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7 - Bacon’s New Atlantis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2014

Thomas L. Pangle
Affiliation:
University of Texas, Austin
Timothy W. Burns
Affiliation:
Baylor University, Texas
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Summary

Francis Bacon (1561–1626) is best known as the chief original articulator of the modern scientific method. His most important writings in this regard are The Advancement of Learning (1605) and The New Organon (1620). But Bacon was also a highly successful statesman under Queen Elizabeth and James the First, and – more momentously, for our purposes – an outspoken admirer of Machiavelli, as well as the employer and older friend of Thomas Hobbes. Inspiration from Bacon was gratefully acknowledged by subsequent early modern political philosophers such as Spinoza (another open admirer of Machiavelli) and Locke. Thomas Jefferson, arguably the most theoretically inclined of the American founders, counted Bacon (along with Newton and Locke) as one of “the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences” (Letter to Richard Price, January 8, 1789, our emphasis).

Bacon’s Machiavellian Scientific Method

We can best begin to understand the relation between the scientific and the political strands in Bacon’s thought if we start from his expressed indebtedness to Machiavelli. In The Advancement of Learning, Bacon cites Machiavelli a full ten times, almost always favorably – and this at a time when such a display of favor to Machiavelli entailed considerable daring. Bacon similarly cites Machiavelli with approval in his Essays. Why Bacon does so, not only in his political but especially in his scientific works is not immediately apparent. We can identify, however, three key ideas in Machiavelli’s reflection on human nature that became roots of Bacon’s new method for the science of nature in general.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Key Texts of Political Philosophy
An Introduction
, pp. 223 - 245
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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References

New Atlantis and the Great Instauration, ed. Weinberger, Jerry (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1989)

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