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A Budget of Paradoxes, Volume I by De Morgan

If he had waited for the Novum Organum


The

immortal Harvey, who was _inventing_--we use the word in its old sense--the circulation of the blood, while {79} Bacon was in the full flow of thought upon his system, may be trusted to say whether, when the system appeared, he found any likeness in it to his own processes, or what would have been any help to him, if he had waited for the _Novum Organum_. He said of Bacon, "He writes philosophy like a Lord Chancellor." This has been generally supposed to be only a sneer at the _sutor ultra crepidam_; but we cannot help suspecting that there was more intended by it. To us, Bacon is eminently the philosopher of _error prevented_, not of _progress facilitated_. When we throw off the idea of being _led right_, and betake ourselves to that of being _kept from going wrong_, we read his writings with a sense of their usefulness, his genius, and their probable effect upon purely experimental science, which we can be conscious of upon no other supposition. It amuses us to have to add that the part of Aristotle's logic of which he saw the value was the book on _refutation of fallacies_. Now is this not the notion of things to which the bias of a practised lawyer might lead him? In the case which is before the Court, generally speaking, truth lurks somewhere about the facts, and the elimination of all error will show it in the residuum. The two senses of the word _law_ come in so as to look almost like a play upon words. The judge can apply the law so soon as the facts are settled: the physical
philosopher has to deduce the law from the facts. Wait, says the judge, until the facts are determined: did the prisoner take the goods with felonious intent? did the defendant give what amounts to a warranty? or the like. Wait, says Bacon, until all the facts, or all the obtainable facts, are brought in: apply my rules of separation to the facts, and the result shall come out as easily as by ruler and compasses. We think it possible that Harvey might allude to the legal character of Bacon's notions: we can hardly conceive so acute a man, after seeing what manner of writer Bacon was, meaning only that he was a lawyer and had better stick to his business. We do ourselves believe that Bacon's philosophy {80} more resembles the action of mind of a common-law judge--not a Chancellor--than that of the physical inquirers who have been supposed to follow in his steps. It seems to us that Bacon's argument is, there can be nothing of law but what must be either perceptible, or mechanically deducible, when all the results of law, as exhibited in phenomena, are before us. Now the truth is, that the physical philosopher has frequently to conceive law which never was in his previous thought--to educe the unknown, not to choose among the known. Physical discovery would be very easy work if the inquirer could lay down his this, his that, and his t'other, and say, "Now, one of these it must be; let us proceed to try which." Often has he done this, and failed; often has the truth turned out to be neither this, that, nor t'other. Bacon seems to us to think that the philosopher is a judge who has to choose, upon ascertained facts, which of known statutes is to rule the decision: he appears to us more like a person who is to write the statute-book, with no guide except the cases and decisions presented in all their confusion and all their conflict.

Let us take the well-known first aphorism of the _Novum Organum_:

"Man being the servant and interpreter of nature, can do and understand so much, and so much only, as he has observed in fact or in thought of the course of nature: beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything."


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