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Science and Rule in Bacon's Utopia: An Introduction to the Reading of the New Atlantis*

  • J. Weinberger (a1)


Bacon's New Atlantis presents a picture of human life governed by the new science to be produced by his reformation of the arts and sciences. Unlike his successor Hobbes, who forged a link between modern science and a certain, demonstrable doctrine of political rule, Bacon made no claim to found or present a political science. The reason for this is shown by an analysis of the political teaching of the New Atlantis. Bacon's political teaching is indirect, but it is the core of his comprehensive account of science and man. According to Bacon, the end of science is fully disclosed by political wisdom, and that wisdom shows the perfection of science to reverse the moral superiority of moderation over excess. The full meaning of Bacon's scientific utopia consists in a new stance toward the traditional problems of political philosophy.



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1 The English Works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, ed. SirMolesworth, William, 11 vols. (London: John Bohn, 18391845), hereafter EW, I, 7; Bacon, , Novum Organum, I, 3; II, 1–4; Advancement of Learning, hereafter Advancement, in The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. Spedding, James, Ellis, Robert Leslie, and Heath, Douglas Denon, 14 vols. (London: Longman and Co., etc, 18571874), hereafter BW, III, 294–95.

2 EW I, 9. Cf. De Cive, Ep. Ded., EW II, i–viii; EW I, 8–10; EW IV, 1.

3 Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, ed. Macpherson, C. B. (Baltimore: Penguin, 1968), Ch. 26, p. 314. See De Cive VI, EW II, 85. The Utopian legacy of the new science can be seen in both the realist or positivist and the idealist interpretations of the new science. Thus Kant argues that the pure notion of duty (der Begriff der Pflicht in seiner ganzen Reinigkeit) is simple and clear to a child of eight or nine even in complex situations. “Über den Gemeinspruch: Das mag in der Theorie richtig sein, taught aber nicht für die Praxis,” Kleinere Schriften zur Geschichtsphilosophie Ethik und Politik (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1964), p. 82. Cf. Plato, Republic 331cl–9. See also Kant, , “Metaphysiche Anfangsgründe der Rechtslehre,” 49, Anhang, Beschluss, Metaphysik Der Sitten (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1966) pp. 139–166, 205208.

4 Eva Brann makes these last two points in her elegant and important study of More's Utopia. See An Exquisite Platform: Utopia,” interpretation, 3 (1972), 2425. This is true for the modern anti-utopian utopia as well as for modern utopia simply understood. See also Mannheim, Karl, Ideology and Utopia (New York: Harcourt, Brace. 1954), p. 192; Musil, Robert. The Man Without Qualities (London: Secker and Warburg, 19531961), I, ii, 62; de Jouvenel, Bertrand, “Utopia for Practical Purposes,” Utopias and Utopian Thought, ed. Manuel, Frank E. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966), pp. 226ff.

5 See Mansfield, Harvey C. Jr., “Hobbes and the Science of Indirect Government,” American Political Science Review, 65 (March, 1971, 9798.

6 See Rawley's note to the reader, BW III, 127.

7 Cf. Mansfield, p. 98.

8 See Anderson, F. H., The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1948), pp. 24, 36, 40, 295; Bacon, Francis, New Atlantis, ed. Gough, Alfred B. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1915), pp. xxvii–xxix.

9 See Rossi, Paolo, Francis Bacon (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), pp. 138–39, 223; Bacon, , New Atlantis, ed. Gough, , pp. xvi–xvii; cf. Anderson, pp. 292–303.

10 Advancement, BW III, 265.

11 Advancement, BW III, 417445; cf. 421, 424.

12 Great Instauration, hereafter GI, BW IV, Proem., 8, 21, 2324; Novum Organum I, 3, 83, II, 14; Advancement, BW III, 294–95.

13 De Sapientia Veterum, XI, BW VI, 646, 720. Natural philosophy thus “proposes to itself as its noblest work of all, nothing less than the restitution and renovation of things corruptible, and (what is the same thing in a lower degree) the conservation of bodies in the state in which they are, and the retardation of dissolution and putrefaction.”

14 BW IV, 35.

16 See Anderson, pp. 34–36, 40.

17 GI, BW IV, 27–31.

18 GI, BW IV, 31; Scala intellectus sive filum labyrinthi, BW II, 687–89.

19 GI, BW IV, 31–32; Prodromi sive anticipationes philosophiae secundae, BW II, 690–92.

20 GI, BW IV, 32 33.

21 Ibid., pp. 21, 29–33.

22 Ibid., p. 31.

23 Ibid., p. 32.

25 Ibid., p. 27.

26 GI, BW IV, 32.

27 BW IV, 35.

28 Advertisement Touching An Holy War, BW VII, 1314.

29 The De Augmentis expands, truncates, and rearranges parts of the Advancement of Learning. In the De Augmentis Bacon adds as a deficient science the noblest part of medicine, the prolongation of life, omits as a deficient “science” the laws to suppress the arts of sensual pleasure, and mentions the defective consideration of the relationship between the rational and irrational parts of the soul. BW IV, 391–97; cf. Advancement, BW III, 377–79. These changes strengthen the present case.

30 The Advertisement Touching An Holy War was written while the De Augmentis was in the hands of translators. Spedding also wonders why the De Augmentis was not entitled “Division of the Sciences: Part One of the Great Instauration,” BW I, 415–420; cf. BW VII, 3–7.

31 GI. BW IV, 23.

32 Novum Organum I, 127, BW IV, 112.

33 Advancement, BW III, 452; the discussion of Civil Knowledge covers BW III, 445–477.

34 Advancements, BW III, 473–76.

35 De Augmentis, BW V, 31110.

36 GI, BW IV, 22–23, 32; Novum Organum I, 3, 84, II, 14, BW IV, 47, 81–82, 119–122; Advancement, BW III, 294–95.

37 De Augmentis, BW V, 79.

38 Although written in its final form in 1624, the New Atlantis was published by Rawley in 1627, after Bacon's death.

39 New Atlantis, hereafter, NA, BW III, 141–44.

40 Critias 120d6–121c4; cf. 106a–b8. See Timaeus 22a, 25a–25b6; Phaedrus 278d7; Laws 676ff.

41 NA, BW III, 145, 156, 166.

42 The two sections of the first major theme are: NA, BW III, (1) 129–147, (2) 147–166.

43 The four sections of the second major theme are: Ibid., (1) pp. 129–136, (2) pp. 136–147, (3) pp. 147–154, (4) pp. 154–166.

44 NA, BW III, 135, 136, 139–40, 144, 146; cf. 156.

45 Ibid., p. 129.

46 Ibid., p. 157.

47 See Critias 113e.

49 Exodus 20:13; 21:12–14; Numbers 35:9–34; Deut. 5:17. The Bible requires the exile of the manslayer because of the avenger's desire for revenge. See Maimonides, , Guide of the Perplexed III, 40, 41. With respect to the sailors, the oath must be necessary only because of the danger of the killer's bloodlust.

50 NA, BW III, 154.

51 Ibid., pp. 135–36.

52 See below, n. 97.

53 NA, BW III, 145.

54 Ibid., p. 146.

55 Ibid., p. 144.

56 Ibid., p. 166.

57 NA, BW III, 153. See below, p. 881, n. 89.

58 NA, BW III, 136–147.

59 Advancement, BW III, 287–88. See below, nn. 65–67.

60 Not only does the Bible fail to mention judges of miracles from Bensalem's House of Salomon, but the biblical King Solomon's natural history is lost and is not a part of the canon. Advancement, BW III. 298–99; I Kings 4:33.

61 The vehicle of Bensalemite perfection, the natural science of the House of Salomon, comes to Bensalem before the saving grace of Jesus. See below, p. 878.

62 The sailors are brought to Bensalem by a “wind from the south, with a point east.” NA, BW III, 129. Thus the wind came from the south-east and would have caused them to land on the eastern shore of the island. Renfusa is a city on the eastern shore of the island.

63 NA, BW III, 139–143, 143–47.

64 Advancement, BW III, 333–37.

65 Ibid.

66 Ibid., pp. 340–42. In the De Augmentis Bacon treats ecclesiastical history as a part of civil history. De Augmentis, BW IV, 243–44. Again, this minor change strengthens the present argument.

67 Advancement, BW III, 287–88. Of course, this is the standard used in Bensalem.

68 Advancement, BW III, 336.

69 Ibid., p. 340.

70 It is of course unimportant whether England or another country was to be the bearer of modern history. Bacon's choice is properly patriotic, but the important points are that only modern history is said to be perfectible, and that Bensalem is the model of life governed by modern science, which is the principle of human perfection.

71 See White, Howard B., Peace Among the Willows: The Political Philosophy of Francis Bacon (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968), pp. 104 n. 30, 121–22.

72 This date puts the voyage after the publication of the Advancement of Learning and before the Novum Organum and De Augmentis, and it provides a clue to the primacy of the Advancement of Learning in the whole of Bacon's writings. The division of the sciences contained in the Advancement of Learning provides the description of the intellectual globe that will tame and conquer the terrestrial globe. Cf. White, pp. 104 n. 30, 121–22, 197–98.

73 Ezekiel 29:21; Psalms 132:17. The verb form means to send out rays or display horns.

74 Timaeus 24e–25d7: Critias 120d6–121c4.

75 Timaeus 21cl–23dl.

76 Benardete, Seth, “On Plato's Timaeus and Timaeus Science Fiction,” interpretation, 2 (Summer, 1971), 30; Timaeus 22cl–23al. 25e8–d7.

77 NA, BW III, 142. Bacon refers to the natural disaster at once as “Divine Revenge” and as a “main accident of time.” NA, BW III, 143. It is by no means clear that the destruction of Atlantis in Plato's account is due to divine revenge, for there is no thematic connection between the missing speech of Zeus and the destruction of Atlantis. See Timaeus 25c8–d7; Critias I21b7-c4: Benardete, p. 30; cf. Timaeus 21a7–el; Phaedrus 272c7–278d2.

78 Republic 474c–4180a.

79 The war and natural decay that afflicted the “rest of the world,” as distinct from the “main accident of time,” took place after the beginning of Solamona's rule and the institution of science. We know this because Solamona found an island where the entrance of strangers was frequent and for that reason ordained the prohibitions that “touch the entrance of strangers.” NA, BW III, 144. Solamona came upon an island that was both “happy and flourishing,” and his intention was “to give perpetuity to that which was in his time so happily established.” Altabin's name means “twice lofty,” and his double loftiness or perfection of humanity and war was incomplete without the third perfection, the perfection of science. Altabin's perfection was defective because of its susceptibility to natural decay and chance.

80 See above, p. 874, Solamona's founding laws hide Bensalem's origins by indirectly dictating that recent killing be considered worse than old murder.

81 Republic 377b–383a, 474c–480a, 505a–51le.

82 Cf., forinstance, Republic 611b9–62 1d3; Meno 96d5–100b12.

83 NA, BW III, 147. The sailors declare their liberation in the sixteenth paragraph of the story. The sixteenth Essay in the Essays treats atheism and is followed by the seventeenth Essay on superstition. The principle of the sixteenth Essay is that any belief about God is better than unbelief. The principle of the seventeenth Essay is that unbelief is better than wrong or heretical belief. Given that such a contradiction must aways redound to the benefit of unbelief or atheism. Bacon here makes an argument for atheism. In the seventeenth paragraph the narrator forgets a difference between six and seven days. If Essays sixteen and seventeen come together as a true essay on atheism, the number of Essays is equal to the number of paragraphs in the New Atlantis.

84 NA. BW III. 147–151.

85 Ibid., p. 152.

86 Ibid., pp. 151–54.

87 Na, BW III, 151. The narrator does not simply ascribe the Jewish dreams to Joabin but, rather, says that “surely this man … would ever acknowledge” them. He is careful to point out that Joabin espouses Bensalemite Jewish belief by tradition; to recognize tradition is not necessarily to acknowledge truth.

88 Genesis 19:1–11.

89 See above, p. 875. One modest editor saw fit to omit the discussion of marriage and eros for the sake of “modern taste.” New Atlantis, ed. Gough, p. vi.

90 I Kings 17:18.

91 NA, BW III, 154.

92 See n. 73 above.

93 II Samuel 11:2 5.

94 See Advancement, BW III, 290–95, 420–26; De Sapientia Veterum, XII, XIII, XVI, BW VI, 649–652, 654, 723–26. 728.

95 NA, BW III, 154–166.

96 Ibid., p. 157.

97 The House of Salomon contains instruments of astronomy that are kept in a “mathematical house.” Ibid., p. 164. The mathematical house is not a part of the “upper region” that is dedicated to the study of weather phenomena. Rather, astronomy is located in the middle region, which is the region inhabited by men, and is not accorded a highest position. Astronomy studies the heaven, then, as it affects men, but it does not study the celestial heaven, which constitutes the whole that envelops the high, the low, and the in-between. The difference between high, middle, and low is dictated simply by the location of the phenomena affecting man; in the House of Salomon, it is not a cosmic distinction. Cf. Plato, Apology 18b7–10, Republic 527d–529c3.

98 NA, BW III, 165.

99 Ibid., p. 154.

100 White misses the crucial importance of Joabin because he does not consider Joabin in the context of the literary whole of the New Atlantis. See above, n. 72, and White, pp. 245–46.

101 NA, BW III. 165.

102 Timaeus 19b3–c9.

103 Ibid., 20a2–7.

104 Ibid., 19b3–20c3, 28b2–29d3; Benardete, pp. 26–29, 32–37.

105 Benardete, p. 63; Timaeus 86b1–92C3.

106 Timaeus 29b–d3; Republic 528a9–530d2; Benardete, pp. 22, 25. The complex symbolism of the feast of the Tirsan, which extols the noblest end of science and thus the human conquest and constitution of the natural whole, can be understood only in the light of the full explication of these measures.

107 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Ecce Homo, II, 4. Hobbesian political science, which forged the link between modern science and a certain, demonstrable doctrine of political rule, was directed at the Baconian problem of moderation and was based on the pretense of just such a slight.

* The preparation of this study was aided by a Fellowship Research Grant from the Earhart Foundation. I would like to thank the Trustees of Earhart Foundation for their gracious and generous financial assistance.

Science and Rule in Bacon's Utopia: An Introduction to the Reading of the New Atlantis*

  • J. Weinberger (a1)


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