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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


BACON (Roger)

(c. 1214 — 1292 or later)

 

AUGUSTINIANISM

Roger Bacon, philosopher and scientist, was born of a wealthy family either in Ilchester (Somerset) or Bisly (Gloucestershire), and studied arts at Oxford (under Grosseteste) and Paris. As Regent Master he lectured there on Aristotle in about 1237. He returned to Oxford some ten years later to pursue further studies in a wide range of subjects, including languages, mathematics, and experimental science, and later entered the Franciscan Order. In 1257, at the request of Pope Clement II, he undertook to produce an encyclopaedia of universal learning. He was imprisoned in 1278 because of allegedly suspect teaching. He became known as the Doctor Mirabilis ('wonderful teacher').

 

METAPHYSICS/ RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY

[1] [See the Greater Work, II and VII.] Bacon seems to have made little original contribution to metaphysical thinking. He accepted the identity of essence and existence [a] — that what makes a thing what it is cannot be distinguished from what makes it that thing; the doctrine of an immortal, spiritual soul, the plurality of forms and a universal corporeal form for all matter [b]; hylomorphism in all created things (including spiritual beings) [c]; and 'seminal reasons' [d]. We have knowledge of God and can prove His existence from a consideration of the inner light [e]. But ultimately, although reason is needed for philosophy, what we discover through it must be subordinated to faith [f]; reason is of God and must return to him. Bacon thus emphasizes the primacy of theology over other sciences.

 

KNOWLEDGE

[2] Bacon said that we may start from any philosophy — be it Christian or pagan — but must seek to eliminate ignorance and prejudice [ibid. I]. He accepted that knowledge is grounded in reason and experience. However, he distinguished between 'inner' or 'divine' experience, which follows on illumination by God (as the Active Intellect) and leads to increasing degrees of certainty culminating in mystical states [ibid. II; Third Work, 74] [a], and 'external' or 'human' experience, which involves evidence of the senses, experimental sciences, as well as mathematics and languages [ibid. VI]. External experience cannot of itself lead directly to truth; it can only serve to verify or confirm the conclusions of reason and inner experience [b]. His emphasis on the 'concrete' is exhibited also in his rejection of universals in favour of individuals [Metaphysics II, 95] [c].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Bacon was generally Augustinian in his metaphysics and religious philosophy — and indeed, by comparison with most of his contemporaries, may be regarded as somewhat reactionary, keeping himself aloof from new developments in scholastic philosophy and theology. Nevertheless he had a good understanding of Aristotle's writings, and the influence of the 'Peripatetic' is evident in his own thought. But although he is important in that he accorded a role to sense experience and experiment as a means of confirming the discoveries of reason and inner experience, he can be criticized in so far as his natural science was not freed from its ultimate dependence on divine illumination. Perhaps because his concerns were primarily practical rather than theoretical he was often inclined to be uncritical — readily accepting the opinions of others, and appealing too readily to astrology and occult sciences, and thereby failing to follow his own canons of evidence.

 

READING

Bacon: especially the Opus Maius (Greater Work), trans. R. B. Burke... See also McKeon, op. cit, vol. II, ch. 1.

Studies

S. C. Easton, Roger Bacon and his Search for a Universal Science.

J. Hackett, 'R. Bacon', in J. J. E. Garcia (ed.), A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages.

Collection of essays

J. M. G. Hackett (ed.), Roger Bacon and the Sciences: Commemorative Essays.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Roger Bacon

 

Note: The influence of Augustine on Bacon is assumed to be mediated through the thirteenth century 'Augustinians', such as Grosseteste and William of Auvergne. However, connections to Augustine are included below. He may also have been influenced by Alexander of Hales, whose lectures he heard in Paris.

 

[1a] Essence and existence identical

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

   Wm of Auvergne

[13a]

[1c 3c]

[1b]

 

[1b c] Plurality of forms; universal form for matter; universal hylomorphism; simple immortal soul — not 'form' of body

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

   Grosseteste

   Wm of Auvergne

[13c]

[1f 3e]

[1d]

[2a]

 

[1d] Seminal reasons    Augustine [4e]

 

[1e] Knowledge and proof of God's existence through 'inner light'

   Augustine

   Grosseteste

[2c]

[2b]

 

[1f] Reason subordinate to faith

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Wm of Auvergne

[1i]

[5d]

[1a]

 

[2a] Knowledge: inner experience; God (as Active Intelect) illuminates; progression to mystical state

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Grosseteste

   Wm of Auvergne

[15d]

[1h 2a 8b]

[5a e 3e]

[2a]

[3b 3c]

 

[2b] Knowledge: outer experience the senses and mathematics

   Aristotle

   Grosseteste

   Bacon (Francis)

   Hobbes

[16b]

[3a b]

[2a]

[2c]

 

[2c] Rejection of universals

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

   Wm of Auvergne

   Ockham

[16e]

[1b]

[3c]

[3e]