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Francis Bacon

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For Francis Bacon, the 20th century painter, see Francis Bacon (painter)

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an English philosopher, essayist, and political figure who came to be recognized as the father of the modern scientific method.

Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and Gray's Inn, where he studied law, he entered Parliament in 1584 where he gained a reputation as a skilled orator. As a result of his opposition to Queen Elizabeth's military and taxation policies in 1593, he found his political career stymied for the duration of her reign. However, upon the accession of King James in 1603, his political fortunes revived to such an extent that he eventually became Lord Chancellor.

But he had enemies and his political downfall came swiftly in the early 1620s. Accused of accepting bribes in his official capacity, he admitted to accepting gifts and favors from litigants in his court, but denied that his judgements were thereby influenced. In the end, he was banished from public life, fined, and briefly incarcerated.

In the last years of his life, Bacon wrote prolifically, with particular attention to the methods whereby new knowledge is acquired. In The Advancement of Learning[1] he made the case for inductive reasoning based upon empirical knowledge. He championed the idea of state funding for experimental science and the creation of an encyclopedia. Although his magnum opus, The Great Instauration (restoration), intended as a complete reformation of such methodology, remained unfinished at his death, sections of it are available, including the Novum Organum which contains the essence of his new philosophy. Bacon also wrote a utopian fantasy, The New Atlantis which has been credited with being an inspiration for the founding of the Royal Society later in the 17th century.

He died in 1626 as a result of an illness contracted in the snow while conducting an experiment in refrigeration.

  1. Francis Bacon: The Advancement of Learning, first published 1605 (online version from the Classic Literature Library)
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