Ramus and Bacon on Method
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Ramus and Bacon on Method CRAIG WALTON IN ONE OF HIS EARLIEST EFFORTS on the problem of method, Francis Bacon struggled to free himself from the two dominant methods of his day--Aristotelian and Ramist. 1 Addressing his would-be 'son' in what he hoped would be a long dynasty of true philosophers, Bacon first explained why Aristotle is "that worst of sophists." 2 But rebellion against Aristotle was already widespread. Bacon therefore insisted that his own thoughts must not be construed as putting him in league with that recent rebel . . . Peter Ramus, I have nothing in common with that hide-out of ignorance, that pestilent bookworm, that begetter of handy manuals. Any facts he gets hold of and begins to squeeze in the rack of his summary method soon lose their truth, which oozes or skips away, leaving him to garner only dry and barren trifles. Aquinas, Scotus, and their followers out of their unrealities created a varied world; Ramus out of the real world made a desert. Though that was the character of the man he has the effrontery to prate of human utilities. I rate him below the sophists (Farrington, 63 f.).3 Recent studies by the late Fulton Anderson and Benjamin Farrington agree with Bacon's assessment of his logic as anti-Ramist. They understood Bacon's mature views on method as having nothing in common with Ramus except two formal "rules of proof" 4 and one formal requirement that an axiom must be "a 1 For assistance in preparing this study, I wish to thank Mr. Wallace Nethery of the Hoose Library, School of Philosophy, University of Southern Califomia; Miss Elizabeth S. Wrigley and Mrs. Woodworth of the Francis Bacon Foundation Library in Claremont, California; and most especially Professor Herbert W. Schneider, who first alerted me as to possible Ramist elements in Bacon's De augmentis and offered valuable criticism of earlier drafts. Francis Bacon, Temporis partus masculus (1603), translated as the Masculine Birth of Time by Benjamin Farrington and published in his The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (Chicago, 1964), pp. 57-72. On page 59, Farrington dates the work prior to 28 August, 1602. Although Bacon's The Great lnstauration was not published until 1620, Farrington sees the period 1603 [sic]-1609 as "decisive in the evolution of his thought" (p. ll). Subsequent references to Farrington are abbreviated and cited parenthetically in the text as, e.g., (Farrington, 10). In her "The Textbook Tradition in Natural Philosophy, 1600-1650" (Jill, xxx/1, Jan:Mar. 1969, 17-32), Sister Patricia Reif shows that the begetters of handy manuals in fact were considerably behind Ramus in several ways: they ignored the role of mathematics in relation to physics, considered natural philosophy to be wholly speculative, and adopted a naive dualism between form and matter. * Fulton H. Anderson, The Philosophy o] Francis Bacon (Chicago, 1948), p. 83. Subsequent references in text as, e.g., (Anderson, 10). [289] 290 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY matter of convertible propositions" (Anderson, 135).5 Yet Bacon gave Ramus at least "qualified praise" in the De augmentis (1623). But rather than asking if Bacon had come to see affinities with Ramus by that time, Farrington concluded that it was only "an outburst of Ramism [and] was a superficial phenomenon masking the real problem" (Farrington, 36). The real problem presumably centered not on formal rules in axiom theory, but rather on what sort of practical use arts and sciences should yield, once we agree that Aristotle's methods are useless. Bacon felt this issue most keenly, and once again he went out of his way to make sure that rebellion against Aristotle would not confuse him with Ramus, since Ramus' theory of use or practice had a different goal than his own emerging notions.6 Although Ramus had had good intentions, and although twenty years of thought softened Bacon's early scorn for Ramus as "below the sophists," in 1623 he still felt that Ramus' "one and only method.., was a kind of cloud that overshadowed knowledge for awhile and blew over." ~ Presumably logic before Bacon had not attempted to open the book of Nature to man's mind. Ramus' logic seemed to Bacon to...


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