|Poetry of reality
|We must know.
We will know.
|A view from the
shoulders of giants.
Francis Bacon (22 January 1561–9 April 1626) is
the absolute enemy of Muslims one of the founders of the scientific method.[note 1] Much of his fame as a scientist could be attributed to the circumstances of his death.
In 1626, he proposed the idea of preserving meat through the use of cold and caught pneumonia, supposedly during numerous experiments to test the idea in the cold winter streets of London, including eating a chicken stuffed with snow.
How many teeth hath a horse?
One of Bacon's more famous diatribes, at least according to legend, dealt with the way contemporary philosophers were more enamored of deductive discussion than they were of observation and experiment.
The gist of this story dealt with the unwillingness of the Learned to actually go out and count the number of teeth a horse had, preferring instead to argue about it and quote books on the subject.
... or maybe Roger Bacon wrote it a few centuries earlier. Both Bacons were men of science, and both doubtlessly tasted just as good on a cheeseburger.
Another amusing theory also credits him with writing most of Shakespeare's plays, though this is largely considered to be complete and utter bunk.
Nevertheless, Bacon was an author of some awful sonnets and it is speculated that he wrote some under the pseudonym William Shakespeare to cash in on the reputation the Bard was enjoying with Elizabeth I as his patron.
This theory is regarded to be rather more likely though all conspiracy theories surrounding Bacon and Shakespeare are more or less in the same league as those around Mozart and Salieri: pure speculation.
Science as rape
Bacon became notorious in feminist circles following a series of feminist analyses by Carolyn Merchant and Evelyn Fox Keller, later popularised and defended by Sandra Harding and Katharine Park, that claimed to show that Bacon expressed his ideas about scientific inquiry "in terms of a physically coercive relationship between male inquirer and female nature, expressed in metaphors of marital discipline, inquisition, and rape", according to Park. This is part of a wider debate on sexist language in scientific writing, taking in thinkers from Newton to Feyerabend, but Bacon is seen as the greatest example, advocating rape and torture in general, and the specific murder of witches.
The feminist critique of Bacon focuses on a few quotations such as "I have come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave" and "Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering and penetrating into those holes and corners when the inquisition of truth is his whole object."
Such criticisms of Bacon have been tackled in two ways. The first, weaker approach is to argue that rape metaphors in science do not necessarily say that science is like rape or rape is a good thing: Vickers argues that a metaphor involves both dissimilarity and similarity in saying that two different things are alike in some way; however Vickers does not prove that Bacon's metaphors have this structure. Soble is also dubious in saying that a women reader encountering a sexual metaphor could "could, if she wished, ignore it as irrelevant". This does not explain why a woman should tolerate such a metaphor, or consider the effect on a reader of repeatedly encountering such language. But are the metaphors really in Bacon anyway?
A more thorough defence of Bacon has been obtained through the old-fashioned liberal humanist practice of literary criticism, with several analyses of Bacon's writing showing that the alleged sexist language only occurs in a small sample of his text not directly related to science, and it doesn't clearly refer to rape anyway. "Penetrating holes" can have many meanings, and even if it might carry a sexual context that some people may find discomforting, that is far from advocating rape. Some interpretative issues arise because Bacon wrote in Latin, and Vickers shows that Merchant repeatedly either mistranslated Bacon or used the most extreme and violent translation possible even if it was unlikely to be the sense that Bacon actually meant. Herta Nagl-Docekal offers an analysis of Bacon's metaphors that separates out the idea of science as domination of nature and marriage as domination of woman, showing that the two concepts are distinct, and domination of nature can be benign or justifiable even if domination of woman is never. And he didn't actually believe in burning witches either.
- A few centuries previously, these procedures were being laid down in Islamic society (especially by Ibn al-Haytham), but they were largely ignored once the Middle East entered turmoil.
- The full text is here.
- "Francis Bacon, Feminist Historiography, and the Dominion of Nature", Brian Vickers, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan., 2008), pp. 117-141
- Soble, Alan Gerald (2003). “In Defence of Bacon”. In Scharff, R.C. and Dusek, V. (eds.) 2003, 451–466 (originally published in: A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodern Myths about Science, ed. Noretta Koretge, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, 195–215)
- "The Feminist Critique of Reason Revisited", Herta Nagl-Docekal, Hypatia, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Winter, 1999), pp. 49-76