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25. Bacon

STEPHEN GAUKROGER


Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631219088.2002.00030.x


Extract

Bacon was brought up in a Renaissance humanist context, and was employed throughout his life in senior legal positions in government, ending up as Lord Chancellor, until his impeachment in 1621. Humanist education centred upon rhetoric, and it was rhetoric and the law that guided his thought. What was unusual about his application of precepts learned from rhetoric and law to natural philosophy was that he used them to propose a fundamental reform of philosophy. Philosophy as a discipline was at a low ebb in sixteenth-and early seventeenth-century England. A contrast was often drawn in classical terms between the life of contemplation ( otium ) and the life of practical, productive activity ( negotium ), and there was a decisive shift in favour of the latter in sixteenth-century England. There was a stress on practical questions, and the practical uses of learning, and philosophy was widely regarded as a useless discipline which fostered argument for its own sake, never getting anywhere and never producing anything of value. Moreover, morality was widely seen as the key philosophical topic (following the Ciceronian model current in Renaissance Europe generally), and a number of Elizabethan thinkers, most notably the poet Sir Philip Sidney, were arguing that poetry was superior to philosophy in that philosophy could only discourse on the nature of goodness, whereas poetry could actually ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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