The Advancement of Learningby Francis Bacon
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Francis Bacon, lawyer, statesman, and philosopher, remains one of the most effectual thinkers in European intellectual history. We can trace his influence from Kant in the 1700s to Darwin a century later. The Advancement of Learning, first published in 1605, contains an unprecedented and thorough systematization of the whole range of human knowledge. Bacon’s argument that the sciences should move away from divine philosophy and embrace empirical observation would forever change the way philosophers and natural scientists interpret their world.
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To the King
1. There were under the law, excellent King, both daily sacrifices and freewill offerings; the one proceeding upon ordinary observance, the other upon a devout cheerfulness: in like manner there belongeth to kings from their servants both tribute of duty and presents of affection. In the former of these I hope I shall not live to be wanting, according to my most humble duty, and the good pleasure of your Majesty's employments: for the latter, I thought it more respective to make choice of some oblation, which might rather refer to the propriety and excellency of your individual person, than to the business of your crown and state.
2. Wherefore, representing your Majesty many times unto my mind, and beholding you not with the inquisitive eye of presumption, to discover that which the Scripture telleth me is inscrutable, but with the observant eye of duty and admiration; leaving aside the other parts of your virtue and fortune, I have been touched, yea, and possessed with an extreme wonder at those your virtues and faculties, which the Philosophers call intellectual; the largeness of your capacity, the faithfulness of your memory, the swiftness of your apprehension, the penetration of your judgement, and the facility and order of your elocution: and I have often thought, that of all the persons living that I have known, your Majesty were the best instance to make a man of Plato's opinion, that all knowledge is but remembrance, and that the mind of man by nature knoweth all things, and hath but her own native and original notions (which by the strangeness and darkness of this tabernacle of the body are sequestered) again revived and restored: such alight of nature I have observed in your Majesty, and such a readiness to take and blaze from the least occasion presented, or the least spark of another's knowledge delivered. And as the Scripture saith of the wisest king, "That his heart was as the sands of the sea"; which though it be one of the largest bodies, yet it consisteth of the smallest and dunest portions; so hath God given your Majesty a composition of understanding admirable, being able to compass and comprehend the greatest matters, and nevertheless to touch and apprehend the least; whereas it should seem an impossibility in nature, for the same instrument to make itself ïfor great and small works. And for your gift of speech, I call to mind what Cornelius Tacitus saith of Augustus Caesar: "Augusto proïfuens, et quae principem deceret, eloquentia fuit." For if we note it well, speech that is uttered with labour and diffculty, or speech that savoureth of the affectation of art and precepts, or speech that is framed after the imitation of some pattern of eloquence, though never so excellent; all this hath somewhat servile, and holding of the subject.
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We need hardly mine the technical literature of science to find works of sufficiently high literary quality and intellectual importance to merit inclusion within the Modern Library Science Series. I do not speak of quick journalistic reads, hastily composed, consciously dumbed-down and hyped, and usually written by nonscientists without the requisite "feel" for the ethos of lab or field life in daily practice. Such works abound, and deserve their quick and permanent obsolescence. Rather, I speak of the fine literary skills possessed by several excellent scientists in each generation (not nearly a majority, of course, but we need representation, not saturation, and a little elitism is not a dangerous thing in this realm). These people write volumes accessible to all, and addresses equally to scientific peers and to that celebrated abstraction -- doubted by some, but who really exist in large numbers -- "the intelligent layperson."
This series will republish some excellent examples of this important genre, spanning literature and science, readable by all, and written by leading experts who did the original work in their technical fields.
Meet the Author
Francis Bacon was born in London in 1561. A powerful member of Parliament and lord chancellor under King James I, he was among the first of the English philosophers. He died in 1626.
Stephen Jay Gould is the Alexander Agassiz professor of zoology and professor of geology at Harvard and the Vincent Astor visiting professor of biology at New York University. Recent books include Full House, Dinosaur in a Haystack, and Questioning the Millennium. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York City.
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