Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes

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Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes

The Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences is one of the most influential works in the history of modern philosophy, and important to the evolution of natural sciences. In this work, Descartes tackles the problem of skepticism. Descartes modified it to account for a truth he found to be incontrovertible. Descartes started his line of reasoning by doubting everything, so as to assess the world from a fresh perspective, clear of any preconceived notions.

Whereas Francis Bacon’s Scientific Method wanted to replace the deductive reasoning by inductive reasoning. The important concept in this reformed thought is about discovering truth rather than establishing the beliefs by deduction. The scientific and philosophical contributions that Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon helped form a single concept of the scientific method. The scientific method was a new way to reach a conclusion about anything and refers to a way one should acquire knowledge, or investigate a phenomenon or to correct and refine previous unproven knowledge.

It is a five step method; the inquiry, initial hypothesis, action of investigation, results and conclusion. Rene Descartes was born in France at La Haye near the city of Tours in 1596. He went to school at the age of eight at La Fleche in France; he was a student there until the age of sixteen, in which he studied scholastic philosophy and mathematics. Later he was educated at the Jesuit College of La Fleche between 1606 and 1614. When he was nineteen he left Jesuit College for the University of Poitiers, where he studied law for two years and graduated in the year 1616.

He got a degree in law but developed a passion for mathematics because he saw it as one field where absolute certainty could be found. Descartes also saw it as a means for achieving greater progress in both science and philosophy. He later claimed that his education gave him little of substance and that only mathematics had given him certain knowledge. In 1618-1621 he enlisted in the army, military service was tradition in his family, and when the Thirty Years’ War began he was encouraged to volunteer under the Count de Bucquoy in the Bavarian army.

In his leisure time he studied mathematics, having been influenced by the Dutch mathematician and scientist Beeckman. He left the army in 1621 he dedicated his life to the study of science and philosophy (1621-1649). During which time he published his most influential works, by 1650 his health was depleting and he passed away in Stockholm of pneumonia at the age of fifty-three. Francis Bacon was born in London. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, at the age of twelve. He studied law and became a barrister in 1582; two years later he took a seat in the House of Commons.

Bacon’s opposition, in 1584, to Queen Elizabeth’s tax program delayed his political advancement. While in the earlier days he supported the Earl of Essex, Bacon, in 1601, was involved in his prosecution. With the accession of James I (1566-1625) and thereafter, a number of honours were bestowed on Bacon: he was knighted in 1603, made Solicitor General in 1604, Attorney General in 1613, and Lord Chancellor in 1618. He was an English lawyer, statesman, essayist, historian, intellectual reformer, philosopher, and supporter of modern science.

Early in his career he claimed “all knowledge as his province” and afterwards dedicated himself to an extensive revaluation and re-structuring of traditional learning. To take the place of the established tradition a miscellany of Scholasticism, humanism, and natural magic, he proposed an entirely new system based on empirical and inductive principles and the active development of new arts and inventions, a system whose ultimate goal would be the production of practical knowledge.

Descartes and Bacon were influenced by 16th century society. What does the situation look like in Europe in terms of science and philosophy in 1500’s? Scholasticism is over in terms of being a philosophical point of view. It is still practiced in some universities and will be practiced up until the 18th century at least. Three fundamental changes have occurred during the Renaissance; Aristotle portrayed the understanding of the universe, Galen described the importance of medicine and to understand astronomy Ptolemy described it.

In 200 years there has been a revolutionary change, Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton have replaced Ptolemy in astronomy. Galileo has replaced Aristotle in physics. Harvey has replaced Galen in medicine. The three ancient authorities have been over thrown. In Rene Descartes’ Discourse on Method he expresses his disappointment with traditional philosophy and with the limitations of theology; only logic, geometry and algebra hold his respect, because of the utter certainty which they can offer us. Unfortunately, because they depend on hypotheses, they cannot tell us what is real, i. . what the world is really like.

Therefore Descartes suggests a method of thought combining the consistency of mathematics but based on natural truths about what is real, basic knowledge which could not be wrong (like the axioms of geometry). He calls into question everything that he thinks he has learned through his senses but rests his entire system on the one truth that he cannot doubt, namely, the reality of his own mind and the radical difference between the mental and the physical aspects of the world.

What is crucial to Descartes is reason because he wants to establish a foundation for the sciences. Reason is a constant for Descartes; he is given credit as starting the modern rationalist school. Rationalists were people who philosophers who felt that every human being possessed ideas about the world that each of us was born with and they were the bases of much of our knowledge. Descartes does tend to rationalism. “Thus our convictions result from custom and example very much more than from any knowledge that is certain. Look at how we operate as human beings in society. Our beliefs and convictions come from tradition, we believe certain things and act in certain ways, and we are interested in certain things because of the traditions that preceded us. Descartes apposes this to knowledge that is certain, in other words basically he does not have much time for tradition. Beliefs and convictions are not knowledge. Knowledge is something that you can be certain of. When Descartes says knowledge, he means no possibility of doubt at all.

Absolute certainty is knowledge and this is what he wanted for his new foundation for the sciences. Certainty is everything, not gut certainty, gut feeling is purely psychological subject feeling. Feeling is not included when referring to certainty, object certainty is certainty is there no matter what your feeling is it is a state of affairs that is there if you like it or not and you know it in such a way that you cannot possibly be mistaken and you cannot possibly doubt it. Descartes criticizes tradition; he says we can’t rely on tradition for true knowledge.

In terms of the contemporary world you cannot rely on the point of view of the masses of people when we are trying to deal with or discover new knowledge that might be somewhat difficult to get a handle on. Descartes only relies on one thing mainly and that is his reason. “I decided to go slowly and to be so careful about everything that, even if I made very little progress, I would at least prevent myself from falling. I did not even wish to begin rejecting completely any of the views that may have slipped among my beliefs previously without having been introduced there by reason. He wants to go slowly and not make mistakes because he is dealing with his own mind and thoughts. When Descartes is considering beliefs he wants only those beliefs that have been checked out by his reason. “Everything that I accepted as being most true up to now I acquired from the senses or through the senses. However, I have occasionally found that they deceive me, and it is prudent never to trust those who have deceived us, even if only once. ” Descartes tries to undermine his beliefs by considering the fact that he remembers that his senses have deceived him before.

Descartes’s goal is to suspend judgment about any of his beliefs which are even slightly doubtful. Descartes talks about the three disciplines of mathematics, logic, geometric analysis and algebra. In logic a form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion is called a syllogism. Example, Major premise: All men are mortal. Minor premise: Socrates is a man. Conclusion: Therefore Socrates is mortal. The key thing about a syllogism for Descartes is that as an argument form it does not help us learn anything new.

Individuals use arguments to establish aspects that are new, that are different from the premises, the example above does not tell an individual something new because all the information is provided within the premises. In deductive logic when all the premises are true and the argument is valid it goes by the rules of logic, than the argument is a sound argument and the truth of the conclusion is guaranteed. Descartes wants a logic that is going to help discover new truths. In the case of syllogisms and most of its other rules are more useful for explaining to someone else what one already knows or even, for speaking uncritically about things that one does not know, rather than for learning them. ” Descartes says this logic does not help with discovering a new scientific method and he cannot rely on logic alone to generate a new method. Regarding geometry “is always so tied to the discussion of shapes that it cannot exercise the understanding without greatly tiring the imagination. ” He is happy with the understanding, which for Descartes also means reason.

Descartes does not agree with imagination because imagination can get tired while it is conjuring up various images. He is pro understanding and reason but is suspicious of imagination and unfortunately geometry is reliant on imagination and therefore he cannot rely completely on geometry for his new method. Algebra is so constrained by certain rules and symbols that it has become a confused art that hinders the mind rather than a science that assists it. Descartes decides to do it by himself and develop a method on his own. He assembles four basic rules for his method and they also reflect what goes on in basic science in modern day. The first was never to accept anything as true if I did not clearly that it was so. ” No subjection bias and jumping to conclusions. Jumping to conclusions is one of the criticisms he makes of some forms of reasoning and jumping to conclusions simply means on the bases of very little data I make a conclusion beyond that data. A modern day example supporting Descartes first rule is to go buy a new car, take the car out for a test drive and drive it for about 10- 20 minutes than decide to buy the car because it is fabulous and it will never have any problems.

Descartes says this is hasty reasoning that is drawing a hasty conclusion, in other words you haven’t driven that car enough to make that kind of conclusion about the quality of that car. Analytical is the second rule, the problem that you are dealing with as a scientist. The first thing you do when you confront a problem is to break it down into its parts. In other words what are the elements of this problem? Descartes is saying the best way to solve a problem is to first break it down to analyze it into its smallest sub parts and then attack it. The third rule was reconstruction/reduction.

Reduction refers to subject matter, “to guide my thoughts in an orderly way by beginning with the objects that are the simplest and easiest to know. ” In other words you break down the objects to their simplest part which is the reduction and then you reconstruct from the parts of the object. When you are reconstructing you are looking for the internal order of the subject matter. Comprehensiveness is the fourth rule for Descartes’ method. Means to make sure nothing relevant has been left out of consideration. That you have dealt with the entire object and all of its parts and not just some of the object and some of its parts.

The bases of his method is that if all inferences that if they result from an argument that has all true premises and follows the rules of logic than the conclusion is necessarily true. This is the possibility of the perfect argument, if one every time someone criticizes you was able to devise an argument that had all true premises and followed the rules of logic one could be assured that the truth of your conclusion every time out was true. At the beginning of his adult life, Francis Bacon aimed at a revision of natural philosophy; he wanted a new system which emphasized empirical methods and laying the foundation for applied science.

The apparent difference between Descartes and Bacon, Descartes emphasis was on deduction and reason; Bacon is caught more by empiricisms which mean he believes all our knowledge comes from sense experience. In 1603 Bacon writes the interpretation of nature. Here he opposes Aristotelian thought and purposes a new outline for a new method. Like Descartes he has no use for tradition, for the philosophical tradition and the scientific tradition he has no use for it what so ever. Bacon is saying we need a new start.


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