Francis Bacon’s Idols as a form of relativism

11 de febrer de 2013 0

One must travel always through the forests of experience and particular things, in the uncertain light of the senses, which is sometimes shining and sometimes hidden

Francis Bacon, The New Organon

1. Introduction: Starting from scratch.

Francis Bacon’s oeuvre pivots on the idea of ‘starting from scratch.’ This involves the demolition of the current architecture of knowledge on the one hand, and, on the other, the laying out of a blueprint for another, new construction. With his theory of the Idols, Bacon destroys the former; with his method of induction and experimentation, he builds up the latter. The theory of the Idols works as a trigger for awareness of human’s self-deceiving conditions at the time, and the method of induction is meant to address these conditions successfully and from the start.

This is a very common narrative in early modern scientific thought. The demolition of the current authority seems to be the only way to put forth and try new ways, so much so that the scrutiny of the very idea of authority becomes a logical step. Be it Descartes’ methodological doubt, or the social shape of some of Bacon’s Idols, the quest for new ways of securing knowledge demands a complete evaluation of the available powers –both individual and collective, natural and conventional (i.e. species and culture)– of human understanding.

Furthermore, Bacon sets up his evaluative mechanism as a destructive mechanism. The state of science at the time in terms of practical solutions and the state of science in terms of intellectual activity are both sufficient proof of the inadequacy of the principles and assumptions of value behind their claims. Consistently, Bacon’s theory of Idols is not a reformist move, as if by solving some concrete failure, or by adding an ad hoc hypotheses, one could more or less hope for the paradigm to bring about results. Bacon’s aim, on the contrary, is to make clear that the whole system is corrupt at the root, and that thus it is completely impossible to lay out any truth claims or practical solutions, beyond strokes of luck.

In the first part of the Novum Organum, Bacon “pulls down” the causes of the limitations and mistakes of science by trying to refute the authority of natural human reason, the authority of syllogism and that of tradiotional philosophy. The radicality of starting from scratch is seen clearly in the fact that these three authorities together, as  described by him, cover the whole range of possible scientific authority at the time.

This radicality poses the question of skepticism: to what extent is knowledge possible at all? In order to start from scratch, then, this question must be regarded as reasonable. One can call into question the sincerity of Bacon’s attempt at destroying the authorities of his time. The fact that his main goal is to put forth a method for scientific inquiry and a system of validation, should make anyone suspicious about the profundity of a critique of human access to truth and reality. In the same manner that Descartes’ cogito and his reconstruction of legitimate rationalism seems to show that his previous methodological doubt was more ‘fabulous’ than serious, by taking a look at the limitations that Bacon’s destruction of authority forces on knowledge and its impact on the possibilities of a method and of truth, we should be able to see to what extent his destruction is just another form of cultural politics –a battle against intellectual rivals– or rather a form of engaging with the radicality of human lack of cognitive power.

 In order to elucidate this, we should take a close look at Bacon’s Idols.

According to the New Organon there are four kind of Idols: idols of the tribe, idols of the cave, idols of the marketplace and idols of the theater.

 The idols of the tribe ‘are founded on human nature itself and in the very tribe or race of mankind’. The idols of the cave are ‘the illusions of the individual man.’ For (…) each man has a kind of individual cave or cavern which fragments and distorts the light of nature.’ The idols of the marketplace ‘seem to arise by agreement and from men’s association with each other’, especially through the impact of the use of words on thought, which ‘incredibly obstructs the understanding.’ The idols of the Theater ‘have made their homes in men’s minds from the various dogmas of different philosophies, and even from mistaken rules of demonstration.’

There are several ways to classify Bacon’s idols. Tribe and cave, for example, focus more on human nature than on human nurture; while marketplace and theater put more weight on the social dimension of knowledge and the influence of consensus or education. Another way to classify them is to distinguish which parts of these idols affect the individual (cave), which affect the collective (marketplace, theater), and which affect the individual as part of the collective (tribe, marketplace); and so forth.

However, I think it more interesting to differentiate within each group of Idols in order to identify which aspect corresponds to a notion of man, an anthropology, as it were; and which corresponds to an account of how knowledge-validity works, a descriptive epistemology, as it were.  From this perspective, Bacon seems to hold a relativist anthropology and a skeptical opinion towards epistemology. If this characterization of Bacon’s thought were accurate, would it be  possible to build up a method from this positions? If not, does it mean that Bacon does not take seriously his own critiques? Are they just methodological fabulations? If some sort of method can be drawn from this perspective, what kind of method can it be? Let us see this in detail.

2. Knot: Anthropological Relativism

Bacon’s understanding of human nature in the New Organon is based on the possibility of accessing truth. This is why the distinction between his antropology, as I am calling it, and his epistemology is rather difficult to lay out. A description of the epistemological powers of mankind can be counted, generally speaking, within antropology. However, whereas epistemology hierarchizes human powers depending on their proximity to truthful knowledge, and thus focuses on operations, antropology is life-dependent, it puts human powers –and weaknesses– in relation to life and nature, and not to the possibility of truth. In this sense, and only in this sense, Plato’s epistemology, for example, is idealist, while his antropology is pessimistically skeptical –human senses are chains–, even in relation to science.

Because Bacon sees science as a social entreprise, because he envisions political actions that can ameliorate the conditions for a better science, and, especially, because Bacon bases his idea of a better society on a better science, his epistemology constitutes a central piece of his antropology. It is worth separating them, however, because each will condition different parts of his method, i.e., experimentation and exclusion-based induction. Let us try to see this distinction through his formulation of the Idols.

In the XLI aphorism of the New Organon, Bacon says of the first Idols, those of the tribe, that they are founded in human nature ‘itself’ and ‘in the very tribe or race of mankind’. It is difficult to see why these two things should be different. Are “human nature itself” and “the very tribe or race of mankind”, not the same? Bacon’s use of the word ‘itself’ in this context suggests that he is referring to human nature essentially, whereas the reference to mankind’s tribe or race could be taken to express a more existential take on the issue. Later on the book, Bacon says that the Idols of the tribe have their origin “either in the regularity of the substance of the human spirit; or in its prejudices; or in its limitations; or in its restless movement; or in the influence of the emotions; or in the limited powers of the senses; or in the mode of impression.”

 Again, ‘the regularity of the substance of the human spirit” is different from all the rest of possible origins exactly in the same manner that the essential-existential perspectives differ, even if Bacon himself would be reluctant to make use of this pair. In any case, regularity, substance, and spirit correspond to the ‘itself’ of human nature, while prejudices, limitations, movement, emotions, senses and impressions are traits of the tribe or race, that is, of the living development of human nature.  This distinction is important because Bacon will not mention the idea of human nature itself again in the New Organon. More explicitly, the expression ‘human nature’ will only be used twice, besides this time, much later on the book and with no relevance: in one case as something opposed to life, and in the other, as a synonym for biological limitation. The word ‘itself’ will appear more often, a little over one hundred times in the entire book, but almost always meaning ‘alone’: the power of a magnet in itself, for example, as opposed to the sum of different powers coming from different objects including the magnet.  This is consistent with Bacon’s general view on science and theology. The true knwoledge of forms becomes something very difficult, beyond the possibilities of his time, something that will come to be not before Bacon’s new method has been overcome by a new and better one, the offspring of the results that this New Organon will bring about. However, ‘forms’ are always to be understood materialistically, as laws of motion and change in the schematismus of matter: “for forms are figments of the human mind, unless one chooses to give the name of forms to these laws of act.”

From these reflections one can advance a hypothesis: when Bacon uses both the expression ‘human nature itself’ and ‘the tribe of mankind,’ he is saying that the illusions of the mind that correspond to the flock of humanity are not due only to application, history or a narrative about some sort of fall, but more radically, that human nature in its more conceptual purity is a flawed nature when it comes to knowledge, and, moreover, that the life-development of this nature is no solution, but a coherent failure. So: both the laws of act of the human mind, and its actual actions, nature itself and tribe, are flawed. Humans must be understood as relative to these limitations, to these illusions of the mind, to failure. In this same aphorism, Bacon says:

“The assertion that the human senses are the measure of things is false; to the contrary, all perceptions, both of sense and mind, are relative to man, not to the universe.”

If man were a god, this relativity would not matter much. Man would be the universe, so to speak. The fact that man, both as nature and as race, both as form and as existence, is flawed, means that the relativity of senses and mind to man’s nature is a double relativity: perceptions to man, and man to failure. Therefore, there is an epistemological account here, regarding empirical value and rational power, for sure, but also another, deeper claim that underlies it, namely, that man is a creature without standards to which to appeal; with a consciousness separate from the rest of nature; for whom everything that is, appears as a function of his nature, completely relative to his being and history. This is a step beyond epistemological skepticism because not only does it question the acts and powers that allow for some knowledge to be valid or not, it goes so far as to place the human being in a very specific space, a place of total contingency as a species. Humanity is a flawed perspective in ‘nature,’ an inescapable relativity.

Bacon finishes this rich aphorism by explicitly emphasizing the corruption of this relative perspective:

“The human understanding is like an uneven mirror receiving rays from things and merging its own nature with the nature of things, which thus distorts and corrupts it.”

The key word in this last statement is ‘uneven’. Bacon could have said that human understanding is like a mirror, and imply with this that it is a copy, a limited scope, an illusion, a projection. But he further qualifies the mirror: uneven. This is key because it implies that the mirror itself is neutral: it could be good, it could be bad, depending on its ‘evenness’, that is, depending on the craft. Plausibly, one could build a mirror or a lens to compensate for the distortion of the uneven mirror of human understaning, or, let us say, polish it to even out its surface. These two possibilities will be, exactly, Bacon’s way out. Experimentation will be the building up of a compensating mirror, induction based on exclusion will be the polishing up of the human mirror.

The Idols of the Cave go one step further in undermining human power, and posing its radical relativeness, bringing it down to the very individual. “For (apart from the aberrations of human nature in general) each man has a kind of individual cave or cavern which fragments and distorts the light of nature.” (BI, XLII). Like the Idols of the Tribe, those of the cave are illusions caused both by nature and nurture, but at an individual level. This means that there are differences between individuals that are constitutive and natural, and this is another reason why our knowledge is flawed. But there are also other differences, some dependent on culture, some on experience, that increase the differences and the distortions that the crooked mirror of each individual personifies. Everyone is a particular and unique way of being wrong, besides the fact that as a member of a flawed species, there is no natural way of being right. In sum, we are all wrong in our particular manner. It is interesting, however, that in both cases –tribe and cave–, Bacon puts together nature and experience. In the case of the cave, the list of things that cause individual illusions is longer and full of meaning:

This may happen either because of the unique and particular nature of each man; or because of his upbringing and the company he keeps; or because of his reading of books and the authority of those whom he respects and admires; or because of the different impressions things make on different minds, preoccupied and prejudiced perhaps, or calm and detached, and so on.

The only thing these causes have in common is the individual itself. The individual becomes a perspective (uniquely contaminated). From the epistemological view this is a nightmare: how can anyone describe a way to knowledge if everyone’s blind spots are different? Moreover, this difference is not described as if nature or truth were a shattered mirror, of which everyone possessed a piece, and that piece were her perspective, and thus by putting the pieces together in the correct manner one could eventually hope to obtain an entire image of whatever is reflected. Rather, Bacon’s take is even more detached from the reflection: nothing stops an individual from being profoundly incapable of gaining knwoledge, independently of her relation to everyone else. From the anthropological view, “the evident consequence is that the human spirit (in its different dispositions in different men) is a variable thing, quite irregular, almost haphazard.”

Variability, then, adds a layer to the relativity of human postion in respect to the truth of nature: the Idols of the tribe showed that nature-as-perceived was relative to man (collectively) and man to failure; the Idols of the cave add the individual layer, so that the apprehension of nature is relative to the individual independently, the individual is relative to the flock of mankind, and both the individual and the flock are relative to failure. The radicality of this detatchment brings another challenge to the task of thinking a method: not even an equal and good education would even out the unevenness of the human mirror, in the case such a thing were possible given the fundamental character of the human crookedness. Each individual would need a specific way to bridge the detachment.

Regarding the idols of the marketplace, for the purposes of this paper, what is relevant is the reference to language. These idols are fundamentally social in a very concrete, one-to-one, way. Bacon emphasizes the communitarian aspect of these idols (‘we take the name from human exchange and community’), but the central feature of this exchange and community is language, oral language to be precise. In the first place, verbal language is rendered as the main way for humans to associate, and due to the poverty and lack of skill of the code of common oral language, what appears as  the main instrument of association, –the very act of informally talking and exchanging impressions and ideas–, obstructs understanding (it does ‘violence’ to understanding, he says). However, here Bacon refers to the common use of words, which he considers imprecise. Apparently, this problem could be easily solved by a technicization of language. Educated people could eventually communicate ideas successfully, if only they had a rich and skillful code, made of good and precise definitions. It is easy to argue that this distinction already existed in Bacon’s time. The difference between common language and sophisticated philosophical or scientific language is not an invention of post-Baconian culture. What Bacon is saying, rather, is that the ubiquity of common language has an effect on understanding that goes beyond the lack of precision in a given conversation one could have at the markeplace. Understanding is damaged by the presence of language in our daily exchanges, that is, in the very existence of a community. The sociality of life, far from helping us to solve the loneliness of our individual mistakes, far from solving the fundamental crookedness of the human race, fosters yet another difficulty: by doing ‘violence’ to our understanding, it ‘confuses everything’, and not even the definitions and explanations of learned men restore the situation. Later, in aphorism LIX, Bacon states:

The idols of the marketplace are the biggest nuisance of all (…) For men believe that their reason controls words. But it is also true that words retort and turn their force back upon the understanding; and this has rendered philosophy and the sciences sophistic and unproductive. (…) And when a sharper understanding, or more careful observation, attempts to draw those lines more in accordance with nature, words resist. (…) But it would be wiser (in the prudent manner of the mathematicians) to begin with them, and to reduce them to order by means of definitions. However, in the things of nature and matter, these definitions cannot cure this fault. For the definitions themselves consist of words, and words beget words, so that it is necessary to have recourse to particular instances and their sequences and orders; as we shall explain soon when we deal with the method and manner of forming notions and axioms.

This aphorism is shocking for many reasons, not the least being the first statement: why are the Idols of the marketplace the biggest nuisance? Clearly because language, that is, ultimately, philosophy, is the only way out that one could expect after the two strikes of the idols of the tribe and cave. The first temptation the reader might have is to stop reading at all, after this. The dependence of human understanding upon language seems not only absolute, but also impossible to overcome. We are not facing here a deficiency of our language, as if we were forced to mend a historical problem, a lack of purity or of precision. No: here we are facing another fundamental problem. No matter how good our definitions are, words force their way into understanding and corrupt it. Language works as a vicious circle, and always ends up in a petitio principi: every attempt at overcoming it presupposes its imperfections, and there is no way out. The methods based on syllogism (thus the reference to mathematicians) are fundamentally wrong, not because they are imperfect, but rather because they belong to the same nature as idle talk at the marketplace. This is key: not only is there no qualitative difference that philosophy or logic can offer to save, via words, the unevenness of the mirror of human understanding, but they even add more problems and corruptions to it, maybe the ‘biggest’ of them.

Again, here we have an example of both epistemological and antropological accounts. Epistemologically, Bacon is showing a Gorgian skepticism towards communication: even if we knew something, it would be impossible to communicate it, and therefore we need another way to show what we know (“particular instances and their sequences and orders”). However, under the skin of this skepticism, there is a deeper account of human nature. The fragility of understanding is shown precisely in its dependence upon words, and the impact that words have when obstructing it. Humans are passively affected by exchange and community, so that not only do their natural failures impede knowledge, but also their place on earth, their life, throws them a set of new obstructions instead of helping them to overcome their limitations. In synthesis: perceptions of nature are relative to human beings and not to nature, human beings are subject to failure as a species, each individual is uniquely relative to a particular and intransferable set of failures, and when these individuals relate to each other culturally, the means they use, the form of these means, that is, their languages, does violence to their understanding and adds another obstruction to knowledge. The isolation is almost complete. What remedy is left to us to overcome this situation? Nothing more than the content of our talk, the theories that we come up with to bridge the distance between our nature and nature itself. Bacon will undermine this too with his Idols of the Theater; aphorism BI, XLIV:

Finally there are the illusions which have made their homes in men’s minds from the various dogmas of different philosophies, and even from mistaken rules of demonstration. (…) We are not speaking only of the philosophies and sects now in vogue or even of the ancient ones; many other such plays could be composed and concocted, seeing that the causes of their very different errors have a great deal in common.

It is only reasonable that, given the previous Idols, all cultural production and, specifically, all systematic accounts of reality, knowledge and truth be illusions, plays. And it’s reasonable too that Bacon here speaks of past and future philosophies, and calls them all dogmas. He actually includes in these Idols not only ‘universal philosophies, but also many principles and axioms of the sciences.’ Strictly speaking, it is difficult to see how it could be otherwise, and it also difficult to see how Bacon’s philosophy could be counted as an exception to this rule. Does it not have a great deal in common with the other philosophies, specifically what is contained in the Idols? Like all skepticisms and relativisms, Bacon’s accounts are self-affected. When Bacon develops these Idols of the Theater later on the book (BI, XLII), he states that there could be many more mistaken philosophies if it were not for the incentives against innovation that the dominion of religious discourse and the political power of the States have put in place over centuries. If innovation had been rewarded and not punished, many more mistaken philosophies would exist. This is consistent with the fact that given the Idols, all innovation is corrupted in principle, just as all tradition is. However, the rest of the explanation adds particular mistakes that the task of philosophizing and doing science have caused in the architecture of knowledge. Specifically, he says, “the root of errors and false philosophy is of three kinds: Sophistic, Empirical and Superstitious.”

These three roots are consistent with the previously stated limitations of human understanding. The limitations of our reasoning bring sophisms to science; the limitations and relativistic nature of our perceptions produce mistakes in our empirical philosophies, and the consensus of the marketplace, including language and education, gives authority to superstitions. However, Bacon does not argue in this manner. According to him, philosophy and science are sophistic when they “are diverted from experience by the variety of common phenomena, which have not been certainly understood or carefully examined and considered; they depend for the rest on reflection and intellectual exercise;” they are mistakenly empirical when philosophers “have laboured carefully and faithfully over a few experiments, and have had the temerity to tease out their philosophies from them and build them up; the rest they twist to fit that pattern in wonderful ways”; and they are superstitious when other philosophers “from faith and respect mingle theology and traditions; some of them have been unfortunately misled by vanity to try to derive sciences from Spirits and Genii.”

To some extent, this is contradictory: it is the first time in this process of destruction of authority that Bacon produces a sort of internal critique. These mistakes are not, in any sense, natural or antropological, not even skeptical. Bacon focuses on the operations that lead philosophers to mistakes, and criticizes them because they unwarrantedly advance knowledge to which they are not entitled. These are the first kind of Idols that are not relativisc in any sense whatsoever. It could be argued that the reference to the ‘experience of the variety of phenomena’ is linked to the Idols of the Tribe and of the Cave, but it is not really necessary: the truth is, even if the other three Idols did not exist at all, this critique would still hold argumentatively. Why is that so? Bacon needs a way out. After all, he never claims to be a skeptic or a relativist. On the contrary, although he praises several times the skepticism of the New Academy, he censures them for the fact that they go too far in their mistrust and lack of conviction. Skepticism, he claims, leads philosophy to a state in which men are turned ‘aside to agreeable discussions and discourses, and a kind of ambling around things, rather than sustain them in the sever path of inquiry”

After having undermined all possible authorities of the time, how, then, can he find a way to propose a new instrument for science? What strategy can he follow in order to overcome all the obstacles that he himself has placed in the way of knowledge? If human nature and human nurture are corrupted to the root, if reason, senses and tradition are not bridges to reality, what other alternative is left? At the end of this same aphorism on skepticism, Bacon repeats an idea present throughout this book: “as we have said from the beginning, and constantly maintain, we must not detract from the authority of the human senses and the human understanding and their deficiencies, but must find assistance for them.”

Here is the key: assistance. By definition, assistance is external. Therefore, what Bacon is trying to advance is something able to ‘even out’ the uneven mirror of the human understanding. This is exactly the nature of his method, a method that is not a method but an organon, that is, an instrument. What else, if not something external, could be of assistance to such a relative and crooked human capacity for gaining truth?

3. Conclusion: the instrument as proof

If we make a (brief) analysis of Bacon’s method under the light of the Idols, we will see that its most important features and even its style adapt perfectly to the anthropology I have tried to define throughout this paper.

The first thing that must be noted is the dynamism that his method shows. Bacon does not construct a closed system. On the contrary, he proposes a set of relations between contingent actions that go incessantly from particulars to universals and back to particulars, and then back to universals. This is a simplification: he actually stops in intermediate propositions, from which he goes up or down depending on the results. And he does so because he believes that both nature and understanding are fundamentally open questions.This is why Bacon focuses on practical results more than on theoretical or abstract achievements, and this is also why his results are always provisional.

There are basically two operations in Bacon’s method: experimentation and (true) induction, and then a set of intermediate strategies that link both back and forth, i.e., tables and priviledged instances. Consistently, Bacon claims that the problem of science and philosophy has been that either one trusts the senses completely and accumulates meaningless data or one trusts reason and from few or none data constructs marvellous systems that claim to have reached pure forms or universal axioms that are unwarranted and false. Bacon finds –as we have seen– that both of them are fundamentally flawed, but he also believes that, by combining the two in the proper way, one can compensate for some of the imperfections they show. Induction and experimentation are meant to aid the inquirer; the former, internally, to solve the Idols that he calls ‘artificial’, the latter, as prothesis to an absent limb, to ease the difficulties posed by the innate ones.The value of experimentation, Bacon says, is that the senses only judge the experiment, while the experiment judges nature.

The fact that he sees the value of experiments in this raises some problems (why should we trust our perceptions when judging the experiment and not when judging nature?), but it also expresses something central in his anthropology and epistemology: the truth is found where the human powers cannot go. There is a separation between what humans can observe and what they can discover. Science based on observation alone carries the flaws of human nature, science that aknowledges this separation and tries to bridge it by means of external aids, can render some data that, properly processed, might bring better results. Human senses and reason, and natural observation do not show the regularities and instances that make possible the outcropping of axioms, principles and laws of nature. The second feature of this stress on experiments is the emergence of ‘scientia operativa’, which focuses on the know-how more than on the why of things. Technical know-how facilitates operations and experiments, which, at their turn, lead to knowledge. The main goal of learning how nature works is to create unnatural conditions able to unveil natural behaviours. However, when Bacon talks about results he specifically refers to power: he envisions an ‘illuminating’ science able to put human beings in control of the operations of nature, rather than in possession of eternal truths. Experimentation, then, compiles a set of virtues –separation, data on particulars and know-how–, that express the fundamental contingency of human nature as posited in the Idols. Actually, by focusing on experiments and know-how Bacon can then offer a form of induction that is not based on the comparision between mind and world, but a comparision between act and act, experiment and experiment, so that the flaws of human nature can cancel out each other.

Regarding induction, Bacon shows again his dependency on the detachedness of human powers for knowledge in that he proposes a substitution of deduction and syllogism as they were understood up until his time, for his induction on the basis that a) they do not add any new information, since they are just analytical and b) they presupose a previous knowledge of causes and axioms that are impossible to assert a priori. His preference for induction also shows his courage in facing the impossible. The impossibility of a true induction that gives birth to true universals is one of the main setbacks of Western logic, beginning with Aristotle and ending with scholasticism, in Bacon’s time. Bacon is perfectly aware of this, and yet, he understands that a true science that aims at finding new knowledge must find a way to induce from particulars to laws. But, far from building up a complicated justification of universals, he proposes a form of induction that has two main characteristics: negativity and provisionality.

Bacon’s Tables of existence and presence, (based on obervation), tables of absence (based on exclusion and redundance) and tables of degrees and comparison (based on experiment) do not really work as induction, they combine different micro-deductions and micro-inductions and a form of falsification. What Bacon tries to identify here is a remnant truth. As with the case of experiments canceling out the separatedness of human understanding, by working out a system of exclusion Bacon tries to gain advantage from the only affirmation that –he seems to believe– human beings can put forth: what is not. And only after all the negations have destroyed all the false affirmations, one can claim to have found something.

However, this something is only provisional. The way Bacon’s tables work, every time new data is introduced, the outcome might vary. This implies that all results gain value the more data is introduced, and that one must take every round of results just as a way of learning how to get new results, what new data must be entered in the tables, and so on. This provisionality signals that when Bacon talks about ‘true induction’ he means ‘never definitive induction’. The variation in results over time is parallel to both the variability of phenomena and the variability of human spirit (as we have seen above): it is a way of working out three circles of contingency to try and find some provisional regularities.

Consistently, these results are not the only provisional feature in Bacon’s method. The very method is also provisional. Bacon envisions a future in which the new findings obtained with his method correct the method itself and maybe, he promises, at the end there might be permanent truths about forms. Even the style of this New Organon, written in aphorisms, is testimony of this fundamental openness that he states at every step, not to mention the fact that his project itself is inconclusive, partly due to the enormity of the project, but partly because the internal dynamism of his method precludes any possibility of reaching the last word on scientific matters.

In sum, Bacon’s understanding of human nature as shown in his Theory of the Idols, shows a sort of relativistic anthropology. The fact that his method is fundamentally open, provisional, contingent and based on imperfection and detachedness, is proof that, –although he never claimed to be skeptic or relativistic in any way, and that he fought the hopelessness of these worldviews–, when thinking a possible and pragmatic way of obtaining knowledge, both in his understanding of what a method should be and which kind of results one might expect, this antropology is always present in his mind.

Darrers articles

Per què deixo d’escriure a l’Ara

Avui he comunicat a direcció i propietat que deixo de col·laborar al diari Ara. Deixo d’escriure a l’Ara perquè la propietat ha decidit que no es publicaran els anuncis que criden a votar en el referèndum de l’1 d’Octubre. Després que alguns accionistes, la redacció i alguns col·laboradors haguem expressat el nostre desacord, sembla que […]

Els nois dels encàrrecs

(L’ARA m’ha informat que no poden publicar aquest article per “no fer campanya a favor d’una candidatura a través dels col·laboradors.” Per això el penjo aquí.) Una generació és sobretot un projecte. Però conec un paio de la meva generació que ha escrit resolucions parlamentàries —de les “històriques”— perquè no hi havia cap diputat amb […]

Feixisme antisistema

(publicat a La Vanguardia l’11 d’Octubre del 2016). El debat de diumenge a la nit es pot resumir amb tres titulars. Clinton va guanyar-lo. Trump va sobreviure a l’espiral destructiva dels darrers dies. I el debat va ser violent i denigrant. Però també es van poder veure els dos debats de fons que divideixen el […]

  • Cerca