Bacon (1620) was not only an excellent philosopher but also a good scientist and writer who believed in reasoning to explain various phenomenons and rejected the laws of nature that other scientists relied on. Zagorin (1991) says that Bacon lived in an age when the scientific world had come awake to new discoveries and phenomenon was being discovered every day. Copernicus had attempted to put forth his theory that heavenly objects rotated and revolved around the sun and the Church’s interpretation that all heavenly bodies rotated around the fixed earth. This was an age of discovery and while scientists made a number of observations, there was an acute lack of reasoning and logic and there was a study method and structure to explain observations. Zagorin points out that in these uncertain times, many interpretations were given to explain occurrences and the interpretations were often based on the whims and fantasies of the scientists. Bacon developed his method of logical reasoning where the phenomenon was analyzed and alternative explanations were considered. The alternative that was the most logical was taken up for further analysis and he called this method as ‘instances of the Finger Post.
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Bunnin (2004) has commented that the work of Bacon was meant to be a guide on the correct use of human understanding to take an up investigation of nature. Bacon implied that one should interpret and not anticipate nature and one can only form an opinion based on observations of facts or in thought. The traditional syllogistic deductive logic that starts from abstract notions and principles is not sufficient. Bacon regarded his logic as new to differentiate it from the work of Aristotle’s Organon where the syllogistic logic is explained. The correct logic should be based on inductive logic that is based on elimination. Bunnin points out that Bacon showed three differences between the old school of logic and the new logic. The old logic was focused on inventing arguments and overcoming an opponent’s argument while the new logic aimed at discovering principles of nature and commanding nature in action. The old logic focussed on syllogism while the new logic rejected this thought and claims that induction in the form of demonstration upholds sense and mirrors nature. While in the old logic, the starting point of inquiry is a principle; the new logic requires that one start with a judgment about the information obtained through the senses. An examination of the work of Bacon shows how he used inductive logic to explain and reason out explanations for a number of occurrences.
In the first ‘Fingerpost’, Bacon questions the nature the of ebb and flow of tides and what exactly happens when there is a rise in water level during the high tide and a lowering during the ebb tide (Bacon 1960, Chapter XXXVI). Bacon posits that the motion of water is because of retreat and advance of the seawater and this would imply that when there is high tide in one region, there should be a proportionate lowering of waters on the other side. The other explanation is that there must be something that raises the water from the depth of the ocean but Bacon counters this argument by saying that in this case a vacuum would be formed and this is not possible. He further offers proof saying that observations by reliable people have shown that high and low tides occur at the same time on Florida shores as well as the shores of Spain and Africa. Bacon even examines the concept of the progression of waves and then rejects it by saying that for such a thing to happen, there has to be some zone in which the water would move to. After inductively examining all the arguments and rejecting them, Bacon reasons that it is the large mass of the moon that attracts the water so that they rise up in a round arch with water rising in the middle of the sea and falling away from the sides so that shores across different continents have flood and ebb tides at the same time. He further relates this phenomenon to the rotation of the earth that gives the required motion for the water to travel in ever-larger circles (Bacon 1960, Chapter XXXVI).
Zagorin (1991) points that the nature of inductive reasoning has always raised heated debates. The logic is characterized by terms of inference to the continuation of previously observed regularities on the assumption of the uniformity of nature. This would imply that a phenomenon would appear to display certain characteristics at some point in time and these characteristics would be different at a later point in time. Any inductive reasoning that is applied at different times would tend to produce different interpretations. Bacon has countered this argument by implying that observations should be conducted over a considerable amount of time to find out any random variations and logic should be applied to the total of the observations and not just a selected few observations. Bacon has used the examples of two clocks, one driven by leaden weights and the other by a compressed iron spring. He uses this example to inductively reason how the heaviness of a body tends to make it move towards the center of the earth or that they are attracted by the earth’s mass. If the latter condition is true then when a heavy body moves closer to the earth, the motion would be more rapid. If the same bodies were moved further away then they would move more slowly. Bacon suggested that the two clocks should be perfectly adjusted so that both run at the same speed. The clock with leaden weights should be placed on a high steeple while the other one should be kept below. Observations have then to be taken over a period to find if the leaden weight watch moves more slowly than the other because it was kept at a high height. The same experiment can be repeated by placing the heavy watch at the bottom of a deep mine. If now the watch runs faster, only then can an inference be drawn that the attraction of the earth has an effect on the weight and motion. It is not known if this experiment was actually performed but this Fingerpost is a good example of how Bacon attempted to bring methods and scientific observation along with inductive reasoning to explain nature (Bacon 1960, Chapter XXXVI).
Johnson (2004) has pointed out that the thinking process of Bacon and the reasoning methods he suggested had a profound influence in observance of nature, ecology, and the theory of evolution. The methods have been applied to the theory of adaptation by species and Johnson points out a hypothetical experiment that Bacon suggested to confirm is it was indeed earth that the reason for polarity and for magnetic effect. Bacon suggested that a magnetic globe should be marked at the poles and placed so that the poles would be pointing to the west, east, and not north and south. A thin iron needle should then be placed on the globe and left undisturbed for a week. While on the globe, the needle would tend to point towards the east and west poles of the globe, forgetting the polarity of the earth. However, if after some days the needle was placed on a pivot and allowed to move freely. If the needle now points to the earth’s North and South poles, then it would mean that the polarity is caused by the earth’s pole. However, if the needle still points to east and west, then the accepted polarity of the earth comes under question (Bacon 1960, Chapter XXXVI).
The work of Bacon has many instances of such Fingerposts and it is apparent that Bacon attempted to change the old system of logic and reasoning that was practiced by Aristotle. The work had a profound influence on generations of scientists and researchers and formed the basis of modern deductive reasoning. Bacon attempted to dissuade researchers from the anguish that ancient Greeks faced.
“The more ancient of the Greeks (whose writings are lost) took up with better judgment a position between two extremes — between the presumption of pronouncng on everything, and the despair of comprehending anything; and though frequently and bitterly complaining of the difficulty of inquiry and the obscurity of things, and like impatient horses champing at the bit, they did not the less follow up their object and engage with nature, thinking (it seems) that this very question — viz., whether or not anything can be known — was to be settled not by arguing, but by trying. And yet they too, trusting entirely to the force of their understanding, applied no rule, but made everything turn upon hard thinking and perpetual working and exercise of the mind.” (Bacon 1960)
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- Bacon Francis, 1620. Chapter XXXVI: New Organon or True Directions Concerning the Interpretation of Nature. (Trans 2007).
- Bunnin Nicholas, 2004. The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell
- Johnson, J. B. & K. S. Omland, 2004. Model selection in ecology and evolution. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 19, pp. 101–108
- Zagorin Perez, 2001. Francis Bacon’s concept of objectivity and the idols of the mind. The British Journal for the History of Science, 34(4), pp. 379-393.