Examination of the Philosophy of Bacon

Examination of the Philosophy of Bacon: Wherein Different Questions of Rational Philosophy Are Treated

Translated and edited by RICHARD A. LEBRUN
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Examination of the Philosophy of Bacon
    Book Description:

    Although often neglected, An Examination of the Philosophy of Bacon is crucial to understand the epistemological basis for Maistre's critique of modern science as well as his criticisms of other aspects of Enlightenment thought. Given Maistre's stature in the history of conservative thought, his critique of Bacon remains significant for what it tells us about Maistre's own thought, what it reveals about attitudes toward science in his time, and what it contributes to issues that are still debated today. The work also showcases Maistre's polemical skills and his powerful prose style.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6718-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xlii)

    Joseph de Maistre’sExamination of the Philosophy of Baconis of interest for a number of reasons. In the broad context of early nineteenth-century intellectual history, Maistre’s critique of empiricism can be seen as part of a wider defence of Christian spiritualism against modern scientific materialism. Sharing something of the perspective of Chateaubriand’s Romanticism as well as the spiritualism of Maine de Biran and Royer-Collard, Maistre’s work exemplifies a turning away from the materialism and empiricism of the Encyclopedists and the Ideologues and a return to religious and spiritual values. Since Bacon had been touted by the philosophes as the...

  5. Bibliography
    (pp. xliii-xlvi)
  6. Biographical Notes on Persons Cited or Mentioned by Joseph de Maistre
    (pp. xlvii-lviii)
  7. A Note on the Text
    (pp. lix-lxii)
  8. Abbreviations
    (pp. lxiii-2)
    • CHAPTER ONE Novum Organum, or New Instrument Induction and Syllogism
      (pp. 5-36)

      Bacon himself traced for us the plan for an examination of his philosophy; for in the first place he expressed the claim, renewed in our time, toremake the human understandingand to present it with anew instrument‚¹made to obtain for humankind successes inaccessible by the old method. Then, before our eyes, he employed this same instrument to show us how it must be used to advance further in the study of nature and thus to perfect the physical sciences, the first, or rather the unique, object of all his speculations. So we must first examinethis new...

    • CHAPTER TWO Of Experiment and of the Genius of Discoveries
      (pp. 37-51)

      Fénelon said a remarkable thing about divine inspiration. It does not proveitselfhe said,by movementsso marked that they carry with them the certitude that they are divine.He added that one does not possess it when one says to oneself:Yes! It is by inspiration that I act.¹

      There is a great analogy between grace and genius, forgeniusis agrace.The real man of genius is the one who actsby graceor by impulsion, without ever contemplating himself and without ever saying to himself:Yes! It is by grace that I act.

      Thissimplicity‚so vaunted...

    • CHAPTER THREE Continuation of the same Subject
      (pp. 52-64)

      The person in our century who said that it isimpossible to have a sane metaphysics before possessing a good physicswas only developing an idea of Bacon, who relates everything to physics, even morality, so that all science that does not repose on this sacred base is worthless.¹ He is penetrated with compassion for the human race that does not know physics. From the origin of things there has not been a single experiment suitable toconsole man.²Of what use to us is morality, religion, mathematics, astronomy, literature and the arts? We will be no less than veritable...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Of Essences and of their Definitions
      (pp. 65-73)

      The essence, or what Bacon calls theformof a thing, is itsdefinition.

      Sometimes a definition is used by someone who wants to explain his thought, and sometimes it is asked by someone who wants to know another's thought; but in both cases a definition is only anequation‚and this is the true definition ofdefinition.

      Someone askswhat is man;I reply by way of the common definition, which suffices here, he is areasoning animal.

      So let man = M;animalityor life = A; finally, intelligence or reason = I; we will have M =...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Cosmology and the System of the World
      (pp. 74-86)

      Nature has divided matter into two great classes, thepneumatic[or fine], and thetangible[or gross]. The first always goes towards refinement up to the extremities of the heavens, and the second, on the contrary, thickens gradually to the centre of the earth. This distinction is primary and primordial; it embraces the entire system of the universe. Moreover, it is the simplest of all,since it only includes themoreand theless.²

      Thepneumatic[bodies] of our globe reduce themselves to air and to flame, which are to ether and to sidereal fire what water is to oil...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Ebb and Flow of the Seas
      (pp. 87-90)

      Bacon having consecrated all the strength of his mind to the explanation of this great phenomenon, I will present an exact analysis of his dissertation. You will see here the nullity and ridiculousness of his method of induction, which has served to give this philosopher his illmerited fame.¹

      People have asked what is the cause of the ebb and flow of the seas. Bacon, to justify his method, begins by excluding imaginary causes, and his first statement is remarkable.Let us begin‚he says,by excluding the moon.²I recommend this beginning to the Newtonians, to give them a taste...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Motion
      (pp. 91-95)

      Bacon received from nature the spirit of nomenclature, which led him ceaselessly to distribute all that he saw and all that he knew into classes and tables. However he took good care not to distinguish things by their essences or their differential qualities; on the contrary, he only considered them by their most indifferent relations or by their visible effects, a method for which he never ceased reproaching the scholastics and which he never ceased to employ himself. For never was a philosophy more scholastic than his, and never did he deviate from this school without saying worse things than...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Natural History and General Physics
      (pp. 96-101)

      Bacon’s genius, essentially and perpetually at odds with the truth, unceasingly led him to abuse the most common general principles in a way that, simply useless with others, becomes harmful with him. For example, he recommends experiments, but why? To arrive at abstractions, of which he had a completely Aristotelean idea.² Natural history, in the state where he found it in his time, appeared to him perfectly ridiculous (since he had not made it) and worthless for true philosophy and the advancement of the sciences, because it only occupied itself with individuals. “Besides,” he said, “it is not of much...

  10. CHAPTER NINE Optics — The Progression of Light
    (pp. 102-110)

    Bacon was a stranger to all the natural sciences, but I do not believe there was anything that he was more ignorant of than optics. A single text will suffice for me to establish that he had no thought-out idea of vision. This is the place where Bacon speaks ofthe motions or virtues of which the essence is to act more forcefully at a lesser distance;he shows these to us in ballistics and in optics. He observes that a cannon ball has less force on leaving the mouth of the cannon than it will have at a certain...

  11. CHAPTER TEN Experiments and Physical Explanations
    (pp. 111-126)

    When an artisan proposes anew instrument‚and especially when he proposes it with emphasis, it is first necessary to examine the machine itself, and then see what use he makes of it.

    We have subjected Bacon to a first examination, and it has been proven decisively that no one has ever imagined anything more false, more worthless, more ridiculous in all respects than hisnew instrument.

    Moreover, although the second examination has already been begun and even considerably furthered in the preceding chapters, let us nevertheless see in particular how he used hisnew instrumentin physics properly speaking...

  12. CHAPTER ELEVEN Meteorology
    (pp. 127-138)

    Bacon having been extravagantly praised for his meteorological ideas, this is a topic that must be examined with particular attention.

    He starts out from the old and trivial idea of the reciprocal transformation of water into air and of air into water.

    However nowhere does he say in explicit terms that water ischangedinto vapour (at least I do not remember having read this in express terms); he says only that itsendsvapours, which is not the same thing.

    Theearthproperly speaking sends offexhalations‚and although this last word is commonly taken as a synonym for...

  13. CHAPTER TWELVE The General Goal of Bacon’s Philosophy
    (pp. 139-154)

    To conclude the picture of this philosophy, it is necessary to show that is still more foolish in its goal than in its means, if this is possible, for it is completely directed towards the chimera of alchemy and towards other no less extravagant ends.

    Bacon had an eminently false mind, and of a kind of falseness that has perhaps never belonged to anyone but him. His pride continually deceived him in two ways. The yearning that he possessed to open new routes and the secret spite that inspired in him his absolute, essential, and radical incapacity in all the...

    • CHAPTER ONE Of God and Intelligence
      (pp. 157-171)

      Bacon, on his own, declared himselfthe religious pontiff of the senses and the experienced interpreter of their oracles, to which it was necessary to ask everything in the study of nature, unless by chance one resolutely wanted to talk nonsense.¹ Others, he adds, have professed to defend or cultivate the senses; he alone has really acquitted himself of this.²

      If one were to take these statements literally, the result would be thatthe priest of the senseswould have said what one would today call in his language atruism‚that is to say asilly truth pretentiously enunciated....

    • CHAPTER TWO Of the Soul
      (pp. 172-180)

      Every line of Bacon leads to materialism, but nowhere does he show himself a more able sophist, a more refined, more profound, and more dangerous hypocrite than in what he wrote on the soul.

      He begins, following his invariable custom, by insulting all who preceded him, and, always putting an image in the place of reason, he tells us thaton the subject of the soul people have been extremely agitated, but always twirling around instead of advancing in a straight line‚¹so that they have advanced very little while walking a lot.

      The man who expresses himself in this...

    • CHAPTER THREE Of the Origin of Spontaneous Motion and of Motion in General
      (pp. 181-194)

      There is no doubt, according to Bacon,thatthe spiritis the source of spontaneous motion‚¹At first glance, one would believe that it is Plato who is speaking, but we will soon hear other maxims than those of that philosopher.

      Up to the present‚Bacon adds,they have spoken miserably enough on this subject;²his favourite maxim and which reappears in a thousand forms. One scarcely conceives the proud giddiness that persuaded this man that the entire world had talked nonsense up to him; and, what is quite remarkable, never does he have a more scornful tone than when...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Of the Senses and of the Sensible Principle
      (pp. 195-203)

      It was not enough for Bacon to have opposed immateriality in an oblique way in his reflections on the spirit; hismaterializedgenius pushed him to attack it head on again in the lower order, where he did not believe himself in any way hindered. Let us see, first, the way in which he envisaged the organs of sensation.

      “There is,” he says, “a very great analogy between the affections of sensible bodies and those of insensible bodies: ¹ the sole difference that distinguishes them, is that, in the first, there is aspirit”²

      Among these analogies, he cites that...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Of Matter and of the Principle of Things
      (pp. 204-234)

      It is one of Bacon’s great axioms, and one on which he never ceases to insist, THAT IT IS BETTER TO DISSECT NATURE THAN TO CONSIDER IT ABSTRACTLY.¹

      Dr Shaw, who published all Bacon’s Works in English,² tells us in a note, where he thinks he is explaining the thought of his author:That is to say that it is better to make experiments than to contemplate and reason on general ideas separate from observation.³

      We see, at first glance, that the learned translator did not understand Bacon, or did not want to explain him.

      The philosophy of antiquity saw...

    • CHAPTER SIX Final Causes
      (pp. 235-269)

      There is only order, proportion, relation, and symmetry in the universe. If I let my gaze wander in space, I discover there an infinity of differently luminous bodies. These are suns, planets or satellites, and all moving, even those that appear immobile to us. Man has received the triangle with which to measure everything; if he turns this fecund figure on himself, it begets the wonderful solid that contains all the marvels of science. There will be found especially the planetary curve; like all other regular curves, it is represented and reproduced by computation. An immortal man discovered the laws...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Union of Religion and Science
      (pp. 270-291)

      Nothing was so displeasing to Bacon as the union of theology and philosophy. He called this union abad marriage‚more harmful than open war between the two powers.¹ Theology opposes itself, if you want to believe him, to all new discovery in the sciences; chemistry has beentarnishedby theological affinities.² He complained of“the moral winterand the frozen hearts of his century, in which religion had devoured genius.”3 Finally, not contenting himself with insulting Plato and Pythagoras, as we have seen, he comes to complain almost openly of the harm that Christianity has done to the sciences....

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Bacon’s Religion
      (pp. 292-306)

      Bacon’s translator, who was, so to say, impregnated with the mind of his author, made him speak thus: “Speaking to a king who was a bigoted theologian, before tyrannical and suspicious priests, I will not be able to display my opinions fully; they would shock dominant prejudices too much. Often obliged to envelop myself in general, vague, and even obscure expressions, I will not be understood at first, but I will take care to pose the principles of truths that will, I dare say, have long term consequences,and sooner or later the consequences will be drawn¹ ...Thus without...

    • CHAPTER NINE Bacon Judged by his Translator – Conclusion
      (pp. 307-320)

      I saw the spirit of my century, and I published this translation.This is what M. Lasalle could have said, and this statement would explain his enterprise. He attached himself to Bacon, because he found in him all the errors of our century, and because he needed the fame of this philosopher to get fifteen tiresome volumes read, which not one Frenchman would have bought if they had not been recommended by the prestige of a name.

      However the translator, to whom I am eager to render all the justice he merits, had too much knowledge and too much exactness...

  15. Index
    (pp. 321-331)