, have their origin in our sensations ; ? and a probable cause why the analytical and encyclopædic intellect of Aristotle never proceeded practically on the inductive method was owing to the physical sciences not being in existence, fitting instruments of research uninvented, and laws of nature nearly unknown. There was no sufficient field of experience to resort to, for the purpose either of generalising facts, or of verifying inductions by an appeal to experiment, the only means whereby hypothesis and theory can be efficiently tested. It is true, indeed, that the dialectical subtleties of the Schoolmen, which in Bacon's day tyrannised over the human mind, having been for the most part

1 See the passages from Aristotle's Works, supporting the statement in the text, collected in G. H. Lewes’s ‘Aristotle,' a chapter from the Hist. of Science, pp. 45–100; and Hist. of Philosophy, 'Aristotle's Method,' vol. i. pp. 284–296.

.

elaborated from or fortified by corrupt translations and vitiated versions of Aristotle's works, had come to be generally designated as the Aristotelian philosophy; a misnomer, however, inducing a profound and accurate scholar, the humane and accomplished Grotius, to declare that truth, in the service of which Aristotle had faithfully spent his life, suffered no oppression so great as that which was inflicted in Aristotle's name.'1 Yet Bacon's great merit rather lay in concentrating the few and scattered lights of his predecessors, reducing to rule what others had effected fortuitouslys and fixing the world's attention on the distinguishing characteristics of true and false philosophy, by a felicity of illustration peculiar to himself, irradiated by the luminous power of his bold and figurative eloquence.

At the time when Bacon wrote, science, properly so called, was only in its dawn. Astronomy, now the queen of the inductive sciences, was gradually emerging from astrology ; Gilbert was still experimenting on the singular properties of the magnet; Harvey was on the point of discovering the circulation of the blood; and Descartes was about to illumine the mathematical world by his brilliant discovery of the possibility of applying algebra to the geometry of curves, and his

1

Grotius, De Jure Belli ac Pacis, &c., proleg. sec. 43. Ita ut veritas, cui Aristoteles fidelem navavit operam, nulla jam re magis opprimatur quam Aristotelis nomine.'

2 Descartes was the first who expressed curves by algebraic equations. Montucla, Hist. des Mathémat., vol. i. pp. 704, 705. "A discovery which constitutes the greatest single step ever made in the progress of the exact sciences.' ::J. S. Mill's Exam. of Sir W. Hamilton's Philosophy, pp. 531, 533; wherein is contained a very lucid explanation of the nature and practical application of this happy discovery of Descartes.

explanation of the true causes of the rainbow ; but, so modern is the true scientific spirit, that no one, so far as is known, had, previously to Bacon's great contemporary Galileo, ever correctly observed the simple phenomena of a falling body; and it is interesting to remark, that it was Galileo's discovery, viz., that the velocity and the space traversed are proportioned, the one to the time and the other to its square, that paved the way for the grander discovery of gravitation by Sir Isaac Newton.

But Bacon had thought a good deal about philosophy, such as it then was, for, he observes : We must speak out plainly and declare that our philosophy, which we have derived principally from the Greeks, seems to be but a childhood of knowledge, apt for idle talk, but immature for generating anything: of controversies, rank and fertile, but of works barren and fruitless. This opinion, by the way, of the practical worthlessness of the Greek Philosophy was not new, and perhaps even now it is not old. There may be some still ready to concur with Cicero 3 in thinking that a single page of a Roman Jurist contains more solid and exact matter 4 than whole libraries of the works of

1 Whewell's Hist. of the Inductive Sciences, vol. ii. p. 32, 2nd ed., 'Inductive epoch of Galileo.'

2 Instauratio Magna. Præfatio.

3 · Dicam quod sentio : bibliothecas oinnium philosophorum unus mihi videtur xii. tabularum libellus, si quis legum fontes et capita viderit, et auctoritatis pondere et utilitatis ubertate, superare.'

Cic. De Oratore, i. 44.

4 "Sparks from all the sciences are raked together in the ashes of the law.'—Law,.or. a Discourse thereof, by Sir Henry Finch, Knight, His Majesty's Serjeant-at-Law, book i. chap. iii., Henry Lintot, 1759.

с

[ocr errors]

Greek philosophers, who are elsewhere alluded to by Bacon as •idle old men talking to ignorant young ones.'

The leading idea of the inductive philosophy is based upon

the scientific discovery of the uniformity of the law or operations of nature—that is to say-whatever has once happened will, under absolutely similar circumstances, always happen again.

The inductive idea itself, in its elementary form of expression, is simply this: when a limited number of

Dr. Whewell. On the Influence of Science upon Intellectual Education,' a lecture, Modern Culture, Macmillan, 1867.

2 Nov. Org., lib. i. aph. 71. Of the Greeks generally, Bacon cites approvingly the judgment of the Egyptian Priest, quod semper pueri essent; neque haberent antiquitatem scientiæ, aut scientiam antiquitatis.' Of the two philosophical chiefs of classical antiquity, Plato and Aristotle, Bacon's opinions were discriminative and decided. Both had, he declared, been instrumental in the corruption of science: Naturalis philosophia adhuc sincera non invenitur, sed infecta et corrupta : in Aristotelis schola per logicam; in Platonis schola per theologiam naturalem. (Nov. Org., i. 96.) Bacon seems to have considered Plato the greater genius of the two; but, between the method of the great idealist of antiquity, and the great realist of modern times, there was a marked diversity. Bacon, from investigation of natural phenomena, seeking to derive a law; Plato, by the abstraction of mental phenomena, to derive an idea. The Baconian method leads to a world of facts, verified as a transcript of the natural world; the Platonic method to a world of ideas, believed to be the original world itself. Bacon opposes the wisdom of words with the knowledge of things; reproaching Aristotle with resolving reality into categories by means of dialectics, Plato with the conversion of reality into forms through the imagination. See the subject ably treated in Dr. Fischer's Francis Bacon of Verulam, &c., Longmans, 1857.

3 Baden Powell's Unity of Worlds, chap. i., The Inductive Principle;' and Hallam's Literature of Europe, vol. ii. p. 399, 4th ed., 1854.

particular instances have been accurately examined by means of observation and experiment, the mind infers,' from the uniformity of natural law, on the ground of analogy, that all instances of the kind in question are similar to those that have been so examined, and thereby a general truth is gathered from particular facts. Bacon's sagacity had led him to perceive that no existing philosophical system or school had grasped this idea as a fundamental verity that must in reality underlie all true philosophical method, and that 'nature,' as he observes, is not to be conquered, except by obeying her.' That human life, to be happy and virtuous, must be regulated in harmony with, and not in opposition to, Nature's teachings. He points out, in a very striking aphorism, that man's powers are entirely limited to his knowledge of nature—Man, the servant and interpreter of nature, can do and understand so much, and so much only, as he has observed, in fact or in thought, of the order of nature—more than this, he can neither know nor do.' That such knowledge is only to be acquired by a right use of the reasoning faculties, which must proceed from particulars or observations of nature step by step, ascending

1 This act of the mind appears simple and obvious in literal statement; but it is exactly that step of the intellectual progress wherein are displayed'invention, sagacity, genius; elements which no art can give? (Whewell's Philos. of the Inductive Sciences, 2nd ed., preface); and all observation which involves mind involves theory. The facts of sense must be idealised.'-Baden Powell, The Inductive Principle.

2 Bacon's Nov. Org., aph. 1 : 'Homo, naturæ minister et interpres, tantum facit et intelligit, quantum, de naturæ ordine, re vel mente observaverit; nec amplius scit aut potest.'

« AnteriorContinuar »