- Francis Bacon and the Refiguring of Early Modern Thought: Essays to Commemorate the Advancement of Learning (1605-2005)
Centenaries are fertile hunting grounds for editors, and it would be surprising for a work as influential as Francis Bacon's Advancement of Learning of 1605 to celebrate its four-hundredth birthday without some sort of commemoration. [End Page 939] Francis Bacon and the Refiguring of Early Modern Thought purports to be precisely that. The few available collections of essays on Bacon provide either a general overview of his thought, such as Peltonen's Cambridge Companion and Vickers's Essential Articles, or more directed discussions such as Sessions's Francis Bacon's Legacy of Texts or Price's New Atlantis. This new collection follows a broadly thematic line, promising a measure of internal critical coherence as well as a broad sweep of critical approaches and scholarly preoccupations.
The editors, Julie Robin Solomon and Catherine Gimelli Martin, aim to recuperate Bacon's general reputation while attempting to bridge the "rancorous divide" between Bacon scholars working from "internalist intellectual traditions" and those concerned with the "contemporary political, social and economic context" (2). To this end, they have sought responses to E. O. Wilson's suggestion that Bacon was the "grand architect of the enlightenment" (Edward O. Wilson, Consilience ). For Wilson, Bacon's influence on the Enlightenment was a result of his desire to unify all branches of learning, driven by the belief that the universe can be explained by a small number of laws. While this may seem initially at odds with the form of Bacon's Advancement of Learning, which, where not concerned with the defence of knowledge, is preoccupied with identifying the lacunae of human knowledge, Bacon summed up his own work with the words "Thus haue I made as it were a small Globe of the Intellectuall world, as truly and faithfully as I coulde discouer, with a note and description of those parts which seeme to mee, not constantly occupate, or not well conuerted by the labour of Man" (Advancement of Learning, Oxford Francis Bacon, vol. 4).
The essays themselves fall into a number of categories, the first of which comprises those which explore Bacon's relationship with the past, such as Reid Barbour's tracing of his on/off relationship with Democritus and Atomism, and Michael McCanles's consideration of his debt to late medieval nominalism and transcendental mysticism. Into this category also falls John Brigg's essay, perhaps the most successful of the collection, which considers Bacon's rehabilitation and manipulation of Eidos. Brigg's essay engages explicitly with Wilson's thesis, skillfully welding Bacon's use of the concept of Eidos with Wilson's own struggles to explain the need for the transcendental in a deterministic world, and in the process providing a critical comparison between the two thinkers which serves as a case study of the concept of consilience in action. Weinberger also grapples with Wilson, though to a lesser extent, taking Wilson to task for his belief that the basic fissure preventing a unity of knowledge is between science and religion, using Bacon's New Atlantis as a text with which to reconsider his relationship to religion.
Other essays seek to draw comparisons between individual threads of Bacon's thought. Guido Giglioni on Bacon's gerontology and Daniel Coquillette on his search for universal principles of law address Wilson's theme of consilience without directly engaging with it. In a similar manner, Fritz Levy's essay — the only one to work directly with the Advancement of Learning itself — seeks to demonstrate the similarities between Bacon's historical theorizing and natural historical program, concluding that "the process of understanding history and understanding [End Page 940] nature were at least parallel, if not identical" (215). Timothy Reiss similarly explores Bacon's use and engagement with the language and process of contemporary...