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Bacon, Francis, Viscount St Albans

scientific method science sea

(1561–1626) English statesman and natural philosopher: advocate of inductive method in science.

Son of a statesman and courtier, Bacon was trained in law to follow the same path; with much effort and little scruple, he succeeded and held office under James I, finally becoming Lord High Chancellor in 1618. Convicted of taking bribes, he was banished from Court and office in 1621.

His views of scientific method were influential and were expressed in a series of books and essays. He criticized and the deductive method and advocated ‘induction’, in which emphasis is on the exhaustive collection of scientific data (with careful choice and the exclusion of extraneous items) until general causes and conclusions emerge almost mechanically; Bacon was antagonistic to imaginative speculation. His ideas were certainly influential in science and probably even more in philosophy. His personality was unattractive and his writings abstruse, but his confidence that nature could be understood and even controlled was important, and as a critic and a prophet his role in the scientific development of the following centuries is significant. His own direct scientific work was limited; the best example is his conclusion on the nature of heat, which by argument and thought-experiments he decided was ‘an expansive motion restrained, and striving to exert itself in the smaller particles’. Ahead of his time, he suggested in The Great Instauration (1620) that marine science be developed, including study of ‘the Ebbs and Flows of the Sea … its Saltness, its various Colours, its Depth; also of Rocks, Mountains and Vallies under the Sea and the like’.

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