Sir Francis Bacon, Novum Organum


This might be the most obvious thing in the world to everyone else, but I remember my mind being blown when I realized that the scientific method was something that was actually invented. It, itself, might be the greatest invention in the history of humankind, and basically the gist of it is that you we are all naturally biased, so we should try to follow a more careful procedure when making observations.

I think it’s helpful to point out that Bacon really didn’t invent the scientific method. He had some specific ideas that we will talk about in a minute, but really he was a puzzle piece in a hundred year process where all the philosophers got together and really started thinking about how to know stuff, and what it means to know stuff.

It got kicked off with Descartes’ skepticism, specifically in Discourse on Method (which is very readable, he basically invents science while completely bashing on his coworkers). Then, after people like Newton rolled through and mathematics made leaps and bounds of improvement, people like Hume and Kant were like, what if we took exploring all things as seriously as we take math? Once science is really fleshed out by the likes of Kant (and God is pulled out of the scientific equation), this is where philosophy breaks off from science legitimately for the first time, and where the modern world begins. All this ends around the late 1700s, which is why in 1700s and 1800s, everyone and their mother is obsessed with encyclopedizing the world. Everyone worked out the methods of discovering new things, and with the printing press, all the lords and ladies wanted to become famous by finding all the different kinds of birds and other things.

What Bacon specifically introduces is the concept of Induction. Induction is something methodologically opposed to deduction, and uses observations of the senses to make observations about something. These observations should come with no prior presuppositions about that thing. Deduction, by contrast, starts with axioms and searches for truth. It all seems so simple, and it really is simple!