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Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 3, Issue 1, Spring 2014

Instruments and Arts of Inquiry: Natural History, Natural Magic and the Production of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe

Daniel Schwartz
Pages 63-89
DOI: 10.7761/JEMS.3.1.63

Is Baconian Natural History Theory-Laden?

The recent surge of interest in Bacon’s own attempts at natural history has revealed a complex interplay with his speculative ideas in natural philosophy. This research has given rise to the concern that his natural histories are theory-laden in a way that Bacon ought to find unacceptable, given his prescription in the Parasceve for a reliable body of factual instances that can be used as a storehouse for induction. This paper aims to resolve this tension by elaborating a moderate foundationalist account of Bacon’s method and by appealing to a distinction he makes, in a letter to Father Fulgentio, between pure and impure natural histories. I argue that the discussions of causes and axioms in the published histories render them impure, since that material properly belongs to Part Four of the Instauratio, but that this interplay with Part Four is necessary for the sake of the continued refinement of Part Three (the natural historical part). Bacon ultimately aims for a storehouse of instances, to be attained at the culmination of this process of refinement, and at that point the history should be published in its pure form.

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