Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 76.djvu/500

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II. The Baconian Reform.—This idea was defined by Bacon largely in opposition to what he believed to be the blindness and errors of his own and earlier times. Philosophical literature nowhere else contains so acute and so comprehensive an examination of man's intellectual bad habits. Bacon's criticisms may conveniently be brought together under four heads.

First, he defined the persistent error of anthropomorphism. It is customary for man to fashion things after himself. He is deceived by what Bacon calls the "idols of the tribe" or the prejudices characteristic of human nature in general, and by the "idols of the den" or the prejudices peculiar to the individual. But if he is to view nature as it is, he must efface himself.

Second, he found the thought of his own time to suffer peculiarly from conventionality. It was customary for men to accept what was current and supported by general opinion. There are two important means through which arbitrary or ungrounded ideas are foisted upon belief: language, which gives rise to what Bacon calls the "idols of the market-place," and established systems, or theories which have the stage, and which give rise to what Bacon calls the "idols of the theatre." In the interests of truth it is necessary to guard against the suggestive power of words, which are often obscure or even meaningless, and against the inertia of doctrines that have acquired repute and prestige.

Third, it was customary in Bacon's time, to a degree that is scarcely intelligible to-day, to assent to theories of nature on grounds of authority, ecclesiastical or political. Bacon is among the first to formulate the principle of tolerance, according to which there is hope of knowledge, provided only that the mind be free from external constraint. The truth-seeking mind can acknowledge no obligations except to evidence.

Fourth, Bacon attacked the tendency, common at the time of the Benaissance, to rely on antiquity. The essentially modern character of Bacon's mind is nowhere more apparent than in his repudiation of the idea that dominated the revival of letters. He detected the dangerous fallacy which had arisen with the new study of the ancient languages and literatures. Historical retrospect inverts the intellectual values of the race. The wisdom of the ancients is but the folly of youth—Antiquitas sæculi juventus mundi. The hope of knowledge lies not in a return to childhood, but in a maturity yet to come.

III. The Baconian Survey.—As a pioneer in a new intellectual enterprise, it fell to Bacon to draw a rude map of the settled domain and border wilderness of knowledge. It is impossible here to enter into the merits and demerits of his classification of the sciences. Most interesting to us of the present is his explicit provision for what is