The Semiosis of Francis Bacon's
ABSTRACT: Francis Bacon's philosophy of
empiricism has been misinterpreted and under valuated. It rested on a semiotic
logic of inquiry which Hooke called his 'logic machine.' Bacon developed it
from his phenomenological interpretation of the law behind the unwritten
English common law. Applying to this a reverse Platonism of things rather than
words, he produced a semiosis of Form that employs processus and
schematismus in an hypothesis eliminating process for discovering the
empiricist laws of nature and society. Bacon identified four non-rational
neuro-ontological and epistemological interpretive idola for eliminating
distortions and prejudices from perceptions. Unlike Newton's time-determined
cause-finding science, Bacon's approach was an analytic law-finding empiricism,
which he called a 'revolution in thought.' Kant's later revolution in thought
in Critique of Pure Reason (2nd edition -B) applied an
adaptation of Bacon's approach to create the phenomenology of modern science,
and his own revolution in thought. In The New Atlantis science is
treated like the economy in a mercantilist society and brought under law as an
autonomous social institution. Today's research laboratories process
information and conduct empirical research in much the way Bacon prescribed.
Soviet ideologically controlled science was dictatorially organized. Japan's
commodified science is nationally coordinated. Today, the U.S. could benefit
from Bacon's models for the conduct and organization of science.
Francis Bacon's philosophy of science was highly esteemed until the
mid-nineteenth century. Through a series of interpretive errors and
mis-translations of Bacon's Latin originals, his science fell into an eclipse
from which it has only recently begun to recover. One problem was a conviction
among philosophers of science that mathematics was the proper language of
science and Newtonian mechanics was its proper model. Today's more
sophisticated conceptions of our 'participant-observer' universe are highly
compatible with Bacon's philosophy of science and just in time. He anticipated
and designed antidotes for problems like many of those we face today.
In this discussion, 'law' is used to mean the invariances that characterize
the relationships between the components of a system or structure which, if
those lawful relations are changed, the system is either qualitatively changed
or dissolved. 'Noumenon' is an object perceived by reason and knowable by
thought but not by the senses. 'Phenomenon' is a noumenal object of experience
in space and time, as distinguished from a thing-in-itself. 'Cause' refers to
things associated in an invariant linear time sequence.
Bacon started from law rather than mathematics. He studied the deep
structure of systems rather than motion and time-sequences. Like C. S. Peirce,
he developed a semiosis of empirical processes rather than an optical mechanics
like Newton. This article describes the steps in the development of Bacon's
science from its foundation in his noumenal, rather than realist, conception of
the law behind the unwritten common law of England. This led to a case method
for using the ruling of judges as 'evidences' of the unwritten law. Bacon's
Platonism of things rather than words is based on phenomenal Form,
processus and schematismus, permitting a new method that Hooke
called a 'logic machine', applicable to all empirical fields of knowledge and
constituting a revolution in thought.
The unwritten laws of nature (Wheeler, 1963) and society could be revealed
on a case-by-case basis by scientists trained, like lawyers, to avoid
prejudice, influence, dogma, ideology and power — the idola of
knowledge. Bacon described a new Chancery of Science, patterned on his own High
Court of Chancery, and departmentalized for every field of research. In effect,
science was constitutionalized — brought under its own appropriate rule of
law. Large scale task-force research teams produced and tested inventions and
discoveries. Assessment and evaluation was conducted by committees of science
chiefs who shelved harmful and promulgated wholesome and beneficial science
using parliamentary processes.
Today the scientific revolution remains in a feudal, pre-Baconian condition.
It is uncoordinated, subjected to commercial and professional corruption, and
to the prejudices and private interests of science barons. A constitutional
design for bringing science under the rule of law remains available in The
Bacon's Science falls on Hard Times
Francis Bacon's theory of scientific empiricism had a strong semiotic
foundation. That fact influenced both the enthusiasm of its early reception and
its later rejection. Hooke, Newton, Locke, Descartes, Voltaire, The
Encyclopedists, and Kant were among Bacon's admirers. Then Newtonian mechanics
pushed Bacon aside. Next, Latin was an unwitting accomplice to the demise of
Bacon's science. In his day Latin was the universal language of philosophy and
he used it for all his most serious works. Their English translations did not
become available until after the Spedding edition of Bacon's Works
(Spedding, et al. 1860-1864). Before then, Bacon's science could only be
studied in Latin, just the way he wrote it. Afterward, its study in English
depended on the validity of the translations. Unfortunately, they contained
serious flaws and grave distortions of his theories. The translator for the
Spedding edition was Robert Leslie Ellis, a leading nineteenth century
mathematician. Like many science historians — well into the twentieth
century — he held the then reigning assumption that anything that was not
a form of Newtonian mechanics was not a science. It also followed that
mathematics was nature's native language. Bacon's science did not pass either
test and Ellis regarded him as mathematically illiterate and scientifically
naive. Ellis was especially critical of Bacon's core idea, the theory of Form.
In a few crucial places Ellis excluded from the English several Latin passages
dealing with Form. Worse, he trivialized and sometimes excluded its two
facilitative logical operations, processus and schematismus. All
three had technical meanings for Bacon. As a result, scholars who used only the
English translations had no way of understanding the crucial semiosis that lay
at the foundation of Bacon's phenomenology of empiricism (Wheeler, 1963, 1982,
1983-a, 1983-b, 1999) Spedding, to his credit, was immediately disturbed and
argued with Ellis over several points. His main disagreements are preserved in
a series of running footnotes and endnotes. But again, they are only available
in those volumes of the Works that contain the Latin versions. The
injury was compounded when Ellis died before finishing his translations and
even before revising those he had completed! His corrupted translations
together with several slighting notes are in the English volumes; Spedding's
quarrels in the Latin volumes have gone largely unnoticed (Wheeler, 1983-b).
Only through a fortunate accident was the problem with the Ellis
mis-translations discovered. The Spedding edition is of such general excellence
that I, like most Bacon commentators, had assumed the English versions to be
valid. The first lead came from an enigmatic reference by Coleridge to Bacon's
'Platonism'. Consulting Plato's dialogues turned up his theory of
schematismos, a term prominent in both Bacon and Kant. Coleridge was
right. Bacon had been there and reversed Plato's idealism into a Platonism of
things rather than words. Then came the discovery of Kant's adaptations of
Bacon's reverse idealism. Neo-Kantian hermeneutics was already spreading among
philosophers of science (Kuhn, 1963; Husserl, 1969; Feyerabend, 1980 Bohm,
1981; Heelan, 1983) and I was open to a new, more sophisticated understanding
of Bacon's science (Wheeler, 1987; 1990). However, Ellis's prejudices have been
largely undetected and as a result, Bacon's science has been under valued by
philosophers. For some Bacon scholars the effect has been to confirm the
Renaissance aspects of Bacon's thought rather than his contributions to modern
science (Martin, 1992).
A factor that has produced even more misunderstandings of Bacon's science
derived from the obscure style he employed for his scientific writings. He did
it on purpose! Bacon was afraid of the demotic — the ordinary language of
the ordinary reader. Although Bacon's popular writings are models of clarity,
his philosophic and scientific works, especially in their Latin versions, are
studiously opaque. The obscurity is not like that of a family recipe with a
secret ingredient left out. Bacon feared that if he expressed his deepest
philosophical conclusions in plain English, the ideas were so novel and their
foundations so complex that ordinary readers would understand the words but not
their deeper scientific meanings. He did not want the general estimation of the
worth of his scientific writings to be determined by the opinions of
philosophical incompetents. Latin (before Ellis) was his first defense but
uncompromising complexity of thought and expression was his second.
There was also a deeper semiotic basis for this strategy. He had long
puzzled over why the ancients, for all their brilliance, had not invented
science, despite Plato's attempt to treat Pythagorean ratios as a general
science (McClain, 1976-a; 1976-b; 1982; Wheeler, 1982). Bacon concluded that
the ancients, especially Aristotle, were guilty of a semiotic error. Most
philosophers wrongly assumed that nature's hidden laws could be explained in
everyday demotic Greek and Latin. Bacon had known about the inadequacies of
demotic reasoning since his earliest studies of law, as illustrated by an
episode involving Justice Coke and King James I. James was a learned King and
believed he could exercise his personal rule throughout the government. But
when he prepared to rule in common law disputes, Justice Coke delivered a
celebrated rebuke. Not possible, said Coke. The law was not expressed in a
demotic language — neither in English nor in Latin, but in Law French.
Moreover, its forms and processes did not follow ordinary rules of reason but
rather the 'the artificial reason of the law'. Bacon did not want his mode of
expression to convey the false impression that nature's laws are intuitively
apparent. However, the strategy was turned against him by Robert Ellis.
Ironically foreign readers (Voltaire, 1961; Kant, (1965 ) who used the
Latin originals have understood him better than have English language scholars.
Science out of Law
Change was breaking out everywhere in Bacon's time; literature, art, music,
architecture, knowledge (print), science, and law. The world of law in England
was a little like the world of science in that it's underlying rules were
unwritten. Bacon designed a new way of analyzing case rulings as empirical
evidence permitting reliable inferences about the unwritten common law implicit
in the applications of it by judges. He then assumed that this process could be
developed into an empiricist method for discovering the laws behind all
departments of nature and society for which reliable data was available. The
results, made available in several Latin works about empiricist data
processing, constitute a revolution in thought, which is what he called it
(Wheeler, 1983a; 1990; 1999; Coquillette, 1992; Martin, 1992). Bacon made it
clear that science required avoiding conventional rhetoric and logic in favor
of a new empiricism — a Novum Organum — of its own. The reason
was semiotic. If nature spoke in a human language, science would have been
discovered long ago. Nature, he proposed instead, does not speak to us in
either English or in any demotic language, not even in Law French (Wheeler,
1983). Science, like law, could not be understood by those with merely demotic
English and ordinary modes of reason.
Bacon's extrapolation of juridical law-finding into a general science of
knowledge processing involved three features: a phenomenology of things rather
than ideas; a semiotic theory of cognition rather than a word-based logic, and
a new meta-linguistic organon. Here are the stages in the process, starting
with a description of how Bacon invented the case method of law-finding.
Law as Noumenon
Bacon's foundations in law, in addition to the common law, included Roman
Law. This came first from the Chancery, which had grown out of Roman based
canon law; second from Scots Roman Law. Bacon had served on the Commission for
the Union of the Laws of England and Scotland. Already under Elizabeth he had
proposed a research project to systematize common law rolls, records and
rulings. England's unwritten law was originally like that of most pre-literate
societies; made out of customs and lore, as they were preserved in the memories
of culture paragons. These were jurors, literally 'law-sayers' who in the
absence of written records, testified to the law which, 'the memory of man to
the contrary runneth not'. Before the seventeenth century a common law trial
was still in the form of a 'law waging' process with law-saying jurors acting
as judges of the law, instead of fact. Although jurors continued to function as
law-sayers long after there were copious records of court rulings, the
availability of court records made it possible to substitute them, via lawyers,
for paragons. Justice Coke was called 'the father of the common law' for
presiding at this change. In Bacon's time, partly due to the growing importance
of the Commons, the common law courts gradually acquired ascendency over the
other courts. Justice Coke was a legal antiquarian whose archival researches
provided the texts of court records, helping to reduce jurors into tryers of
fact rather than law. Coke was a legal 'realist' in the Scholastic sense.
Rulings were the law, concretely and he twisted meanings and punctuation
— which was missing from many early rulings — to make strained
applications of archaic rulings to new disputes. When Coke did legal research
the result was a collection of reports like Coke upon Littleton. Bacon,
on the contrary, applied an implicit phenomenology of law which permitted
treating past rulings as noumenal 'evidences' of the unwritten law behind them
(Wheeler, 1999). Although Queen Elizabeth rejected his proposal to give a
topical organization to court rulings, he developed on his own 300 'Rules and
Maximes of the Common Law'. Bacon's 'rules' and 'maximes' were about a reality
made from law, not ordinary things and events: a mind-made noumenal domain.
Bacon was a semiotician rather than an antiquarian. In preparation for the
design of his logic machine he studied the different ways of reasoning: Ramist,
hermetic rhetoric, deductive, inductive and experimental. He rejected them all
on the ground they were concerned with the word rather than the real. Already
before 1603 he experimented with new ways of using rulings for drawing
inferences about the unwritten law. A few of his briefs reveal his new case
method of finding the unwritten rule of law. The 'Reading on the Statute of
Uses' (Works, vol XIV) is a preliminary application of the new method,
but the transition to the new is in his brief, 'The Case of the Post-Nati of
Scotland ["Calvin's Case"] (1608)' (Works, vol XV,
190-247; Wheeler, 1947)
When the king's hopes for the Commission of the Union of the Crowns failed,
a case was contrived to get union declared under the common law. It came to
trial as 'Calvin's Case.' Young Calvin was a Scot child born after 1603, when
James held both crowns. Judges from all England's high courts sat to
hear the case and then delivered rulings in their own courts. Bacon was
attorney for the crown. This brief represents the first systematic application
of his new law-finding process. It is highly metaphysical and it is easy to see
why. He is demonstrating for the first time a noumenal constitutional
invention; the existence for England of what America's Supreme Court Justice
Brandeis later called the American constitution's 'brooding omnipresence in the
sky.' Bacon does so by giving structure to a dualistic unwritten English
proto-constitution. It is made up of phenomenal domains, so to speak: states,
provinces and colonies. At the top is the imperial crown (Maitland, 1911).
England and Scotland, as well as territories like Ireland, were under the
'double majesty' crown, which consisted of both absolute and limited
prerogatives. The people of each land possessed a mysterious dual allegiance to
both the king as holder of the imperial crown, and the king as holder of an
ordinary crown that was different for each of the separate internal legal
orders of each domain (Wheeler, 1947; 1956; 1975). Bacon invented the
phenomenology of the unwritten law of the state. His double majesty state
became the basis for two future constitutions: the unwritten constitution
described by Locke in the Two Treatises, and the one transliterated into
a written constitution by the American Founding Fathers — it was the
leading case they cited. It provided the basis for the dual sovereignty of the
American Federal system (Wheeler, 1947; 1975).
Bacon's creativity in the philosophy of the unwritten common law has always
been acknowledged. At the close of the seventeenth century, Justice Sir Matthew
Hale (Hale, 1667), who consolidated the modern common law system, acknowledged
Bacon as the inventor of the process for discovering unwritten laws from the
evidences, in case rulings, of their applications. The process had its
database; the case law. It was empiricist and inductivist. For those with
training in law it worked marvelously well. Bacon concluded it could be
developed into a new method — a Novum Organum — with general
application to the laws of nature (Wheeler, 1963) and society. That would
amount to a revolution in thought. He called it that, comparing it to two prior
revolutions in thought: Greek philosophy and Roman law.
Bacon's War Against the Word.
The prerequisite to applying his revolutionary process to all realms of
knowledge was to develop two features: its special language and its special
logic. These must be true of science. The language of nature must be different
from ours, and so also with its logic. The first requirement was a proper
conception of words and languages. Words, he said, stand as the footprints of
thoughts. The problem is that words and languages must facilitate the
communication between all people, including the most doltish as well as the
most brilliant. Hence they must be demotic — popular. This intrinsic
defect predetermines that all word-based analysis must always remain
constricted to a non-scientific demotic level. Words, wrote Bacon, are:
...commonly framed and applied according to the capacity of the
vulgar [and] follow those lines of division most obvious to the vulgar
understanding. And whenever an understanding of greater acuteness or a more
diligent observation would alter those lines to suit the true divisions of
nature, words stand in the way and resist the change (Works, Novum
Organum, Aphorism LIX, vol VII, p. 78)
This is not merely, or even chiefly, a matter of vocabulary. 'Divisions' is
the main problem, Bacon explained, because demotic language cannot naturally
cope with what he called nature's inherent logic — its own grammar and
syntax. We might think of this today as nature's intrinsic 'machine language'.
He had long pondered over why the ancients, for all their genius, had never
been able to produce science. That, he concluded, was the reason: They had
assumed nature could be understood through demotic discourse. This is why Bacon
was more complimentary to Plato than to Aristotle. He thought Democritus had
been on the right track and seems to have believed that there might have been
some chance for the ancient emergence of science until Aristotle forestalled it
completely by his word-and-language based formal logic. In effect, Bacon
lectured Aristotle the way Coke did King James. The original demotic flaw
determined that all Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophy would forever
remained imprisoned with the confines of vernacular discourse, in Bacon's
special analytic meaning of that term. He acknowledged that mathematical
reasoning was somewhat better than reasoning by formal logic but even it
possessed the germ of the fatal demotic defect because its basic definitions
were framed in words, and they led to the wrong 'divisions.' All such demotic
systems made the world 'the bond-slave of human thought, and human thought the
bond-slave of words' (Works Vol VII, Aphorism LXIX). Bacon set himself
the problem of creating a non-demotic 'assembly language' so to speak, to
mediate between the processes and structures of nature and those of the mind.
This lead to the development of a new way of programming knowledge databases;
what became the New Organon's logic of law-finding.
Bacon's main research database was always the book. He created a new
archival technology made possible when arcane scroll and codex repositories of
knowledge became widely accessible through printing. A collection of similar
rulings could be inspected, not to make a better shoe horn for forcing a fit
but for abstracting common underlying general principles. The element that then
emerged was not a ruling but an analytically discovered law that 'must' be the
juridical foundation for a set of related case rulings: judging the rulings to
find the rule they jointly express. The process is like what in artificial
intelligence programming is called back-chaining and is the foundation for
computer-mediated searches for roots and causes, as in medical diagnosis. It is
also the empiricist process of that supreme Baconian, Sherlock Holmes (Sebeok
1981). One begins with the presenting symptoms, perhaps a syndrome, and works
from them back to a set of probable sources or causes. The 'cause' or 'law' is
not a time-sequential cause in the sense of classical mechanics but is rather
the explanation that remains after evidence and logic eliminate every other
possibility. It is not static and final; it is dynamic and subject to
correction on the basis of new evidence that may later appear.
Bacon's approach was semiotic: a transitivity — a way of making a
reciprocal mediation between the intrinsic alphabet ('divisions') of nature and
those of human thought. Bacon believed this could be done by a form of analytic
empiricism through the proper conduct of 'trials'(Pesic, 1999) of particulars,
inducing them to yield preliminary axioms. Nature, in his juridical metaphor,
would be brought to trial and induced, on the analogy of the Star Chamber, to
testify in her own innate language, unaffected by the inadequacies of human
language. This would permit framing preliminary axioms. These would lead to the
discovery and design of new trials, generating more and different new axioms,
and then to successively higher levels of abstraction. There is a detailed
flow-chart description of the institutionalization of this process in The
New Atlantis (Wheeler, 1990)
It is fruitless, Bacon insisted, to seek causes and concrete results
overtly. The objects of inquiry must instead be 'abstract natures.' These will
constitute the 'alphabet or simple letters, whereof the variety of things
consisteth'. (Works, VI, p. 63). He is thinking neither as a geometer
nor as a simple inductivist. The New Organon was an instrument for the
empirical analysis of phenomena just as the new telescopes were instruments for
the empirical analysis of celestial objects. It is not that he avoided seeking
mechanical 'causes' but rather that he sought the 'laws' of nature. On other
occasions when his analytical process pointed to the 'freeing of a direction,'
Bacon wrote in the idiom of an explorer charting unknown waters; remember the
famous tall ship forticepiece of the Advancement of Learning (loc.
cit. P. 59).
The methods and logics of the past had dealt with concepts. The New
Organon would deal with noumenal things, but only because it analyzed them
in terms of their own 'language' rather than human language. This quest would
recur over and over in English scientific empiricism: in the laws of economics
in Adam Smith's unseen equilibrating process; explicitly acknowledged by
Charles Darwin in exploring the laws of biological evolution operating unseen
in the fitness selection process. Bacon, with a paradoxical assist from Plato,
produced a general theory of the empirical structure and process of unseen
From Plato's Dialectics To Bacon's Logic
To the question why Plato had not developed science, Bacon answered because
he got things backward. A reverse Platonism would do to trick. Plato started
from rhetoric, which had displaced myth and poetry as processors of knowledge.
But rhetoric was based upon persuasion in the vernacular. This meant it was
limited to the domain Plato called 'appearance', eidolon. Consequently
it was unsuited for dealing with the Form of wisdom in the realm of
Idea. In the opening of the Republic Plato's charge against
poetry is that it is imbued with the values of feudal warriors and brigands and
not applicable to the civic ethic needed by the citizens of an urban
civilization. However, one feature shared by both rhetoric and poetry held
promise: the rules governing the contests between rhetors, and those developed
in the traditional poetry contests. These were dialogical and featured a
thesis/antithesis argument, and closing efforts at synthesis. Drama was another
dialogical medium whose plot structure was similar. Its thematic motifs were
developed according to a rudimentary enthymematic progression and its didactic
chorus was available to help the author clarify his most important themes. But
all this remained in the realm of appearances, which was incurably demotic.
Plato illustrates it in the Myth of the Cave in which people see only shadows
rather than things — Forms — in themselves. The closing
catharsis in a drama conveyed the perception of a truth beyond the
capacity of words to express. The mystery cults, especially the
Eluesinian rite which has been associated with Plato, concluded its
initiations with the charismatic revelation of a hidden mystery-wisdom beyond
the perception ability of the unprepared mind.
Alban Dewes Winspear (Winspear, 1956 ) has documented how Plaltonism
resulted from the quest for the model of a just state that was neither a
democracy nor a monarchial tyranny but which rested on a new form of reasoning
with a scientific foundation. Socrates had been seeking something of the sort.
Conventional rhetoric would not do; it was an eristic (win-lose) quest
for victory rather than truth and rested on audience persuasion rather than
Socrates' eirenic (win-win) dialogue of truth. Socrates insisted that
his truth producing dialogue could not be conveyed through print but rather
required direct personal dialogical experience. After the death of Socrates
Plato transcribed the dialogue method to preserve in writing the teachings of
the master. He left Athens for Megara to avoid the fate of Socrates, spending
many years among various Pythagorean communities in search of a demonstrable
truth-finding process. '...[T]here is ample ancient evidence for the view that
Plato derives his ideas from the Pythagoreans rather than the Pythagoreans from
Plato' (Winspear, 1956 ).
....[T]he principle [of number] seems to have been used by the
Pythagoreans, and was certainly used by their disciple Plato,... not as a
formula to explain process and change, but rather as a static and conceptual
ground of explanation underlying isolated and atomic appearances.... This
number mysticism is of immense importance in the development of Western thought
because out of it (and other elements) evolved Plato's theory of ideas....
Justice is not equality [democratic]; justice is geometrical [aristocratic]
rather than arithmetical equality. There is a number (four) which 'explains'
justice. Justice is realized through a 'harmony' of 'opposites.' (Pp 96-97).
and so on through the mathematical 'proofs' scattered throughout Plato's
dialogues (McClain, 1976-a; 1976-b; 1982)
Plato's Form, Idea and Logos all refer to a noumenal
entity whose properties could be discovered through an extension of dialogical
reasoning into dialectics. It employed a 'tri-relative' process like what
Charles Sanders Peirce later called 'semiosis' — the structure of a
science (Peirce; 1955; Nauta, 1972; Wheeler, 1982; McClain, 1976-a; 1976-b;
1982). During the sixth century B.C. a dramatic ur-Pythagorean discovery spread
throughout the advanced cultures of antiquity. It was discovered that a branch
of mathematics mediated between the perceptions of the mind and the physical
properties of nature. The human world of appearances and the eternal world of
Forms possessed a tri-relative transitivity provided by the Pythagorean
harmonic ratios. The demonstration, employing a monochord or a flute as a
scientific instrument, was startlingly dramatic. It showed that the world
inside and the world outside function according to harmonic ratios. An equally
divided monochord produced an octave that could be detected by the ear and
reproduced by the ratio of one to one-half, and on throughout the harmonic
tones and ratios. Plato's last years in the Second Academy were devoted to an
extended application of the mathematical harmonics of Pythagorean musicology
(McClain, 1976-a) to create a generalized science of harmonics applied to
everything from astronomy to politics — remember from the Republic
that the tyrant is 927 times more unhappy than the philosopher as ruler
(McClain; 1976-b p. 35). A similar ur-Pythagoreanism is found throughout the
'Wisdom Literatures' of the ancients, and in medieval philosophy. (McClain.
1976-a; Wheeler, 1982) Pythagorean harmonic ratios are used to mediate between
the 'master circles' of the universe and the harmonic perceptions of the mind.
Much of Plato's Pythagorean calculations have been eliminated from the English
versions of the dialogues; Jowett especially (Jowett, nd).
Using a kind of metronomic calculus as he wrote, Plato excluded disharmonies
and interpolated the applicable harmonic ratios throughout the later dialogues.
The resulting dialogue-cum-dialectic was an expository mode perfectly suited to
a new system of speculative philosophy that permitted ratio-bearing
dialectical reasoning to mediate between the idein-forms of the outside
world and their noumenal counterparts in the inside world.
Bacon had an analogous goal. He wanted to apply his new method of empiricist
law-finding to all realms of knowledge and then institutionalize it in a
scientocratic ruling chamber modeled after his own Chancery. Salomon's House in
The New Atlantis was ruled over by a philosophical chief scientist
highly reminiscent of Baron Verulam (Works, The New Atlantis Vol XIII;
Wheeler, 1991; Martin, 1992). Bacon's new language of science, instead of being
based on a demotic medium, would encode natural phenomena with symbols that
were like the notes of music in being based upon the observable properties of
physics. He outlined the basis for a non-Pythagorean musicology that was later
adopted as one of the first experimental projects of the new royal Academy
(Gouk, 1982) From Bacon's standpoint the problem was that Plato had developed
an idealism rather than an empiricism. Bacon was aware of the parallel
properties his approach shared with Plato's and once described his philosophy
as, in effect, a Platonism of things rather than ideas.
Law as Form
Law and cause are often used interchangeably in science writing, as when we
refer to Newton's laws of motion, and describe his mechanics as a closed causal
system. The kind of law Bacon designed his New Organon logic machine to
discover is different from Newtonian mechanics, just as Mendel's laws are
different from Newton's laws, and the double helix is different from Bell's
Theorem. Among philosophers of science of the early seventeenth century in
England the idea of cause carried the flavor of Aristotelian logic and the idea
of law carried the imprint of Scholastic natural law (Strauss, 1953). Newtonian
mechanics and time-sequential cause-and-effect were still a few decades in the
future (Boas; 1956). When Francis Bacon wrote about natural science —
'natural history' in those days — his idea of law was empirical; neither
Thomistic nor mathematical. However, ideas similar to Bacon's were familiar, as
in the secularization of the indwellling soul of the white magic tradition. He
often cited Porta's transitional Magic.
Bacon's foundation in law gave him one important advantage over others
seeking a scientific method: he was looking for rules for the behavior of
phenomena rather than causal properties of matter as such. For example, the
term 'empiric' had a negative association for him, as when he criticized
'empiric induction'. Rather, he wanted to abstract general principles from his
case method of law-finding and extend them to all fields of knowledge.
In this discussion, "law" is used to mean the invariances that
characterize the relationships between the components of a system or structure
which, if those lawful relations are changed, the system is either
qualitatively changed, or its systemic qualities disappear.
"Noumenon" is an object perceived by reason and knowable by thought
but not by the senses. "Phenomenon" is a noumenal object of
experience in space and time, as distinguished from a thing-in-itself.
"Cause" refers to things associated in an invariant linear time
These distinctions are useful not only because of the juridical foundations
of Bacon's thought but also because they help clarify the foundations of modern
Anglo-American analytic philosophy. There is no direct philosophic precursor to
Bacon's analytic empiricism.
Bacon's term for this generalized noumenal law was Form, which at first
glance appears to be a Platonism. It is, in the way that Marx was a Hegelian.
But few scholars, with the notable exception of Kant, perceived this (Wheeler,
1983b) Form has had a checquered career among Baconians and historians of
science but to ignore its foundation misses the force and novelty of Bacon's
invention, and the semiotic nature of his philosophy of scientific empiricism.
'Form' refers to implicit structure and is most familiar from Plato's
distinction between ideal Form and 'appearances'. Bacon adapts it to refer to
an empirical phenomenological scientific law. A phenomenon is a special kind of
'thing' like the thingness possessed by the hypostatized law behind the ruling
in a judgment at the English 'unwritten' common law. Bacon's science looks for
that kind of 'thingness' in all departments of the environment, social as well
as natural, as does post-Kantian scientific phenomenology (Heelan,
1983). Further evidence about Bacon's meaning is derived from the Latin terms
he used to explain how his logic machine worked: 'processus', and
'schematismus'. These have not been adequately treated for two reasons:
few interpreters of Bacon's philosophy have begun where he did, with his legal
studies (Wheeler, 1949; Wheeler, 1956; Kocher, 1968; White, 1968; Weinberger,
1985; Shapiro, 1980; Coquillette, 1992; Martin, 1992; Wheeler, 1999). Second is
the deletion of these features in the Ellis English translation. Curiously,
Newton, who is usually contrasted with Bacon, said he was a Baconian and he was
right. His own logic machine, the Calculus, was produced through a Baconian
eliminative process (Wheeler, 1999).
Bacon's Novum Organon is an information processing system (Hacking,
1983). If one judges philosophies of science by their general applicability to
the empiricist sciences — taxonomics, cladistics, statistics, most of
biology, archeology, geography, meteorology, and the social sciences —
there are few rivals to Bacon's philosophy of science. The New Organon
was a protocol, much like an expert system in today's systems-theoretic, or
artificial intelligence encoding and processing systems. It dealt with science
through 'archival functions' (Wheeler, 1987) and worked primarily with 'texts'
rather than numbers. It was a hermeneutics and was analytical rather than a
mechanics. (Wheeler, 1990)
The semiotic basis of Bacon's analysis is emphasized in several places in
his scientific writings. Most explicit, perhaps, is his claim that the ultimate
aim of the New Organon was to uncover nature's hidden 'abecedarium' so
that the 'words', 'clauses' and 'sentences' in which her laws were encoded
could be readily deciphered (Works, Vol III, pp 306-311).
An argument by Charles Sanders Peirce is useful in understanding Bacon's
semiotic processes. Peirce claimed that what he called dynamical systems are
dyadic. By contrast, his own 'pragmaticism' was triadic. Triadic systems, he
said, do not self-destruct into pairs. It is the difference between linear and
structural relationships; between mathematical mechanical objects and analytic
empirical objects. Kant is instructive here. He said that the human mind
intuitively interprets individual things the way they are perceived; as dyadic,
linear, time-sequential relationships: post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Yet
two different orders of things can be related only if a transitive logic can be
found that will mediate between them; for example, Plato's Pythagorean
harmonics; the Calculus; and the celestial class of objects to which Newtonian
Kant developed a triadic logic to account for the Newtonian universe and to
explain the isomorphism between mind and classical mechanics, which Kant took
for nature. His philosophic invention was to create by axiom and argument three
new philosophic components to engender an understanding of the outer world and
the inner world through a special ratio able to mediate between them
transitively. It could do so because its own structure was homologous with the
structures of both nature and mind, as he reinterpreted them. This was the
famous triad of phenomenon, noumenon and schematismus. The model
seemed at the time to have the added virtues of answering Hume and dispelling
the accumulated paradoxes of British Lockean empiricism and French Cartesian
rationalism by incorporating both into a larger domain of lawfulness. Kant
himself credited Bacon as his predecessor (Kant, 1965 ) and carried
forward Bacon's paradigm-making model in Kant's own 'Revolution in Thought'
Peirce was a neo-Kantian though he also liked to go by several other
philosophic aliases. He developed a Kantian model of tri-relative transitivity
and promulgated it as the basic law of semiosis:
... [B]y 'semiosis' I mean,... an action, or influence, which
is, or involves, a cooperation of three subjects, such as sign, its
object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way
resolvable into actions between pairs (Peirce, 1956 ).
Peirce laid the foundations for today's cognitive science and his
tri-relative model was like what today is called neo-hermeneutics (Heelan,
1983; Wheeler 1987).
Francis Bacon's analytic philosophy of empiricism was of this same general
1. Bacon's empiricism had a semiotic foundation, which furnished
the basis for his criticisms of Platonic Idea and Aristotelian logic;
2. It was based on a tri-relative knowledge processing model analogous to
that of Peirce;
3. The three components were:
i. The outside world, dealt with through an ontology of law,
generalized as Form, comprised of processus and schematismus (not
to be confused with Kant's binary assumption about cognition);
ii. The inside world was dealt with through a theory of cognition based on
the idola protocols for encoding and processing perceptions;
iii. The two were mediated by a ratio (the new logic of information
iv. Whose 'adminicle' inductivism provided a tri-relative transitivity
between the inside and outside worlds.
Hence, a theory of information encoding permitted Bacon to create an inside
world compatible with his outside world of Form, and compatible also with his
information processing mechanism; the new logic of inquiry.
Bacon used the term 'adminicle induction' to distinguish his eliminative
logic of inquiry from simple additive induction. A brief explanation of his key
Latin terms is now in order.
In early references to the kind of evidence to be processed by the New
Organon he sometimes uses the term fide-jussione (Works, vol
1 'General Preface to the Philosophical Works', p. 93; 'Prefatio', vol
I, p. 234). It is a legal term, of course, and referred to oral evidentiary
supports to a legal claim, as in a suit over property title. Bacon appropriated
it to describe authoritative evidentiary support for a scientific claim or
hypothesis. Later, in about four places, Bacon preferred 'adminicle', or
'adminicular' inductivism. Adminicle had two prior meanings: in law,
especially Scots law, it meant a documentary support for a claim to
title. Hence it denoted a strong evidentiary support. It was preferable to
fide-jussione because when transposing a principle of juridical evidence
to the sciences it would not do to use oaths, opinions and the like as
scientific evidence; the Idols of Knowledge castigated just that sort of
thing. Adminicle was a similar term from the law but with a more 'material'
import, as in material evidence.
An adminicle is a support put in evidence to buttress the structure of an
argument or contention in adjudication. Bacon characterized the method of
New Organon as 'adminicular induction' to contrast it with ordinary
additive 'empiric' induction of which he was unstintingly critical. It is
something like the difference between the process for discovering the scope of
the constitutional law of privacy and the process for surveying the number of
The second meaning of adminicle, historically its first, was from
architecture where it meant a support for a structure added to it at the top to
hold it up more securely; a 'flying buttress'. Do not be misled by the physical
image of an at the top support. In Bacon it means at the end. It is
semiotic rather than material, and indeed lends credibility to the New
Organon's eliminative process for progressively reducing the number of
plausible scientific explanations. It is easy to see how Bacon's eliminative
process in science related to his eliminative process in the search for the
appropriate unwritten law in cases where the evidence is circumstantial. For
Bacon, all science dealt with circumstantial evidence.
1. One begins with a stipulated fact and attempts to find the unwritten law
that applies to it. (There are no 'gaps' in the common law.)
2. In principle, an infinite number of law interpretations applies to it.
3. One assesses their relevance or irrelevance in an eliminative process,
seeking to eliminate all but one, which is hypostatized as the applicable law.
4. One tests the result by searching for analogous (adminicle) supports.
The adminicle eliminative process ends at the pyramidal top. Confidence in
the validity of a scientific hypothesis grows as it emerges from the
self-strengthening stages of the hierarchical 'prerogative instances.' Again,
this is Bacon's way of appropriating a principle from the common law of
evidence, which he developed, for application to science. A prerogative
instance in law was a 'leading case'. In science it is highly pertinent
evidence. As the eliminative process narrows, an especially appropriate
prerogative instance provides crucial adminicular support. It 'fingerposts'
(Bacon's term) the hidden law but does not itself state the law concretely. A
familiar illustration comes from a landmark adminicle discovery in biological
science. Francis Crick and James Watson were completely stymied in attempting
to fit Linus Pauling's linear model of gene structure with their evidence.
Standing at the spiral staircase of an Oxford residential hall, James Watson
conceived the double helix hypothesis (Watson, 1968).
L. Jonathan Cohen, a leading philosopher of science, calls Bacon's adminicle
logic of inquiry 'inductive support' and has patterned his own theory of
scientific probability after it. This is a non-Pascalian, non-statistical
theory of probability. Non-Pascalian probability is very common. B.F. Skinner's
positive reinforcement theory of probability is also non-Pascalian. This is the
kind of 'probability' of validity possessed by a judge's ruling at the end of
the evidentiary and litigation processes of the English unwritten common law
system. It is structural or systemic probability and is the kind of probability
associated with hermeneutics (Wheeler,1987), But most familiar is the
non-Pascalian probability in the law under 'probable cause' and in Bacon.
Bacon's adminicular inductions lead through a series of exclusions from
particular instances to an hypothesis about two latent qualities:
'processus' and 'schematismus' These are the binary constituents
of Baconian Form, his term for a scientific principle. Form was a
phenomenological entity possessing the same ontological status in nature as did
'law' in England's unwritten common law.
The Idols of the Mind
Bacon's fear that the language of science could not be understood by those
with only demotic language was matched by his fear that the language of nature
produced by his logic machine could not be understood the unprepared natural
mind. That preparation was is provided by studying the Idols of the Mind. To
demonstrate this, and the semiotic basis of Bacon's philosophy, requires
exploring the 'innate' and the 'adscititious' idola. Spedding
cited Mersenne's opinion that the idola were the four buttresses of the
Novum Organum but rectifying transducers is a better interpretation.
Something was necessary to permit the new logic to mediate between phenomenon
and noumenon. The mind's contaminants stood in the way. They were something
like original sin. People are born with them but can banish them by being born
again in science, and by thereafter performing the prescribed scientific
rituals. If people were incorrigible beyond redemption there would never be any
hope for science. But Bacon's mythic New Atlantis reveals that salvation
is possible. It tells of an aboriginal People of the Book. They seem to have
shed their idolonic corruptions immediately on expulsion from Eden. Ever
after they enjoyed the material and spiritual fruits of life in a Baconian
sciential society. The idola are based on neurolinguistic assumptions
quite different from Locke's tabula rasa association psychology of
Just as the processes ('processus') of nature were misleading if one
tried to deal with them through their overt manifestations, so also with those
of the mind. The mind, Bacon said, sounding like Plato, is by its truest and
deepest nature, the 'form of forms.' Hence if properly used it is potentially
capable of decoding nature's hidden 'abecedarium'. But the mind's ordinary and
superficial operations make it ill suited for scientific analysis. Its
perceptual faculty is like a lense but far from being a 'clear and equal
glass', it is instead like an 'enchanted glass'. Hence special correctives are
needed to compensate for the mind's built-in sources of error and distortion.
That is where the idols of the mind come in. They are diagnostic and
corrective. Just as visual distortions can be measured and used to make
corrective spectacles, the idola can be diagnosed and used to fashion
corrective processes of analysis.
The Four Idols of the Mind are often understood as false idols, as in the
biblical prohibition against setting up graven images and following false gods.
This meaning is valid only an a round about sense. Idolum comes from the
Greek eidolon. Plato used it to mean appearances: false perceptions. He
contrasted it with idein, to see truly. Idein originally
possessed the sense of the ritual thing seen and experienced, as in the
revelation that occurred in the Eleusinian rites after the proper ritual
preparation and by means of which an inner truth was disclosed to and perceived
by the initiate. Both meanings, the true and the counter-intuitive, are present
in Platonic Idea, or Form. They are also part of the meaning of Bacon's
idola (read Platonic appearances): the structures (divisions) that must
be erased from the world inside before it can understand the Baconian Forms of
the world outside. Analysis of the idola showed how sensations distort
perceptions, deceive the understanding and lead to mistaken judgments. Francis
Bacon began with three idola, later expanded to four. They have
sometimes been related to Roger Bacon's four offendicula', (stumbling
blocks), which were sociological rather than semiotic and analytic;
'hindrances' to thought such as authority, custom, popular opinion and
ignorance. Bacon may have built upon the earlier conception, as he often did,
and transformed it into a new principle. He did that with Plato's Form,
standing it on its head, as the later idiom would have put it, creating a logic
of phenomena rather than concepts. He operated the same way on the ancient
myths, including Plato's myth of Atlantis, and with the New Organon, a
complete reconception of Aristotle's Organon. By making a distinction
between sensation and perception that was like Leibnitz's distinction between
perception and apperception, Bacon's idola permitted the analysis of
cognition and led to his design for the stages of experiment and exclusion in
the New Organon.
The idola were to the Baconian organon of phenomena as the
fallacies were to the Aristotelian organon of concepts. Two idola were
innate and two were external. Their meanings are not apparent from their names:
Tribus, 'tribe' or species. This class of
distortions derives from innate factors and are phylogenetic.
Specus, 'cave.' This class is explicitly drawn from the myth
of the cave that Plato used to illustrate the erroneous appearances. Bacon said
these also are innate. They can be considered ontogenic.
Fori, forum, or marketplace. Bacon called these 'adscititious'
— conveyed to the mind from the outside.
Theatri (added later), Theater, or temple; also adscititious.
The Idola Tribus referred to general properties of every human
mind that lead it to produce distorted perceptions and evaluations. This means
that all perceptions are already contaminated before they are turned over to
the reasoning faculties. Three examples clarify what Bacon meant:
The human nervous system is constituted such that once we have a conclusion
we are more sensitive to any new evidence that confirms it than we are to any
evidence that contradicts it. Our convictions are more strongly shaped by
positive reinforcements than by disproofs, which we tend to ignore. We remember
our successes and ignore our failures. Bacon had in mind something like what B.
F. Skinner described in Verbal Behavior.
- We experience and become conscious of our selfness as having a single
identity and as exhibiting a unitary wholeness. This unified perception of
selfness is unconsciously projected outward and onto thingness. Hence we
perceive things as possessing more of an integral nature than is warranted.
Consequently, we also perceive various sets of a thing, and even the thingness
of the world in general, as more coherent than is warranted; or coherent in a
more organic way than may be warranted. This leads us to the erroneous search
for the kinds of connections and integrations in and between things that in
fact do not exist.
- Related to this is the specific distortion that results because the kind of
unity we project onto the outside world tends to be that of a personality like
our own, leading to the tendency to people the world with anthropomorphic
Hence as a culture we possess an inside world that inevitably distorts the
sensations that come to us from the outside world. This would undermine any
efforts to produce science even if nature could speak to us in a readily
understandable human language.
The Idola Specus referred to an assortment of ontogenetic
traits that are typical of human beings but are distributed differently among
them. These are the kinds of distortions that 'take their rise in the peculiar
constitution, mental or bodily, of each individual' (Works, Novum
Organum Aphorism LIII, p. 84). Four of the ways people impress their
personal cognitive constitutions on things are:
- Each person who invents something new tends to interpret everything in the
light of that invention. Aristotle, said Bacon, made all natural philosophy 'a
mere bond-servant of his logic'. Gilbert's discoveries with the lodestone led
him to erect 'an entire system in accordance with his favorite subject'.
- The different things that stand out with salience fall into two classes
that reflect two different types of selective misperception: field and ground.
Some people most readily notice the differences between the things in the
environment. Others are most adept at perceiving patterns of similarity in the
objects of observation. Both, says Bacon,'err in excess, by catching the one at
gradations, the other at shadows'.
- People also fall into two classes on the basis of a preference for
continuity or change: by one type for established traditions, received dogmas
and habitual methods; contrasted by the innovators who spurn the conventional
on principle and pursue one novelty after the other, constantly at work on new
- Particle versus structure — atomism versus gestalt: people differ on
their capacities for perceiving one or the other most readily.
The Idola fori referred to the semiotic errors derived from
word formation and usage; the demotic limitations of language. Bacon seems at
first to have wanted to describe these idola as innate but did not do so
because of the incorrigibly social aspects of words. This determines that
communication, by its nature, cannot depart from the lowest common denomination
of meaning. Sociology, the study of non-rational and institutional forces, did
not exist and Bacon invented something to stand in its place. Bacon's word for
what was later to come under sociology and anthropology was 'adscititious'. It
is an awkward term but means the limitation of the knowledge of any one mind
because it must possess a form of semiotic currently readily exchanged by all
human minds. Bacon was not as sanguine about the beneficent selectivity of the
free market in ideas as were his liberal successors. 'The state of knowledge is
ever a democratie', he wrote, but it was a lament, not a reassurance.
[T]hat prevaileth', he added, 'which is most agreeable to the senses and
conceits [conceptions] of people'. (Works, Valerius Terminus Vol VI, p.,
42 ) We live and function in an adscititious semiotic noösphere but it is
Marshall MacLuhan's not Teilhard de Chardin's. Only later did Bacon add the
fourth idolum and it was a direct outgrowth of the third.
The idola theatri referred to the systems of thought and
belief that evolved, as it were, out of our natural adscititious environment.
In today's terminology, these are socio-genetic 'memes' or 'culturgens': styles
and cultural patterns that force perceptions into conformity with
characteristic concepts and usages.
All previous philosophies and logics, claimed Bacon, had been produced out
of processes and structures (schematisma) contaminated by the four
idola and accordingly, were irrevocably deficient because there is no
built-in self-correcting semiotic force to insure that human knowledge will
automatically evolve toward ever higher levels of truth. Bacon's universe is
full of unseen laws but completely devoid of an automatically corrective unseen
hand. Conscious, deliberate and properly trained human intervention is
necessary to achieve the progress that is potential rather than immanent. That
was why a fundamental intellectual revolution was a precondition to the
emergence of science: Bacon's 'revolution in thought' was celebrated by
European philosophers for two hundred years and Kant used it as the basis for
his own revolution in thought.
The eclipse suffered by Bacon's science was undeserved. Its terms and
metaphors are opaque but its semiotic foundations remain sound. Its analysis
and research processes are relevant today. Bacon describes science as an
autonomous social institution comparable to the economy. Especially important
today is his design of a sciential society in which the scientific revolution
has been consolidated, brought under the rule of law, and its carefully
prepared and monitored benefits extended to all departments of society. An
achievement of this sort is the most important new constitutional challenge
facing the United States today.
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