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Sir Francis Bacon was the outstanding apostle of Renaissance empiricism. Less an original metaphysician or cosmologist than the advocate of a vast new program for the advancement of learning and the reformation of scientific method, Bacon conceived of philosophy as a new technique…. Bacon was born January 22, , at York House off the Strand, London, the younger of the two sons of the lord keeper, Sir Nicholas Bacon , by his second marriage.
Nicholas Bacon, born in comparatively humble circumstances, had risen to become lord keeper of the great seal. From to Bacon was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, but his weak constitution caused him to suffer ill health there. He was recalled abruptly after the sudden death of his father, who left him relatively little money.
Bacon remained financially embarrassed virtually until his death. Even as successful a legal career as this, however, did not satisfy his political and philosophical ambitions.
In came a setback to his political hopes: Elizabeth took offense, and Bacon was in disgrace during several critical years when there were chances for legal advancement. Meanwhile, sometime before July , Bacon had become acquainted with Robert Devereux, the young earl of Essex, who was a favourite of the queen, although still in some disgrace with her for his unauthorized marriage to the widow of Sir Philip Sidney.
Essex did his best to mollify the queen, and when the office of attorney general fell vacant, he enthusiastically but unsuccessfully supported the claim of Bacon. Other recommendations by Essex for high offices to be conferred on Bacon also failed.
Essex bore him no ill will and shortly after his release was again on friendly terms with him. This, however, was heavily altered by others before publication. It is a coherent piece of self-justification, but to posterity it does not carry complete conviction , particularly since it evinces no personal distress.
He pointed to his concern for Irish affairs, the union of the kingdoms, and the pacification of the church as proof that he had much to offer the new king. Through the influence of his cousin Robert Cecil, Bacon was one of the new knights dubbed in The following year he was confirmed as learned counsel and sat in the first Parliament of the new reign in the debates of its first session.
He was also active as one of the commissioners for discussing a union with Scotland. In the autumn of he published his Advancement of Learning , dedicated to the king, and in the following summer he married Alice Barnham, the daughter of a London alderman.
In he seems to have written The New Atlantis , his far-seeing scientific utopian work, which did not get into print until It was Bacon who examined Coke when the king ordered the judges to be consulted individually and separately in the case of Edmond Peacham, a clergyman charged with treason as the author of an unpublished treatise justifying rebellion against oppression. Bacon has been reprobated for having taken part in the examination under torture of Peacham, which turned out to be fruitless.
It was Bacon who instructed Coke and the other judges not to proceed in the case of commendams i. It would appear that he became honestly fond of Villiers; many of his letters betray a feeling that seems warmer than timeserving flattery. It displays the multiplicity of his concerns: Between and he prepared at least 12 drafts of his most-celebrated work, the Novum Organum , and wrote several minor philosophical works.
The major occupation of these years must have been the management of James, always with reference, remote or direct, to the royal finances. The king relied on his lord chancellor but did not always follow his advice. Bacon was longer sighted than his contemporaries and seems to have been aware of the constitutional problems that were to culminate in civil war; he dreaded innovation and did all he could, and perhaps more than he should, to safeguard the royal prerogative.
But Bacon had his enemies. In he fell foul of George Villiers when he tried to interfere in the marriage of the daughter of his old enemy, Coke, and the younger brother of Villiers. Then, in , two charges of bribery were raised against him before a committee of grievances over which he himself presided.
The shock appears to have been twofold because Bacon, who was casual about the incoming and outgoing of his wealth, was unaware of any vulnerability and was not mindful of the resentment of two men whose cases had gone against them in spite of gifts they had made with the intent of bribing the judge.
The blow caught him when he was ill, and he pleaded for extra time to meet the charges, explaining that genuine illness, not cowardice, was the reason for his request. Meanwhile, the House of Lords collected another score of complaints.
Bacon admitted the receipt of gifts but denied that they had ever affected his judgment; he made notes on cases and sought an audience with the king that was refused. Unable to defend himself by discriminating between the various charges or cross-examining witnesses, he settled for a penitent submission and resigned the seal of his office, hoping that this would suffice. Bacon commented to Buckingham: Bacon did not have to stay long in the Tower, but he found the ban that cut him off from access to the library of Charles Cotton , an English man of letters, and from consultation with his physician more galling.
He came up against an inimical lord treasurer, and his pension payments were delayed. Despite all this his courage held, and the last years of his life were spent in work far more valuable to the world than anything he had accomplished in his high office. Cut off from other services, he offered his literary powers to provide the king with a digest of the laws, a history of Great Britain, and biographies of Tudor monarchs.
He prepared memorandums on usury and on the prospects of a war with Spain; he expressed views on educational reforms; he even returned, as if by habit, to draft papers of advice to the king or to Buckingham and composed speeches he was never to deliver. Some of these projects were completed, and they did not exhaust his fertility. Also in he published the De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum , a Latin translation, with many additions, of the Advancement of Learning. He also corresponded with Italian thinkers and urged his works upon them.
In a third and enlarged edition of his Essayes was published. Bacon in adversity showed patience, unimpaired intellectual vigour, and fortitude.
Finally, in March , driving one day near Highgate a district to the north of London and deciding on impulse to discover whether snow would delay the process of putrefaction, he stopped his carriage, purchased a hen, and stuffed it with snow.
Bacon appears as an unusually original thinker for several reasons. In the first place he was writing, in the early 17th century, in something of a philosophical vacuum so far as England was concerned. The last great English philosopher, William of Ockham , had died in , two and a half centuries before the Advancement of Learning ; the last really important philosopher, John Wycliffe , had died not much later, in The 15th century had been intellectually cautious and torpid, leavened only by the first small importations of Italian humanism by such cultivated dilettantes as Humphrey Plantagenet, duke of Gloucester, and John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester.
But that initiative succumbed to the ecclesiastical frenzies of the age. Philosophy did not revive until Richard Hooker in the s put forward his moderate Anglican version of Thomist rationalism in the form of a theory of the Elizabethan church settlement.
This happened a few years before Bacon began to write. In England three systems of thought prevailed in the late 16th century: Aristotelian Scholasticism, scholarly and aesthetic humanism, and occultism. The Christian humanist tradition of Petrarch, Lorenzo Valla , and, more recently, of Erasmus was an active force.
In contrast to orthodox asceticism, this tradition, in some aspects, inclined to glorify the world and its pleasures and to favour the beauty of art, language, and nature, while remaining comparatively indifferent to religious speculation. Attraction to the beauty of nature, however, if it did not cause was at any rate combined with neglect and disdain for the knowledge of nature.
Educationally it fostered the sharp separation between the natural sciences and the humanities that has persisted ever since. The third important current of thought in the world into which Bacon was born was that of occultism, or esotericism, that is, the pursuit of mystical analogies between man and the cosmos, or the search for magical powers over natural processes, as in alchemy and the concoction of elixirs and panaceas. Although its most famous exponent, Paracelsus, was German, occultism was well rooted in England, appealing as it did to the individualistic style of English credulity.
Robert Fludd , the leading English occultist, was an approximate contemporary of Bacon. Like that of the humanists it was inspired by Plato , at least to some extent, but by another part of his thought, namely its cosmology. Nicholas of Cusa and Bruno were highly speculative, but Telesio and, up to a point, Campanella affirmed the primacy of sense perception. In a way that Bacon was later to elaborate formally and systematically, they held knowledge of nature to be a matter of extrapolating from the findings of the senses.
But although he was less metaphysically adventurous than they were, he shared with them the conviction that the human mind is fitted for knowledge of nature and must derive it from observation, not from abstract reasoning.
Its first part, De Augmentis Scientiarum , appeared in and is an expanded, Latinized version of his earlier work the Advancement of Learning , published in the first really important philosophical book to be written in English. The De Augmentis Scientiarum contains a division of the sciences, a project that had not been embarked on to any great purpose since Aristotle and, in a smaller way, since the Stoics.
This is what Bacon believed to be his most important contribution and is the body of ideas with which his name is most closely associated. The fields of possible knowledge having been charted in De Augmentis Scientiarum , the proper method for their cultivation was set out in Novum Organum. Third, there is natural history, the register of matters of observed natural fact, which is the indispensable raw material for the inductive method.
Sixth and finally, there is the new philosophy, or science itself, seen by Bacon as a task for later generations armed with his method, advancing into all the regions of possible discovery set out in the Advancement of Learning.
The wonder is not so much that Bacon did not complete this immense design but that he got as far with it as he did. In the first book of Novum Organum Bacon discusses the causes of human error in the pursuit of knowledge. Aristotle had discussed logical fallacies, commonly found in human reasoning, but Bacon was original in looking behind the forms of reasoning to underlying psychological causes. Bacon distinguishes four idols, or main varieties of proneness to error.
The idols of the tribe are certain intellectual faults that are universal to mankind, or, at any rate, very common. One, for example, is a tendency toward oversimplification, that is, toward supposing, for the sake of tidiness, that there exists more order in a field of inquiry than there actually is.
Another is a propensity to be overly influenced by particularly sudden or exciting occurrences that are in fact unrepresentative. The idols of the cave are the intellectual peculiarities of individuals.
One person may concentrate on the likenesses, another on the differences, between things. One may fasten on detail, another on the totality. The idols of the marketplace are the kinds of error for which language is responsible. It has always been a distinguishing feature of English philosophy to emphasize the unreliable nature of language, which is seen, nominalistically, as a human improvisation.
Nominalists argue that even if the power of speech is given by God, it was Adam who named the beasts and thereby gave that power its concrete realization. But language, like other human achievements, partakes of human imperfections. Bacon was particularly concerned with the superficiality of distinctions drawn in everyday language, by which things fundamentally different are classed together whales and fishes as fish, for example and things fundamentally similar are distinguished ice, water, and steam.
But he was also concerned, like later critics of language, with the capacity of words to embroil men in the discussion of the meaningless as, for example, in discussions of the deity Fortune.
The fourth and final group of idols is that of the idols of the theatre, that is to say mistaken systems of philosophy in the broadest, Baconian sense of the term, in which it embraces all beliefs of any degree of generality.
He speaks, for example, of the vain affectations of the humanists, but they were not a very apt subject for his criticism. Humanists were really anti-philosophers who not unreasonably turned their attention to nonphilosophical matters because of the apparent inability of philosophers to arrive at conclusions that were either generally agreed upon or useful. Bacon does have something to say about the skeptical philosophy to which humanists appealed when they felt the need for it.
Insofar as skepticism involves doubts about deductive reasoning , he has no quarrel with it. Insofar as it is applied not to reason but to the ability of the senses to supply the reason with reliable premises to work from, he brushes it aside too easily./p>
There is such a thing as divine philosophy what was later called rational, or natural, theology , but its sole task and competence is to prove that there is a God.
Bacon acknowledges something he calls first philosophy , which is secular but not confined to nature or to society. It is concerned with the principles, such as they are, that are common to all the sciences. To subdivide still further, natural science is made up of physics and metaphysics , as Bacon understands it. Physics, in his interpretation, is the science of observable correlations; metaphysics is the more theoretical science of the underlying structural factors that explains observable regularities.
Each has its practical, or technological, partner; that of physics is mechanics, that of metaphysics, natural magic. It is to the latter that one must look for the real transformation of the human condition through scientific progress. Mechanics is just levers and pulleys. Mathematics is seen by Bacon as an auxiliary to natural science. Many subsequent philosophers of science would agree, understanding it to be a logical means of expressing the content of scientific propositions or of extracting part of that content.
But Bacon is not clear about how mathematics was to be of service to science and does not realize that the Galilean physics developing in his own lifetime was entirely mathematical in form.
Although one of his three inductive tables is concerned with correlated variations in degree while the others concern likenesses and differences in kind , he really has no conception of the role, already established in science, of exact numerical measurement.
Bacon is unreflectively conventional about moral truth, content to rely on the deliverances of the long historical sequence of moralists, undisturbed by their disagreements with one another. Bacon represents civil philosophy in the same uninquiringly practical way. In principle, Bacon is committed to the view that human beings and society are as well fitted for inductive, and, in 20th-century terms, scientific study as the natural world. Yet he depicts human and social studies as the field of nothing more refined than common sense.
It was, of course, an achievement to extricate them from religion, and to do so without unnecessary provocation. But in his conception they remain practical arts with no sustaining body of scientific theory to ratify them. In his writings on history and law he went beyond the commonplaces of chronicle and precedent and engaged in explanation and theory. The defect of all previous systems of beliefs about nature, he argued, lay in the inadequate treatment of the general propositions from which the deductions were made.
Either they were the result of precipitate generalization from one or two cases, or they were uncritically assumed to be self-evident on the basis of their familiarity and general acceptance. The crucial point, Bacon realized, is that induction must work by elimination not, as it does in common life and the defective scientific tradition, by simple enumeration. What survives this eliminative screening, Bacon assumes, may be taken to be true. Bacon presents tables of presence, of absence, and of degree.
Tables of presence contain a collection of cases in which one specified property is found. They are then compared to each other to see what other properties are always present.
Any property not present in just one case in such a collection cannot be a necessary condition of the property being investigated. Second, there are tables of absence, which list cases that are as alike as possible to the cases in the tables of presence except for the property under investigation. Any property that is found in the second case cannot be a sufficient condition of the original property. Finally, in tables of degree proportionate variations of two properties are compared to see if the proportion is maintained.
Bacon rightly showed some hesitation in arriving at the goal he had prescribed for himself, namely constructing a method that would yield general propositions about substantial matters of natural fact that were certain and beyond reasonable doubt. But he hesitated for an insufficient, secondary reason.
There are, however, more serious difficulties. An obvious one is that Bacon assumed both that every property natural science can investigate actually has some other property which is both its necessary and sufficient condition a very strong version of determinism and also that the conditioning property in each case is readily discoverable.
This point is implied by critics who have accused Bacon of failing to recognize the indispensable role of hypotheses in science. In general he adopted a naive and unreflective view about the nature of causes, ignoring their possible complexity and plurality pointed out by John Stuart Mill as well as the possibility that they could be at some distance in space and time from their effects. The science that came to glorious maturity in his own century was concerned with change, and, in particular, with motion, as is the natural science of the 20th century.
It was with this aspect of the natural world that mathematics, whose role Bacon did not see, came so fruitfully to grips. The conception of a scientific research establishment, which Bacon developed in his utopia , The New Atlantis , may be a more important contribution to science than his theory of induction. Here the idea of science as a collaborative undertaking, conducted in an impersonally methodical fashion and animated by the intention to give material benefits to mankind, is set out with literary force.
Similarly his reflections on law, in De Augmentis Scientiarum and in Maxims of the Law Part I of The Elements of the Common Lawes of England , are genuine jurisprudence, not the type of commentary informed by precedent with which most jurists of his time were content. In politics Bacon was as anxious to detach the state from religion as he was to disentangle science from it—both concerns being indicative of very little positive enthusiasm for religion, despite the formal professions of profound respect convention extracted from him.
He had no patience with the inanities of divine right with which James I was infatuated. There is no reason to question this assessment in its fundamentals. It was a hard world for someone in his situation to cut a good figure in, and he did not try to do so. The grimly practical style of his personality is reflected in the particular service he was able to provide of showing a purely secular mind of the highest intellectual power at work. No one who wrote so well could have been insensitive to art.
But no one before him had ever quite so uncompromisingly excluded art from the cognitive domain. Kant , rather surprisingly for one so concerned to limit science in order to make room for faith, dedicated the Critique of Pure Reason to him.
Darwin undoubtedly thought so. In the 17th century the chief inventions that flowed from science were of instruments that enabled science to progress further.
Today Bacon is best known among philosophers as the symbol of the idea, widely held to be mistaken, that science is inductive.
Although there is more to his thought than that, it is, indeed, central; but even if it is wrong, it is as well to have it so boldly and magnificently presented. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles.
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Learn More in these related Britannica articles: He called for a new science, to be based on organized and collaborative experiment with a systematic recording of results.
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Effect of religion and science on early Stuart prose. In the Advancement of Learning and the Novum Organum , Bacon visualized a great synthesis of knowledge,….
His tenure of office had lasted for no less than eighteen years, and he was personally respected by both parties, so that his death was one more blow to the cause of peace. Five days later, after sending a deputation to Windsor to verify the king's helpless incapacity, the lords declared York "protector and defender of the realm"; he obtained all the powers, if not the actual name, of regent. He at once installed his friends in power, appointing his brother-in-law, Salisbury , chancellor; it was forty-four years since a layman had held the post.
Salisbury's young son, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick , was admitted to the privy council. Somerset 's post as governor of Calais was taken over by the protector himself, but the duke was not brought to trial as the extreme Yorkists demanded; the protector was content with keeping him safe in the Tower. This was part of York's policy of moderation; for the sixteen months that King Henry remained imbecile, he refrained from crushing his enemies, though he took care that his friends should be rewarded.
His conduct with regard to the succession to the crown was scrupulously correct; not a word was said about his own possible claims, and the rights of the Prince of Wales were acknowledged without hesitation. It would seem that Richard's ambition was satisfied by the prospect of the long regency that lay before him.
His main attention was directed to enforcing order in the realm: It was an immense relief to England that there were no longer any outlying garrisons in Normandy or Guienne crying aloud for succour. The protector's troubles were from domestic matters; he discovered that several lords of Somerset 's faction were busy in framing confederacies and collecting stores of arms.
This was especially the case in the north, where the Duke of Exeter and the Percies were openly hiring men-at-arms and circulating proclamations. But when York paid a visit to the parts beyond Trent in June, they dared not offer open opposition; Exeter, though he had taken sanctuary, was arrested and put in ward at Pontefract Castle. The Percies retired to their own estates, and temporised for the moment. Just as there appeared to be some prospect of order and good governance being restored, the king suddenly recovered from his fit of insanity at Christmas, This was the most unlucky of chances; the moment that he had come to himself, greeted his wife and acknowledged his son, Prince Edward, he proceeded to undo all the work of the last sixteen months.
York's protectorship, of course, came to an end. Not contented with this, the king proceeded to dismiss the ministers who had served under York, not only Salisbury , the new chancellor, but the Earl of Worcester who had held the treasury since , and so was not one of the protector's nominees.
Somerset was released from the Tower and restored to the captaincy of Calais. Exeter was liberated from his prison at Pontefract. If matters had gone no further than this, it is possible that Richard of York might have accepted the situation.
But the queen and Somerset showed themselves determined to push their triumph to the uttermost. In May they summoned a council, to which neither York , Warwick , Salisbury , nor any other adherent of their cause, was invited. This body issued a summons for a great council—not a parliament—to meet at Leicester "for the purpose of providing for the safety of the king's person against his enemies".
The Yorkists had given no excuse for any such proceedings; they had been living quietly on their estates since their dismissal from office.
But when thus challenged they were ready to take up the gage, and to fight for their lives. The moment that the summons to the council at Leicester was published, York, who lay at his castle of Sandal, called in his brother-in-law Salisbury to council; they armed their Yorkshire tenants and marched south, hoping to gather in friends on the way.
But of all their adherents, only the young Warwick and Lord Clinton had joined them before the crisis came. Norfolk , who was collecting a great force in East Anglia for their succour, was just a day late for the battle. The movements of the rebel army were rapid. On May 20 it had reached Royston, on the 21st it was at Ware, close to London. At Royston the duke issued a manifesto directed to the Archbishop of Canterbury , explaining that he had been forced to take arms by the proclamation summoning the council at Leicester, seeing that he and his friends were the "mistrusted persons" against whom that document declared that action must be taken.
From Ware he wrote another letter to the king himself, couched in laboriously apologetic terms, to the effect that he and his kinsmen were "coming in grace as true and humble liegemen, to declare and show at large their loyalty," but that they must demand instant admission to his noble presence, to the intent that they might convince him of the "sinister, fraudulent, and malicious labours and reports of their enemies.
He had at once directed his friends from all the parts of the realm to concentrate on Leicester. Although they mustered less than 3, bows and bills, the number of great magnates present was imposing. They left London on their way to Leicester on May 21, slept that night at Watford, and had just reached St. Albans when they heard that York was close at hand. Somerset resolved to take up a defensive position, rightly believing that his adversaries had the advantage in numbers. Albans was a long straggling place, destitute of wall or gates; but he hastily barricaded all its outlets, and drew up his army under cover of the line of houses which formed the eastern part of the town.
The royal standard was pitched in St. Peter's Street, the main thoroughfare. A long parley preceded the opening of hostilities. When he saw York 's army, cautiously advancing from the east, the king sent out the Duke of Buckingham to demand of his cousin why he had appeared in arms against his natural lord.
Richard replied in words of effusive loyalty, but ended by demanding that Somerset should be arrested and tried for treason. He would not be put off with promises that justice should be done, remembering the oaths sworn to him in which had never been kept.
When this message was brought back by Buckingham the king, abandoning for once his accustomed mildness of speech, burst out into angry words. Rather than surrender any of the lords who were with him that day he would risk his own life in their quarrel. He would make an example of the traitors who had dared to raise a host against him in his own land. Edward and the crown of England, I will destroy them, every mother's son.
He declared that when their master refused them all reform, would not listen to their petitions, and threatened them with the traitor's shameful death, they had no alternative but to defend themselves by force of arms against the cruel malice of their enemies.
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