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Francis Bacon, Feminist Historiography, and the Dominion of Nature

From: Journal of the History of Ideas
Volume 69, Number 1, January 2008
pp. 117-141 | 10.1353/jhi.2008.0007


Perhaps no major figure has been subject to so many fluctuations in the history of ideas as Francis Bacon. In the 1980s three feminists (Sandra Harding, Evelyn Fox Keller, and Carolyn Merchant) set out to discredit Bacon, and the Scientific Revolution to which he contributed, by alleging that he had advocated "the rape and torture" of nature. Their indictment, which was well received in feminist circles, produced several effective rebuttals from historians of science. In September 2006 the journal Isis published a "Focus" symposium entitled "Getting Back to The Death of Nature: Rereading Carolyn Merchant." Two of the contributions, by Katharine Park and Carolyn Merchant herself, reassert the feminist case against Bacon. In this essay I want to review their indictment and to strengthen Bacon's defense.

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