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The Four Idols of Francis Bacon: Modern Examples

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Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is considered to be the founder of English empiricism. He belonged to a noble English family. Bacon’s father was a major dignitary – the guardian lord of the great royal seal. Bacon spent his young years in France, where he witnessed the struggle between Catholics and Huguenots. Returning to England, he began to pursue a political career, first as a lawyer, and then as a member of the House of Commons, lived at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, formulated many ideas that are still repeated by psychologists and cognitive science experts.

In the treatise The New Organon, or True Instructions for the Interpretation of Nature, Bacon speaks of the need to revise and restore the sciences, laying the foundations for the scientific method that we are familiar with today. And there he talks about the difficulties faced by anyone who seeks to explain the world and the ways of knowing even rational and enlightened people encounter many obstacles. He called these obstacles idols or ghosts – from the word ‘idolum’, which in the Greek language meant. This emphasizes that we are talking about hassle, illusions – about what really is not.

Idols of the Tribe

Generic idols” are, according to Bacon, delusions that “find their foundation in the very nature of man.” It would be a mistake to assume that the world is exactly the way it is seen by our senses. “It is false to say that human feelings are a measure of things,” writes Bacon. But the experience that we get when communicating with the external environment is also interpreted, which also creates inevitable errors. The human mind in the New Organon is compared with an uneven mirror, which adds its own errors to reflected things, distorting nature.

The idea that our perception is relative was subsequently developed by many scientists and formed a modern understanding of the sciences of man and nature. The observer’s figure influences the interpretation of famous quantum experiments, be it the Schroрdinger cat or the experiment of Klaus Jensonoms with electron diffraction. The study of subjectivity and individual human experiences is the main theme in culture since the twentieth century.

Bacon notes that all people have delusions of a ‘tribal’ nature: they are called so because they are peculiar to all of us as a species, and there is no escape from this baggage of our own nature. But the philosopher – a person who follows the path of knowledge – can, at a minimum, realize this nature and make a discount on it, putting forward judgments about the essence of phenomena and things.

Idols of the Cave

According to the cave myth, human knowledge and ignorance can be described as follows. Standing with his back to the light of a bonfire in a dark cave, a person looks at the shadows cast by things on the walls of the cave, and, seeing them, believes that he is dealing with genuine reality, while he sees only shadowy figures. According to Plato, our perception is based on the observation of illusions, and we only imagine that we are cognizing true reality. Thus, the cave is a sensually perceived world. Bacon clarifies that each person has his own cave, which distorts the light of nature. Unlike the ‘idols of the clan’, the ‘cave’ errors are different for each of us: this means that the errors in the work of our perceptual organs are individual. An important role is also played by upbringing and development conditions. Like several hundred years ago, today each of us has our own experience of growing up, patterns of behavior that we have learned in childhood, and have shaped our favorite books in our own language. Talking about this, Bacon was much ahead of his time. Only in the second half of the twentieth century did anthropologists, psychologists, and cognitive scientists begin to talk in masse about how different perceptions of different people are. The disconnecting factor can be both the characteristics of the sensory organs and the differences in the structure of the language itself, which, ultimately, determine the characteristics of thinking, not to mention the difference in cultures and characteristics of family education.

Idols of the Marketplace

Bacon suggests discovering these “idols” (and neutralizing them) in close communities of people united by common ties, interests and problems. Social communication is our best skill as a species, but it may also be the root of errors, which from the individual become collective, as people pass on to each other their misconceptions. Bacon pays special attention to words, because people unite with the help of speech, and the main mistake that may arise in this connection is “poor and ridiculous establishment of words”. Let the word “square” not deceive you: these idols got the name simply because the square is a noisy place. And this sin of knowledge, according to the philosopher, affects not only greengrocers in the markets, but also scientists. Indeed, even when a dispute arises between scientists, it most often binds to the need to “decide on concepts”. Everyone who has ever participated in scientific discussions knows that you can determine as long as you like. Therefore, Bacon advised turning to the ‘custom and wisdom’ of mathematicians – to begin with definitions.

There is much talk today about how important linguistics is for consciousness – and not only cognitive psychologists and linguists, but also specialists who train machines. Since the twentieth century, social philosophers have actively spoken about the significance of words and definitions. Using a language in which there are many reduced concepts, we grossly simplify the idea; using rude words to define other people – we instill aggression in society. At the same time, giving competent and detailed definitions of things and phenomena, we talk about them more calmly and carefully, we create more competent descriptions.

There is much talk today about how important linguistics is for consciousness – not only cognitive psychologists and linguists, but also specialists who train machines. Since the twentieth century, social philosophers have actively spoken about the significance of words and definitions. Using a language in which there are many reduced concepts, we grossly simplify the idea; using rude words to define other people – we instill aggression in society. At the same time, giving competent and detailed definitions of things and phenomena, we talk about them more calmly and carefully, we create more competent descriptions. What Bacon could not have predicted was the unprecedented development of his means of communication for his time. However, human psychology with the receipt of new tools has not changed too much – just now we can even more efficiently create communities with our own rules, ideas, prejudices, and the language that consolidates all this.

Idols of the Theater

The last kind of “idols” that take us captive of delusions are the idols of the theater. This refers to the ideas that a person borrows from other people. These include incorrect philosophical teachings, erroneous scientific ideas and false axioms, myths that exist in society. We can blindly trust the authority of other people, or simply without thinking to repeat the wrong things for others. These idols got their name because ‘how many accepted or invented philosophical systems are, how many comedies are set up and played, representing fictional and artificial worlds.’ Bacon points out that interpretations of the universe that offer incorrect theoretical systems are similar to theatrical productions. Descriptions of true reality they do not give This idea still seems relevant. For example, about the idols of the theater you can recall hearing another pseudoscientific theory or just everyday stupidity based on prejudice.

Conclusion

The philosopher attributes the first two idols of the above to the ‘natural’ prejudices of the mind; he considers the second two “acquired,” that is, dependent on the consciousness and character of the person. Therefore, Bacon advises to start getting rid of the idols of the mind precisely from the last two, as this is easier to do. The philosopher calls on us to cast aside by “firm and solemn decision” all kinds of idols, to free and clear from them the human mind.The entrance to the kingdom of man based on science, ‘should be the same as the entrance to the kingdom of heaven, where no one is allowed to enter except as a little child. In place of the vicious evidence that protects and covers the idols, the role of which (this evidence) are, according to Bacon, ‘human reasoning’ and the words (here he means the syllogistic logic, not able to catch all the subtleties of nature), experience and experiment should come. It is ignoring this experience and exaggerating the heuristic role of the formal logic of Aristotle, his ‘Organon’ – this compendium of all the logical knowledge of antiquity, and, according to Bacon, is the cause of the many misconceptions that have accompanied science and philosophy for centuries.  

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The Four Idols Of Francis Bacon: Modern Examples. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-four-idols-of-francis-bacon-modern-examples/
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