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  • The Instauratio magna Part II: Novum organum and Associated Texts
  • Deborah E. Harkness
Francis Bacon . The Instauratio magna Part II: Novum organum and Associated Texts. Eds. and trans. Graham Rees and Maria Wakely. The Oxford Francis Bacon 11. Oxford and New York: The Clarendon Press/Oxford University Press, 2004. cxxviii + 625 pp. + 2 b/w pls. index. append. illus. tbls. bibl. $225. ISBN: 0–19–924792–7.

Francis Bacon was a man of enormous ambition. Well-born and well-educated, Bacon's aspirations to change law, politics, and government, far-reaching as they were, are dwarfed by his aspiration to bring about a reformation in human knowledge. Though unfinished, his projected six-part Instauratio magna (1620–26) was to be the cornerstone of this transformation, leading readers through a vital exploration of all existing knowledge and into a new way of knowing based on inductive reasoning. Turning away from the ancient wisdom of Aristotle, Bacon's Novum organum was a fundamental part of his scheme for a return to a pure and unassailable knowledge of the world.

Making the works of such an enormous and wide-ranging intellect accessible to scholars and students required an editorial team undaunted by the problems associated with translation, incomplete manuscripts, and variant printings. In Graham Rees and Lisa Jardine, Bacon's works have finally met their match, as earlier volumes of the Oxford Francis Bacon series have demonstrated. In this volume, Rees and Maria Wakely take on the important, and also unfinished, second part of Bacon's incomplete magnum opus. Bacon's Novum organum has long been an indispensable text for inquiries into the history of science, the history of ideas, and the history of the book. This fine new edition, which exhibits the best qualities of modern textual scholarship, will enable scholars in these and other disciplines to take a fresh look at a treasured classic.

The Novum organum, like many of Bacon's works, is really a collection of separate items collected into a published metatext. All the items included in this edition of the Novum organum were included in the 1620 folio edition of the work: prefatory materials (the exordium, the dedication to James I, the general preface to the Instauratio magna, and the ground plan, or Distributio operis, for the project), the Novum organum itself (the preface and both books of aphorisms), and two texts relating to natural history that finished the volume and served as preliminary texts for the third part of the Instauratio magna, the Parasceue ad historiam naturalem and the Catalogus historiarum particularium. For each, a critical edition of the original Latin faces a new translation destined to become the standard [End Page 682] English version cited by scholars. Rees aimed to provide today's readers with a modern rendering of Bacon's early modern Latin, one that is free from troubling anachronisms and misleading turns of phrase — and he has succeeded.

The brilliance of the translations makes it possible for all readers to fathom the allusions in the preface and work their way through the intricacies of the aphorisms. These aphorisms include some of Bacon's most important philosophical arguments, such as those on the interpretation of nature, the refutation of native human reason (the description of the idols of the Tribe, Cave, and Market), and a discussion of how to discover axioms of nature. The excellent supporting materials that accompany the translated texts will help any reader, no matter how knowledgeable or expert, through the labyrinthine paths of Bacon's own arguments as well as the arguments made about him by generations of scholars and critics. The style of the introduction is especially noteworthy: it is fresh and direct, making it a pleasure to read; it is technically detailed, making it an essential guide for researchers; and it is crystal clear, making it a joy to mull over Rees's arguments about the novelty and force of Bacon's philosophy and the peculiarities of the Novum organum's printing history. Rees's claims for Bacon's significance are carefully modulated, avoiding the pitfalls of attributing too much of the Scientific Revolution to him on the one hand, or criticizing him for not being...


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pp. 682-683
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Archived 2009
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