“The Office of the sense shall be the only judge of the experiment, and … the experiment itself shall judge of the thing.”
Francis Bacon, The Great Instauration
The first history of the Royal Society of London, published in 1667, and the most recent full study of that scientific organization published three centuries later, agree on one important point: that Sir Francis Bacon was the intellectual progenitor of the body, that in the denigrating words of a contemporary critic the Society was “Bacon-faced.” The author of the former, Thomas Sprat, termed Bacon the “one great Man, who had the true Imagination of the whole extent of this Enterprise,” and in “whose Books there are every where scattered the best arguments that can be produced for the defence of Experimental Philosophy.” The author of the latter, Margery Purver, agrees that “Bacon was the great formative influence on the Society's concept of science.”
Yet it must be conceded at once that Bacon's legacy was ambiguous. While the early Royal Society indeed was Bacon-faced, “it saw many faces of Bacon.” The period after the founding of the Society, the 1660's and 1670's, was one of contending philosophies and of a continuing effort to fashion clearer notions of what an experimental philosophy was to be like and what role experience was to play in scientific argument. Two of the more important and influential members of the Society who were actively engaged in this pursuit were Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke; these men were, and saw themselves, as disciples of the Lord Chancellor. It is my intention here to illustrate the differing approaches to the Baconian legacy of Boyle and of Hooke by focusing attention upon an interesting analogy, used by both, which may aid us in interpreting the conception of experiment in the works of these two founders of the experimental philosophy.