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6 The Masculine Birth of Time

It appeared to us a land without memories, regrets, and hopes; a land where each sunrise, like a dazzling act of special creation, was disconnected from the eve and the morrow.

—Joseph Conrad, Karain: A Memory

The paradoxes of Utopia, the hesitations of the Somnium, the decision being forged between texts such as La città del sole and New Atlantis are leading toward a new kind of dominant certainty. The difficulty faced by a More is seized upon with scant ceremony by Francis Bacon, his later successor as Chancellor of England, and all the non-sense shaken out of it. Utopia had treated the act of writing as essentially problematic. For his part, Kepler had sensed the presence of two different classes of writing, but strove to maintain their mutual coherence by making the one the servant of the other. The emerging analytical product will rapidly take over. The New Organon will view a particular class of writing and the specific organization of discourse it necessitates as the fundamental requirement of all ‘right’ knowing.

When we talk nowadays of Sir Francis Bacon, we tend to view him as preoccupied with the foundation of an empirical science of nature. From one point of view this nineteenth-century legacy is well founded. It is a fact that he often writes of a “legitimate science” and of the series of “natural histories” that such a science establishes. We should nonetheless remember at least three things: first of all, that the restricted sense of the word ‘science’ is itself in part the result of a particular later interpretation of Bacon’s own work. For him and his contemporaries the word’s meaning was much broader: “It may also be asked (in the way of doubt rather than objection) whether I speak of natural philosophy only, or whether I mean that the other sciences, logic, ethics, and politics, should be carried on by this method. Now I certainly mean what I have said to be understood of them all” (VIII. 159; NO, I.cxxvii).1

Second (and I will come back at some length to this matter), we may be tempted to find rather strange the application of the word ‘empirical’ to a science that begins with axioms and descends to “particulars” (as he calls them). Third, we should never forget that Bacon was first and foremost a lawyer and statesman—politician, rather, in modern parlance. He was a Member of Parliament from the Elizabethan era, and, after 1607, successively Solicitor General, Attorney General, Lord Keeper, and finally, in 1618, Lord Chancellor of England.

Bacon himself and his contemporaries viewed his work as at least the prolegomenon to a complete philosophical system. The system was inseparably linked with its author’s legal and political activities— as the previous chapter has suggested. When he insists that the single aim of this system—and of all philosophy in general—is the betterment of human life and society, he has the right to expect us to understand such a statement as it comes from a man profoundly immersed in the life of his times, political and social. No doubt that is why the intellectual weight carried by Bacon for his immediate successors was not at all reduced by his political fall in 1621. Charles Webster has shown convincingly that if there is one single voice that resounds through the intellectual, social, and political revolutions of seventeenth-century England, it is indeed Bacon’s.2 In this respect critics often mention the Royal Society—as did the previous chapter. Webster emphasizes, rather, the many reforms in medicine, education, and social and political institutions. He notes that Bacon was perhaps more immediately important in these areas than he was ever to be in the natural sciences.

It is certainly the nineteenth century that insisted on the ‘scientific’ character of the Chancellor’s work, the century during which the dominance of the model drawn from ‘experimental science’ reached its apogee in the claims of scientists like Laplace, and faced its first serious misgivings in the work of such diverse thinkers as Marx and Maxwell, Helmholtz and Peirce. Before the time of this new crisis, no one had committed the same error concerning Bacon’s work. Sir William Petty’s judgment is typical and, coming from a man who played so very important a role in the intellectual network of seventeenth-century England, of special significance. Petty, it is worth recalling, was a doctor, one of the founders of the Royal Society, and a great friend of both Hobbes and Dryden, as well as one of the founders of demography as a science and of the strain of economic thought whose first great monument will be Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. He chooses to underline above all the political aspect of Bacon’s work:

Such an assertion tells us several things. First, it is clear that the human body/political body comparison refers beyond Bacon to Machiavelli, and beyond the Florentine to Greek Antiquity. Petty, who is fully aware of the tradition, chooses to accentuate Bacon’s importance. In part that is no doubt for polemical effect, Bacon’s name being endowed with the weight already indicated. At the same time he can thereby underline its connection (and his own) with the work of that thinker who was now considered to have elaborated the first scientific work of political theory: Thomas Hobbes. For when Petty stresses the words “Symmetry, Fabrick, and Proportion” he reminds us of the goal that Hobbes himself had asserted of founding a theory of the state in “geometrical reasoning.” At the same time, he implies that the idea is Baconian, and founded in a new discourse that the Chancellor would have elaborated (indeed, there had been a real intellectual and personal relationship between Bacon and Hobbes for the few years preceding the former’s death).4

If Petty confirms in this manner my points about the breadth of the term ‘science’ and the place of his political activity in the new discourse, he also substantiates my remark about an “empirical science.” He says that immediate experience, whether in medicine or in politics, is quite useless. It can lead only to a “casual practice,” as by those who practice medicine with no knowledge of first principles. He offers the new (‘Baconian’) discourse as a radical alternative.

So, too, does Giambattista Vico, whom we may take as a last witness in addition to Petty and Hobbes. In 1725, Vico begins the Scienza nuova by insisting that he will build a new science on Baconian principles. This science will exclude any consideration whatsoever of “natural” phenomena, because these were created by God and their innermost causes must therefore remain hidden from humans. It will instead concentrate on human society, for this is the invention of humans and therefore available to their understanding. Views such as these, of course, suggest a comprehension of the term ‘empirical’ that needs exploring—the more particularly here as it is so central a concept within analytico-referential discourse.

Confronting what he understood as a profound crisis of all human practices, Bacon (like many of his contemporaries) viewed his age as the time of a new “birth” of human thought, of human activities, and of the society that could come from them and be their embodiment. This birth would be enabled by a “legitimate” knowledge, which would produce “works” for “the betterment of men’s lives.” It is a constant principle of Bacon’s discussion that such a birth depends on new discoveries, that such discoveries depend on experience ordered according to some methodical rule, and that such a method depends on writing: what Bacon calls experientia literata or “literate experience.”

The old learning, he asserts (meaning not only that of the Scholastics but also that of his immediate predecessors—one can imagine what scorn he would have poured on the Harmonice mundi), does not depend on such literate experience. On the contrary, it gathers up bits and pieces of diverse notions, it tinkers with the results of a disordered ‘immediate’ experience of the world, which leads only to playing with words: one is reminded of Kepler and Campanella— not to mention Lévi-Strauss. Bacon, therefore, completely rejects the syllogism and scholastic logic, because, he says,

This kind of reasoning from images of nature taken as immediate and drawn from ‘raw experience’ leads directly to “anticipations.” These “anticipations are far more powerful than interpretations” because the “familiarity” of their expression straightway touches “the understanding” and fills “the imagination.” As soon as one is dealing with literate or methodic experiences, the matter is no longer comprehensible by this kind of thinking (VIII.73–74: NO, I.xxviii). This failure of language and experience is in need of correction:

For experience, when it wanders in its own track, is, as I have already remarked, mere groping in the dark, and confounds men rather than instructs them. But when it shall proceed in accordance with a fixed law, in regular order, and without interruption, then may better things be hoped of knowledge. [VIII. 135–36: NO, I.c]

And for this reason, he affirms:

hitherto more has been done in matter of invention by thinking than by writing; and experience has not yet learned her letters. Now no course of invention can be satisfactory unless it be carried on in writing. But when this is brought into use, and experience has been taught to read and write, better things may be hoped. [VIII. 136: NO, I.ci]

Such a concept of experiment is derived, not from some concept of human relations with nature, but from the domain of political affairs, and Bacon seeks to explain his epistemological abstraction by referring to the activities of government: “just as if some kingdom or state were to direct its counsels and affairs not by letters and reports from ambassadors and trustworthy messengers, but by the gossip of the streets; such exactly is the system of management introduced into philosophy with relation to experience” (VIII. 133–34: NO, I.xcviii).

In this matter certain texts of Galileo assert nothing else than what we can see here. The Italian scientist constantly insists that what he calls “raw experience” is absolutely useless. “Experience” is only usable when it has been ordered beforehand by a mental calculus. And only a small number of lettered scholars are capable of inventing such a calculus.5 Once again we meet with the need for secrecy we saw among the Fathers of Bensalem. Bacon insists on this aspect of a prince’s power when he not only urges that all “counsel” should appear to emanate from the prince directly and alone, but argues that the ruler should “extract and select” those “secrets” he wishes to communicate even to his own councilors (XII. 146 ff.: Essays, XX).

He will go so far as to assert that “he is the greater and deeper politique, that can make other men the instruments of his will and ends, and yet never acquaint them with his purpose, so as they shall do it and yet not know what they do”; so great a politician, he adds, is entirely comparable to God (VI.225: AL, II.vii.7). We are once again reminded of Descartes’s Passions de l’âme, where man is equal to God in respect of his will; and of the scientists of New Atlantis, where the secret functioning of power is a part of knowledge. These elements are, as we see, fundamentally tied in with the concept of experientia literata; they are the property of a small number of lettered scientists, owners of “legitimate” knowledge.

The reference to Galileo was not meaningless, therefore. It recalled once again the tetrad of Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, and Hobbes, which the quotation from Petty also emphasized. It is precisely within this relationship of will, secrecy, power, individual enun-ciator of discourse, literate experience, and human divinity that the new analytico-referential discourse will institute its dominance. Indeed, according to Bacon, the “order and method” of this practical and well-organized human experience correspond exactly to the “order and method that the divine word operated on the created mass” (VIII. 115: NO, I.lxxxii). Such a phrase clearly contains the embryo of Hobbes’s entirely human “Fiat” that logically founds the modern contractual state, our civil association called “Leviathan.”

Such a relation enables us to glimpse the possible significance of Bacon’s all-important “literate experience.” Indeed, the experientia literata indicates in Bacon a kind of ‘dialectic,’ a constant play between the elaboration of “axioms,” the “descent to particulars,” and the return to the former. As he puts it in The Advancement of Learning: “all true and fruitful natural philosophy hath a double scale or ladder, ascendent and descendent, ascending from experiments to the invention of causes, and descending from causes to the invention of new experiments” (VI.215: AL, II.vii.1). A process such as this can clearly have neither a beginning nor an end. Indeed, the study of many examples of this kind of phrase (and they are myriad) shows that Bacon is indifferent as to his placing of axioms and experiments: sometimes the one, sometimes the other is placed first. That is tantamount to observing that there is no way of cornering Bacon in some narrow empiricism (or rationalism either).

Nevertheless, Bacon’s literate experience, which seems initially to be a part of a kind of ‘dialectic,’ will easily take the linear form of a particular discursive elaboration, whose origin is an enunciating subject (rapidly hypostatized into a self) under the (communicative) necessity of hiding all marks of its own ‘presence.’ For diverse reasons, epistemological as well as political, logical as well as moral, the discourse must not be seen to take its origin in its own subject. The hypostatization of the ‘dialectic’ of knowing into the founding collective Fiat is one evidence of this. Bacon’s experientia literata is thus mightily ambiguous. On the one hand, it indicates only the ‘self-conscious’ discursive organization of human thought and its ‘objects,’ without which organization there can objectively be no thought whatsoever. On the other, it is already leading toward its own hypostatization into the origin of all thought, of all power, of all authority and will, of all knowledge.

Critics have often claimed that such literate experience is at once a simple recording of experience, previously acquired in the form of disordered and unusable raw images, and the theoretical organizing of such ‘experience’ as ‘experiment.’ That is Spedding’s view, for example. Benjamin Farrington notes similarly: “It includes i) the recording of experience and, arising out of that, ii) the employment of a certain direction and order in experiment.”6 We are dealing, that is to say, with memory and law. Bacon is thus assimilated, quite simply, to a Western tradition that dates from Plato and maintains (more or less) that writing is merely an efficient means of recording and representing speech: a matter questioned, but differently, in Utopia as well.

No doubt there is something of that in Bacon: one does not simply sidestep tradition. But there is much more. It is perhaps not irrelevant to recall here the frequency with which the Chancellor refers, beyond both Aristotle and Plato, to the Presocratics. For him, writing is not a mere record. It is the very foundation of knowledge, whose recording it will then make possible as well: writing precedes and follows knowledge. Such a situation is explicit in Bacon. What remain implicit are the consequences (the Hobbesian Fiat being one). Indeed, not only do they remain implicit, not infrequently they are ‘deliberately’ occulted. A further example is worth noting immediately.

Empiricism itself, as an objective knowledge of reality, is the consequence of such an occultation. And that occultation will permit the installation not only of a certain kind of science but also of the liberal state as corresponding to the permanent reality of human relations and of humanity in general (Vico’s argument also, at one level). I quote the following passage as an example of the occultation and because it puts the concept of literate experience in relation with a particular kind of political and historical knowing, and because it does so with respect to a figure Bacon considers one of his most important predecessors:

What are we to make of such a passage? It seems clear enough that the “Histories and Examples” in question are already literate experience, and not simply raw experience as Bacon appears to suggest. Even if such raw experience were not a priori impossible, Bacon knew as well as any that Machiavelli selected and altered the details of his examples to suit his needs. That is as much as to say that the ‘dialectic of knowing’ originally implied in the concept of experientia literata is replaced by the notion that experience ordered in accordance with “order and method” corresponds in fact to raw experience, and the implication that such experience is common to all sensible and reasonable beings. Just as Descartes will, Bacon implies that method, once discovered, will allow all the same access to a common and identical store of good sense. In its turn, such good sense is taken as reacting to experiences that are everywhere and always the same.

The concept of a common, general experience—universal and reasonable, as the grammarians will have it—is one that permits the elaboration and practice of the liberal state, founded upon a contract between equal individuals, each possessed of a similar will. Like Descartes, Bacon will have a powerful share in the creation of the ‘discursive space’ making possible such an idea of knowledge and social practice. What has been occulted in a passage like the one just quoted is the awareness (that is, as a mark in discourse) of experience as itself the result of a certain kind of discursive elaboration: the term “experientia literata” is merely one of the indices of such an elaboration. The reference to Machiavelli has its importance as well. For the Florentine, as I observed in Chapter 3, is the writer who ‘began’ the development of a new class of political discourse, at precisely the moment when the older discourse was showing itself untenable.

By Bacon’s time, two particular relationships had provoked a series of questions that needed urgent answers but to which no solutions were as yet forthcoming: the relation between man and nature, and the relations between humans. I am not neglecting the relation between man and God, but it is a fact that theology, despite its continuing force was more and more losing its dominance in political and social theory, Vico’s “scienza nuova.” Felix Raab, Christopher Hill, and others have shown that though a certain tension between the secular and the religious continues to mid-century, such is no longer the case by the end of the century—at least in England.8 Galileo may have been impeached in 1633 in Rome, Descartes may have (so it has been said) withheld publication of the Traité du monde as a result, Campanella may have been forced to flee to Paris (there to live an honored guest), but their kind of thinking was common currency not more than twenty years later. It was in the first two areas that the questions seemed in most immediate need of solution. When no solution is available to such peremptory questions, there is only one way to go: it becomes necessary to change the contextual field which gives rise to the problem—as Machiavelli had already started to do in the case of political theory.

From the beginning, as I have been suggesting, Bacon is working toward what he conceives of as a new discursive or logical space. It is a space essentially of practice: “But men must know, that in this theatre of man’s life it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookers on,” and man’s work must aspire to public profit (VI.314, 316: AL, II.xx.8, 10). He will write in the preface and text of the “Plan of the Great Instauration” that “the true ends of knowledge” are directed only “for the benefit and use of life,” that knowledge will exist only “to lay the foundation ... of human utility and power”: “the matter in hand is no mere felicity of speculation, but the real business and fortunes of the human race, and all power of operation” (VIII.36, 53: NO).

It is with such a goal in mind that Bacon seeks to lay the foundations of a new discourse, or a new logic (if we recall what we have seen him assert, for example, concerning scholastic logic). He wants neither more nor less than to change the direction of the human race. That is why he constantly affirms the difficulty of understanding and communication posed by these new principles of “writing,” of “literate experience,” and so on. But these principles, he says, are not refutable for all that, because they are to be found in a completely new space: “for confutations cannot be employed when the difference is upon first principles and very notions, and even upon forms of demonstration” (VIII.75: NO, I.xxxv). The terms here are, of course, all logical ones. He says again: “To attempt refutations in this case would be merely inconsistent with what I have already said, for since we agree neither upon principles nor upon demonstrations there is no place for argument” (VIII.89: NO, I.lxi). He faces head on, then, this previously dominant discourse, which works by “anticipations of nature,” by a kind of ‘bricolage’ of immediate images of nature, by syllogism and circular argument: “I cannot be called on to abide by the sentence of a tribunal which is itself on trial” (VIII.75: NO, I.xxxiii). The problem of communication and closure is acute, and I will return to it in a moment, because as a consequence of it we discover one of the major occultations of this discourse: that of the enunciating subject (later, indeed, to be hypostatized as individual will).

The New Organon conceives of writing and the discursive ordering it installs as the fundamental necessity of all “right” knowing. Long before, Bacon had written in the Redargutio philosophiarum (RP, c. 1608): “Our way might properly be described as literate experience [literata experientia], the art or plan for an honest interpretation of nature, a true path from sense to intellect” (VII.78: RP).

Writing may be an early step toward the restoration of true knowledge, but it is perhaps not the first. Learning the proper way to write experiments (or to accompany them, so to speak, with writing) must precede, it is said, or at least keep step with the invention of suitable experiments themselves; but before correct writing can occur, a language must be discovered capable of mediating thought and things, concepts and causes. For language, writes Bacon, is not initially transparent. On the contrary, it is opaque and a distorting influence on thought, which it controls by organizing it in terms of the “wretched hotch-potch of traditional error” absorbed by children from the very moment when “they learn to speak”: “The nature of words,” he goes on, “being vague and ill-defined, is another source of illusion, nay, almost of violence to the human understanding. Words are a kind of currency, which reflect vulgar opinions and preferences, for they combine or distinguish things according to popular notions and acceptations, which are for the most part mistaken or confused” (VII. 112: Cogitata et visa [CV]).

Language, thought, and reality are now three separate domains, and the first can be made a ‘neutral’ mediator between the second and third only with laborious effort. These “Idols,” as Bacon will come to call them, must be cured by a retreat from the “Market Place” to a kind of Salomon’s House of the mind. For if the effort is not made, there can be no advance whatsoever in “natural philosophy.” This is necessarily the case, because “those faulty meanings of words cast their rays, or stamp their impressions, on the mind itself. They do not only make discourse tedious, but they impair judgement and understanding” (VII. 113: CV).

The distinction between reason and language, between reason and things, between language and things, poses an enormous difficulty, particularly because the distinction cannot in any event be absolute: “for men believe that their reason governs words; but it is also true that words react on the understanding” (VIII.86: NO, I.lix). On the one hand, as I have noted earlier, neither words nor thought has any longer a direct relation with things; on the other, reason and language tend to become confused with one another. How then, we must ask, is it possible to distinguish the occasions when reason is governing words from those when words are governing reason? And how can we make any judgment whatsoever concerning the expression of things—whether in words or in concepts? These are the obstacles that Bacon, like Descartes, like Galileo and so many others, must overcome if he is to be able to proffer the hope of a (necessarily) written science of nature and of the human.

Bacon deals first with the matter of trying to make words equal to the expression of things. He responds to the question by a kind of ruse. He invents a kind of logical atomism avant la lettre. Mere definition of terms, he argues, is insufficient. For if there is no evidence underlying such definition of any right relation between discourse and the world (evidence that would itself depend on the definition in question), then any such attempt leads merely to an infinite regression: “since the definitions themselves consist of words, and those words beget others.”9 Thus, he continues, “it is necessary to recur to individual instances, and those in due series and order” (VIII.87: NO, I.lix). It is by no means clear how this can help to overcome the distance between words and things, because we are still at a loss for any guarantee of the adequacy or suitability of our expression of such “individual instances.”

In his Natural and Experimental History for the Foundation of Philosophy of 1622, Bacon remarks that true knowledge can only be sought in “the volume of creation,” because that is where the elements of a true language are to be found: “For this is that sound and language which went forth into all lands, and did not incur the confusion of Babel; this should men study to be perfect in, and becoming again as little children condescend to take the alphabet of it into their hands, and spare no pains to search and unravel the interpretation thereof” (IX.371). This, then, is the ruse—well known and widespread at the time. It is a question of metaphorizing states of affairs in the world as an alphabet.10 In such a way, Bacon writes, the object of a legitimate science must be “to inquire the forms of sense, of voluntary motion, of vegetation, of colours, of gravity and levity, of density, of tenuity, of heat, of cold, and all other natures and qualities, which, like an alphabet, are not many, and of which the essences (upheld by matter) of all creatures do consist” (VI.220–21: AL, II.vii.5).

These alphabetical elements, solidly set in matter at the same time as they give form to it, will thereby permit the Tilling out’ of a kind of natural grammar. This grammar will correspond in part to what we call natural laws, in part to the letters and syntax of the scientific language that is experientia literata. We are thus provided with the beginnings of a lesson whose term will be a right reading and a true writing of the (alphabetical) order of the world. In the “Plan of the Great Instauration,” Bacon writes therefore that he had discovered many things of no particular use in themselves and therefore not “sought for on their own account, but having just the same relation to things and works which the letters of the alphabet have to speech and words—which, though in themselves useless, are the elements of which all discourse is made up” (VIII.49: NO).

The elements of the material world are thus an alphabet organized in just the same way as the letters that compose a discursive phrase; their order depends on the same kind of organization. A right reading and writing of the world is thus one in which the projection of the elements of written language and of those of the world in some way coincide (the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus is thus in many ways an exemplary descendant): “So also the letters of the alphabet in themselves and apart have no use or meaning [nihil significant nec alicujus usus sunt], yet they are the subject matter [mate-riae primae] for the composition and apparatus of all discourse. So again the seeds of things are of much latent virtue [potestate valida], and yet of no use except in their development” (VIII. 152: NO, I.cxxi).

Eventually he will be able to assert that science—knowledge of things in general—comes at once from the nature of the human mind (which reveals itself in and through language, the witness to reason, words being “competent to express cogitations,” VI.283: AL, II.xvi.2), and from the nature of things, composed of alphabetical “seeds.” The two meet in writing. It only remains then to align concepts, whose reference is to reality, with expression (discourse), whose correct order corresponds with the order of the natural world: as far as their setting in order, their projection, is concerned, the seeds of right discourse coincide with those of matter. Bacon can thus speak of “the power and nature of words, as they are the footsteps and prints of reason” (VI.285: AL, II.xvi.4), having already asserted that “the common principles and axioms which are promiscuous and indifferent to several sciences” ( = reason) (VI.217: AL, II.vii.3) are also “but the same footsteps of nature, treading or printing upon several subjects or matters” (VI.211: AL, II.v.3). The first principles of the sciences, which are reason organized according to the legitimate “order and method,” are the “same footsteps of nature” and isomorphic with words, which are “the footsteps and prints” of that same reason.

Well-ordered writing thus provides us with an automatic analysis of the world, a logical analysis: its minimal parts coincide with the minimal parts of the material world. The final aphorism of The New Organon asserts that his new ‘logic’ sets out “to teach and instruct the understanding . . . , that it may in very truth dissect nature, and discover the virtues and actions of bodies, with their laws as determined in matter; so that this science flows not merely from the nature of the mind, but also from the nature of things” (VIII.347–48: NO, II.lii). So it is, too, that the monetary metaphor we saw earlier used as an indication of “mistaken or confused” popular thinking about the nature of things will now be employed as ‘evidence’ of a kind of division of labor and of a greater clarity in knowledge: “this part [in respect of language] concerneth as it were the mint of knowledge (for words are the tokens current and accepted for conceits, as moneys are for values)” (VI.285: AL, II.xvi.3).

So written syntax becomes a logical analysis of the world, merely by virtue of its very ordering process. But what evidence is there that such an analysis is truly referential, that it can really denote objects in the world? that it describes the world as it is ‘in reality’? that the concepts ascribed in discourse are not simply more scholastic “spiders’ webs” (VII. 118: RP)? The answer Bacon gives to these questions is essentially that the proof of the pudding is in the eating: “in nature practical results are . . . the guarantee of truth” (VII. 131: CV). If our discursive logic in fact produces the works it claims to be able to produce, this is the proof that its order and the order of that piece of the world it expresses do conform with one another, and that our knowledge is therefore a true knowledge: “Truth, therefore, and utility are here the very same things; and works are of greater value as pledges of truth than as contributing to the comforts of life” (VIII. 157: NO, I.cxxiv). We should not, here, allow ourselves to believe that Bacon is changing his emphasis, or downgrading “the improvement of men’s lot.” He is at this moment concerned with referential truth, and consequently stresses that aspect of the matter. Finally he will have to give equal weight to both, so that “the improvement of man’s mind and the improvement of his lot are one and the same thing” (VII. 131: CV). Truth, utility, knowledge, and visible material production are identical: “what in operation is most useful, that in knowledge is most true” (VIII. 171: NO, II.iv).

There remains a considerable ambiguity nonetheless, for it is by no means clear to what extent such truth is or is not limited. At times Bacon appears to suggest that truth of this sort can never be in any sense an ‘absolute,’ though he also asserts, apparently to the contrary, that “the investigation of nature and of all sciences will be the work of a few years” (VIII.355: Parasceve). Like Descartes, he seems to suggest here that his method will lead to the acquisition of all possible truth about nature. This is the line of assertions that will culminate in Laplace’s conception of the universe as a mechanism entirely determined and mathematically predictable. But Bacon also argues that human knowledge is absolutely limited: “For the testimony and information of the senses has reference always to man, not to the universe” (VIII.44: NO, “Plan of the Great Instauration”).11 He goes so far as to hint that such new human ordering is a new universe of discourse, that the world thus invented consists of a new logical space, so that “by the help and ministry of man a new face of bodies, another universe or theatre of things, comes into view” (VIII.357: Parasceve).

We have seen the arguments about analysis and referentiality that permit the instauration of such a space. But if the epistemological difficulty has been ‘solved’ to some extent, there yet remain two considerable problems as far as communication is concerned (and which considerably affect the epistemological ‘solution’). (1) How is one to communicate the new space of such a logic? (2) How is one to resolve the visible ambiguity of a humanly ordered discourse that is nonetheless able to conclude in the affirmation of some completed truths about nonhuman matters? (Vico’s answer to the second one was, of course, that no such resolution is possible, and therefore no such affirmation either.)

The two questions point on the one hand toward authority, on the other toward falsifiability. And Bacon introduces the authority of an enunciating subject as the basis of acceptable communication, and a logic of the excluded middle as the foundation of belief. The first must necessarily remain hidden in discourse, because its visibility would deny the ‘objectivity’ and the ‘transparency’ of analytico-referential discourse. The ‘sight’ of this authority would place an irresistible obstacle in the way of any objective discursive truth. Such authority is necessary, however, as well for the needs of communicating a new discursive class (first question) as for those exigencies which concern the clear communication of a new kind of conceptualization (second question).

For this logic depends not only on the ‘atomism’ already discussed but also on the affirmation that understanding can be placed in adequate contact with material facts. Logically such an affirmation precedes the atomism, which is merely its proof. But the affirmation itself depends upon the exclusion of what Bacon calls all contrary or contradictory instances: “conclusions drawn from a limited number of facts would be valid only on proof that no contradictory instance could be found” (VII. 139–40: CV), something that is in practice impossible. Yet though the human mind is akin neither to God nor even “to the angels,” it is nonetheless “a kind of divine fire” (VIII. 204: NO, II.xvi) and its knowledge is to a degree perfectible. It may be possible “only to proceed at first by negatives,” but it is also possible “at last to end in affirmatives after exclusion has been exhausted” (VIII.204: NO, II.xv).

By such means, explains Bacon, even though we are always dealing with “a limited number of facts,” we will end up with certain truths:

The first work, therefore, of true induction (as far as regards the discovery of Forms) is the rejection or exclusion of the several natures which are not found in some instance where the given nature is present, or are found in some instance where the given nature is absent, or are found to increase in some instance when the given nature decreases, or to decrease when the given nature increases. Then indeed after the rejection and exclusion has been duly made, there will remain at the bottom, all light opinions vanishing into smoke, a Form affirmative, solid, and true and well defined. [VIII.205: NO, II.xvi]

But it is impossible so to exhaust all possible instances. The exclusion itself can only come from the authority of enunciation, from a kind of discursive fiat, from the I of the new Alexander frequently mentioned by the Chancellor. For such a knowledge to be possible, there must be a new leader for the new discourse. The I will install a societal history composed of the truths/works of legitimate, written science, and these truths will be the elements of that history in just the same way as the letters of the alphabet are the elements of written phrases, and as the material seeds are the elements of the world.

Before this can be achieved further difficulties must be overcome. First, as I said, that authority must be invisible. Second, Bacon must succeed in making generally usable a discourse whose logical syntax is quite different from that of the discourse with which his listeners may be expected to be familiar. Like ourselves confronted with the discourse of patterning, Bacon has to deal with Wittgenstein’s lion. The difference, as he sees it, is that he is himself the lion. His is the unfamiliar discourse. The new discourse of analysis and reference is an utterly new space making use of an inhabitual set of axioms. To some extent his solution here will enable him to overcome the epistemologically insuperable difficulty: the affirmation of adequacy between words/concepts and things was preceded by the affirmation concerning the excluded middle, that last depending finally on a completeness of knowledge that could only be unattainable. Bacon’s solution to the lion problem will bear on this other as well: it will be a matter of situating the difficulty in the area of communication and access to knowledge, rather than in that of knowledge itself. As his surrogate says to the members of the Parisian academy in the Redar-gutio:

But suppose you were minded to give up all you have been taught and have believed; suppose, in return for the assurance of the truth of my view, you were prepared to abandon your favorite views and arguments; I should still be at a loss, for I do not know how to convince you of a thing so novel and unexpected. The difficulty is that the usual rules of argument do not apply since we are not agreed on first principles. Even the hope of a basis of discussion is precluded, since I cast doubt on the forms of proof now in use and mean to attack them. In the present mental climate I cannot safely entrust the truth to you. Your understandings must be prepared before they can be instructed; your minds need healing before they can be exercised; the site must be cleared before it can be built upon. [VII.63–64: RP]

The sentiments expressed are not entirely dissimilar, on the surface, to the protestations of More’s Hythlodaeus. The difference is that Bacon’s philosopher is demanding a “clearing of the site,” a return to some zero-point of the mind preparatory to the erection of an entirely new edifice. Descartes asks nothing else. But Raphael had sought rather to rejuvenate a decaying organism: the goal and the ‘construction’ are quite different. Indeed, Bacon also ties the matter, through Machiavelli once again, to the creation of the state, or at least to a new political situation:

It was said by Borgia of the expedition of the French into Italy, that they came with chalk in their hands to mark out their lodgings, not with arms to force their way in. I in like manner would have my doctrine enter quietly into the minds that are fit and capable of receiving it; for confutations cannot be employed when the difference is upon first principles, and even upon forms of demonstration. [VIII.75: NO, I.xxxv]

These kinds of assertion imply, naturally, that the speaker himself has already achieved the passage into a new discourse. He is now in a position to lead others out of the wilderness. This is certainly Bacon’s own view; and it is important in the present context that he should constantly indicate that what is at stake is two ways of speaking. It is in this regard that his dismissal of the old way of speaking is so revealing:

A syllogism consists of propositions, a proposition of words, and words are the counters or symbols of notions or mental concepts. If then the notions themselves, which are the life of the words, are vague, ignorant, ill-defined (and this is true of the vast majority of notions concerning nature) down the whole edifice tumbles. [VII. 125: CV]

We have seen other examples of this same critique, which is indeed repeated many times throughout Bacon’s writings almost verbatim.12 The old knowledge is entirely verbal. What is needed, writes Bacon, is true notions, appropriate and well-defined forms of language to render them, and a legitimate explanation of an adequate relation between concepts and things. We have seen that such true notions depend, on the one hand, on the idea that “the understanding [can] be brought into contact with facts in a straightforward unprejudiced way” (VII. 138: CV) and, on the other, on the concept that the elements of discourse, of written discourse (the organization of the “letters of the alphabet”), correspond in their potential ordering to the elements of things. The first is referentiality, the second analysis. The analysis and the reference are possible because the order of language and of reason is one and situated in a single model: “they are copied,” he says in the Epistle Dedicatory to The New Organon, “from a very ancient model, even the world itself and the nature of things and of the mind.” Yet it remains quite unclear how such a correspondence operates in practice: that is no doubt why there remains the ambiguity of a human discourse about an objective world (whether material, social, or whatever) whose truth is at once limited yet potentially perfectible. Still, to put it in such terms is to make an epistemological and potentially resolvable problem of the radical impossibility of discourse visible in More, and to a degree in Kepler —expressed by the process/entropy contradiction: the ongoing discovery of truth and the completion of knowledge.

Nonetheless the remaining ambiguities require a solution. Some kind of appeal to authority will provide it. Again, the difficulty is to conceal such an appeal. How to show simply that the logic of the excluded middle is founded in the true relation of concept and object, itself confirmed by the proofs of utility and practice, and that it is not simply the subject’s fiat? The authority must be that of things themselves and of their seeds. The problem therefore is to displace the authority, to guide it toward its own disappearance (which was indeed one of the aims sought through the contractual installation of the liberal state). It is a matter, if you will, of concealing the limits a quo of the new discourse.

So, says Bacon, the true scientist, like Christ, comes “in the name of the Father,” not as the father; unlike an Aristotle, for example, who “is his own authority throughout” (VII.69–70: RP, my italics). Such a ‘distant’ father, whose name one depends upon but whose authority one does not replace, is to have the effect of furnishing the discourse with its own authority, not that of its immediate enunciator. Authority there must be, because if it is to be supposed possible to arrive at final truths by means of a demonstrably complete exclusion of all negative instances, there must be some ground: for who can possibly claim to have exhausted all such contradictory instances? Quite obviously only the master of discourse. Bacon tries to displace that mastership. There is no doubt whence comes this authority in Bacon’s eyes—it is the work of the Presocratics:

It is the Presocratics whom Bacon wishes to present as the authors of a complete way to knowledge (and not Plato, whom he accuses of “turning his opinion upon theology” and thus “infecting” his natural philosophy—VI.220: AL, II.vii.5). It is well known that Bacon had investigated the work of these his philosophical predecessors and “forbears” (as he calls them) at length and in depth, seeking to discover not so much what they may or may not have said as the form the saying took: “holding to [his] rule not to enter into controversy on points of doctrine, but to judge by ‘signs’” (VII.68: RP). These signs consist of context, reception, future development, and the like, as well as the discursive organization itself; for, as he asks of Aristotle, for example: “what solidity of structure can be expected from a man who constructs a world from categories?” (idem). The signs in question are basically those familiar to Renaissance medical textbooks, “as anything by which we may make a prognosis.”13 In this case the prognosis concerns the knowledge that may be derived from a given discursive organization.

Such a demand undermines entirely the Presocratics’ authority. For there exists no complete writing, only “fragments and references,” as he says. But according to Bacon, “the force of a theory rests on an apt harmony of mutually sustaining parts and on a rounded and complete demonstration, and is weakened when handed down piecemeal” (VII.73: RP). Under such circumstances there can clearly be no authority in fragmented writings. What then is the basis for the Presocratics’ authority? Well, in a nutshell, it is Bacon’s own claim: “I am convinced . . .” (VII.74: RP). Authority remains his own: that of a new Alexander (VIII. 132: NO, I.xcvii).

It is no doubt correct that elsewhere the Chancellor denies the necessity of any systematic demonstration, asserting that aphorisms “leave the wit of man more free to turn and toss, and to make use of that which is so delivered to more several purposes and applications. For we see all the ancient wisdom was wont to be delivered in that form” (XIV. 182: Maxims of the Law; cf. VI.291–92: AL, II.xvii.6–7). But of course as far as the development of a new discourse is concerned he does not wish to leave room for “several purposes and applications”: he is concerned with the logic itself, not with its content. He is creating the true logical method permitting the elaboration of the true, legitimate knowledge, with a certain aggressiveness of tone: “I hold that true logic ought to enter the several provinces of science armed with a higher authority than belongs to the principles of those sciences themselves” (VIII.43: NO, “Plan of the Great Instauration”).

The authority for the new truth is the enunciator of the new discourse in which that truth is revealed. Again, one is reminded of the aggressive vocabulary of Ralegh or Galileo. Although Bacon asserts that the search for “truth” and the search for “magistrality” are not the same thing (VI.234: AL, II.viii.5), one of the major premises underlying his discourse is that “human knowledge and human power meet in one” (VIII.67: NO, I.iii). Thus he says, for example, that a government that has failed in wisdom justly loses its power (VIII. 130: NO, I.xciv). Because he believes he has made the fundamental discovery, the basic and essential method which “contains within itself the potentiality of all particular inventions,” and since such a discovery must be accounted “the noblest, the truly masculine birth of time” (VII. 128: CV), it is clear that the only conceivable authority is his own discourse, which is and which develops from as it produces that discovery. Like Descartes, he is convinced he has discovered the sole method able to undertake “the management of the childhood, as it were, of philosophy in its course of natural history” (VIII.50: NO), the direction of all right science. The governor of the House of Strangers is abroad and all possible objects of discourse are aimed at by the teacher.

Possibly as early as 1603, in perhaps the earliest attempt to set out systematically what will find form in The Advancement of Learning and later in The New Organon (the opposition to an old discourse, the creation of the structure and goals of a new one), Bacon responds in an indicative manner to the apparent self-contradictoriness and circularity of ‘More’s’ archaic quest, to the contradictions of Kepler’s, and to an anachronistic choice such as Campanella will shortly make. The text in which he does so is the Temporis partus masculus (TPM), and this phrase, “the masculine birth of time,” will recur constantly throughout the later works. There, the implications of birth and childhood, of paternal authority and legitimation that it reflects, will be thoroughly explored.

The Temporis partus masculus is presented as a patriarch’s monologue to his son, and it predicates nothing less than the imposition of an entirely human history upon the world, by means of a precise knowledge of “motions,” of the nature of things. This new knowledge will enable humankind to acquire riches and possessions, and to found a science that “is active and productive of works” (VII.114: CV). Human history will be the ordering of the world through a new discourse of science, aiming “to restore and exalt the power and dominion of man himself, of the human race, over the universe.” It is a dominion that “rests only on knowledge” and will be “accompanied by rewards and blessings” (VII. 129: CV). As the Chancellor will write much later: “the true and lawful [vera et légitima] goal of the sciences is none other than this: that human life be endowed with new discoveries and powers” (VIII. 113: NO, I.lxxxi).

The new Adam will apply his names to things and create a new world through his control (instrumental knowledge) of them. He will “stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man’s dominion over the universe to their promised bounds” and compose a new future fit to be passed on to his son (VII. 17: TPM). No doubt is entertained that the new world thus made available is the real world. Later on once again, the now-disgraced Chancellor of England will take up this conception in the affirmation that the human understanding is “to be expanded and opened till it can take in the image of the world as it is in fact” (VIII.361: Parasceve). Ten years later Descartes will be saying just the same thing in the two treatises on the world and on man (though they will not be published until 1664 and 1662, respectively), in which the mechanistic fiction becomes the fact of the world.

Bacon’s mundus alter—the ‘real’ world but also the life of the mind made manifest as an ‘otherness,’ as the place of “things themselves” (VII.31: TPM)—will make possible, once it has been made to function for the benefit of humanity, the creation of a new history, accompanied by a new and better society. That the real world and the world of the mind should be conceivable as one is because, as we have seen in respect of later texts, the model of discourse is the same in both. That discovery makes possible the “masculine birth of time” here being proclaimed by the master of discourse, father of the new science. What exactly is this birth? “All concur,” he writes, “that truth is the daughter of time” (VII. 131: CV). Or again: “rightly is truth called the daughter of time” (VIII.117: NO, I.lxxxiv).

For time to conceive and give birth to truth requires, one need hardly repeat, a particular progenitor. The father of discourse leads his son into the new order of the future by conducting him into a “marriage” with Nature: “I am come in very truth leading you to Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave” (VII. 17: TPM). Nature already has children, and it can only be the father who has brought them into existence for the understanding. The new scientific discourse (the “son”) and its master and progenitor (the “father”) are one and the same thing. The text of the Temporis partus masculus (as we have it) is enclosed between two such unions, the second and last being more specific yet than the first:

My dear, dear boy, what I propose is to unite you with things themselves in a chaste, holy, and legal wedlock; and from this association you will secure an increase beyond all the hopes and prayers of ordinary marriages, to wit, a blessed race of Heroes or Supermen who will overcome the immeasurable helplessness and poverty of the human race, which cause it more destruction than all giants, monsters, or tyrants, and will make you peaceful, happy, prosperous and secure. [VII.31: TPM]

The prime example of the discourse that will make this possible will be The New Organon, itself, like truth, “a birth of Time” (VIII. 109: NO, I.lxxviii).14

The above quotation makes it clear that two ideas are constantly linked from the Temporis partus masculus on: truth, and the legitimacy of the discourse to be constituted by the father. ‘Legitimacy’ has to do both with truth as an adequation of words, concepts, and things (that is, with correspondence—or reference), and with the logical system capable of rendering such adequation (that is with coherence—or analysis). The word legitimas constantly recurs. Not to follow this legitimate method will be to act “dishonorably” and “undu-tifully” (VII. 16: TPM). Illegitimate knowledge, the father asserts, is one that lacks order, that piles fantasy on fact without distinction, that fails to differentiate between types of discourse in respect of their “lawful” objects. Until such lack of differentiation has been replaced by a suitable analytical method (by a discourse that can “dissect” nature and reveal the lawful order of the composition of things), mankind, says the master of discourse, will continue to rave on “in this universal madness” (VII. 17: TPM).

The legitimate science (of the laws of nature) must be able to withstand “the ravages of time,” he insists. Indeed, it will constitute its own time as real, because its “legitimately” ordered development of “invention” (to use Bacon’s terms) is the standard of the future. The linear order of analysis is the structure creative of the very idea of a human-historical ‘future’; because it is given as a discursive space coherent in terms of its own “first principles” and not in those of some other class of discourse (such as the ‘Divine’), it can only constitute itself as the shape of history to come. Time and historical society will be composed from the gradual unfurling of those individual and discrete truths that are the components of an eventually complete human knowledge (hence the phrase “Great Instauration”). Such knowledge is composed of particular truths in just the same way as discourse is composed from its separate alphabetical elements, and as the totality of the real world is composed from the “seeds of things” (semina rerum).

Once again the necessity for this discourse to assume that the orders of reason, of discourse, and of the material world all follow a singular model is clear. Truth here is a matter of both correspondence and coherence (as it was always to be in neoclassical discourse). By such means, the reins of knowledge and the power that accompanies it are firmly held in the hands of the master of discourse. We are a very long way indeed from Campanella and Kepler, from Bruno and Rabelais, from Agricola and Paracelsus. No matter that “theological beliefs” were so important for later scientific research that “no dimension of human speculation was untouched by their influence.”15 Being “touched” and being organized by are two different things. The progenitor’s call “ad tempus futurum” that it confirm the success of his new methodical discourse (VII. 18: TPM), with which the first chapter of the Temporis partus masculus concludes, involves a solipsism: if the method is installed it will constitute the only shape this future can take, and it is bound therefore to ‘confirm’ its own success. Whoever accepts it, as Bacon’s surrogate had to say to his Parisian academic listeners, will have passed into a new universe of discourse.

That is why the new men, recipients of this discourse, must become as children. Truth itself and the method that produces it are children in the very process of birth. Man too must be born anew if he would enter the new world: “the entrance into the kingdom of man, founded on the sciences, being not much other than the entrance into the kingdom of heaven, whereinto none may enter except as a little child” (VIII.99: NO, I.lxviii).16

The newborn truth and method answer the need to “set up in the midst one bright and radiant light of truth, shedding its beams in all directions and dispelling all errors in a moment” (VII.29: TPM). This is the light of New Atlantis, where the paradigm of childhood will be (as we saw) repeated, along with the emphasis placed on the sea voyage of discovery as productive of order and possession, that will be so constant a theme in The Advancement of Learning and The New Organon. This light is provided by a “machine,” a machine whose reliability is assured as the masculine birth of time. It is the method of the new discourse itself, as finally set forth in The New Organon, arm in arm with truth, the daughter of time, and both generated by the enunciator and master of discourse: “There remains but one course for the recovery of a sound and healthy condition—namely, that the entire work of the understanding be commenced afresh, and the mind itself be from the very outset not left to take its own course, but guided at every step; and the business be done as if by machinery” (VIII.60–61: NO, “Author’s Preface”).

This is the machine of which he speaks also at the end of the “Epistle Dedicatory” to the same work. Descartes makes precisely similar demands at the beginning of the Discours de la méthode. For Bacon, the machinery in question is a set of “progressive stages of certainty” (VIII.60: NO), a method that “derives axioms from the senses and particulars, rising by a gradual and unbroken ascent, so that it arrives at the most general axioms last of all” (VIII.71: NO, I.xix).

The machinery will function on its own, as though it no longer needed the support of a now-hidden authority. It is clearly visible, for example, in the “great engine” of the state, of which Bacon often speaks and which leads straight to Leviathan. That, too, is an engine functioning on its own once the moment of the founding “Fiat” has gone by, and from whence is evacuated any visible presence of willful power, of originating authority (though the prince, first ‘subject’ of discourse, remains there).

Thus is elaborated the growing dominance of a particular class of discourse: a logic based on referential truth and internal (analytical) coherence, asserted by the discursive enunciating subject, and founded on the axiom of the excluded middle. The assertion in question is followed by the occultation of the subject, withdrawn from its own discourse. The discursive imposition of knowledge is concealed (it deals in “secrets”), and the authority and power openly assumed at the outset are gradually eclipsed: an equilibrium between equal speakers and owners of a public discourse is ‘invented’—a situation founded on the balance of a contract between equals, and on the voluntary cession of individual powers taken to have evacuated the problem of authority and power (we will see this more particularly with respect to a work like Robinson Crusoe).

These occultations lead to a ‘capitalization’ of discourse itself, via a process that takes us through at least three stages. The first involves the acknowledged imposition of the I of an enunciation avowedly producing knowledge and power (Galileo, Bacon). The second sees the surreptitious replacement of that by a “we” whose claim is to collectivity (Descartes, Hobbes). The process concludes in a discursive practice asserting discourse to be at once a mechanism transparent to the truths it transports and an ordering system whose coherence alone is responsible for the ‘value’ of those truths.17 In this mechanism, the social, political, epistemological, and physical realms coincide, thanks to a form of ‘logical atomism’ and the axiom of the excluded middle, which will permit reason to be hypostatized in the shape of that “good sense” that, according to Descartes, “is the best-shared thing in the world” (Discourse de la méthode, part 1); and thanks to the displacement of authority permitting the occultation of the enunciating I. This is the mechanism Bacon calls “literate experience,” writing.

It is this system that becomes the fundamental structure underlying the very composition of a novel like Cyrano de Bergerac’s Histoire comique des état et empire de la lune et du soleil, whose first part was published in 1657 but had been circulating in manuscript some years before. There the experimental method of Bacon and Galileo (for their underlying theories are very similar) becomes the basic process of discourse:

Here, too, we have more than a hint of one special element in the masculine birth that we have already seen, and that will be of increasing importance in the development of the analytico-referential. It is what I have referred to as ‘a dialectic of knowledge’ (a ‘dialectic’ quite different from what I spoke of regarding Campanella), a constant process of exchange between the method of the new science, experiments, “inventions,” and the world of particulars: “from the new light of axioms, which[,] having been educed from . . . particulars by a certain method and rule, shall in their turn point out the way again to new particulars, greater things may be looked for. For our road does not lie on the level, but ascends and descends; first ascending to axioms, then descending to works” (VIII. 137: NO, I.ciii). It might be said that with his diverse aerial voyages, the narrator of Cyrano’s novels takes this aphorism literally!

The significance of this dialectical element will gradually increase, culminating most evidently in Hegel, and then in Marx. But for the present it is less evident than those other aspects I have been discussing. And it seems fitting to conclude this chapter with an exemplary word from a younger contemporary of Bacon, himself destined to celebrity:

Gentlemen, when universal learning shall once complete its cycle, the spirit of man, no longer imprisoned in its gloomy reformatory, will stretch far and wide until its godlike greatness fills the whole world and the void beyond. Then suddenly the circumstances and consequences of events will come to light for the man who holds the stronghold of wisdom. Nothing in his life will happen unexpectedly or by chance. He will certainly be one whose power and authority the stars, the earth, and the sea will obey. The winds and tempests will serve him; Mother Nature herself will surrender like a goddess relinquishing the empire of the world. She will entrust the world’s rights, its laws, and its administration to him as governor.19

Thus rejoices the young John Milton in “The Seventh Prolusion,” delivered probably in the first half of 1632 to his fellow students and his teachers, when the future poet of Paradise Lost was twenty-three years old. At the outset, it reminds us of Hamlet’s “paragon of animals,” of his “king of infinite space” though “bounded in a nutshell.” The enlightened predictability of the world conducts us in an uninterrupted line from Descartes to Laplace, passing through Newton and Kant. Mother Nature’s surrender recalls both a Galileo and a Ralegh. The administration of the world’s “rights and laws,” the “power and authority” over the universe, and all created things summarize a development of which I have been taking Bacon as an exemplary representative.

This is the exultation and glorying of the willful discourse of power and knowledge, of knowledge as “power and authority.” A later Milton may view the process less joyfully. In a somewhat contentious reading of Paradise Lost, Donald F. Bouchard explores the epic as relating the freeing of humanity from external direction, whether divine or satanic. In that sense, he suggests, there is no difference between the two “idols.” Galileo, Bacon, and Descartes all asserted that the human will’s own ‘eye/I’ was identical to the Divine. Bouchard writes of Paradise Lost that “only through a radical Christian position verging on heresy, if not atheism, can one begin to value the real import of the epic: God is dead that man may live.”20 Paradise Lost can thus itself be read as showing a passage from one discursive class to another. I will argue elsewhere that certain of Milton’s political tracts perform an identical role of passage with regard to theoretical political discourse. Such texts perform, in different domains, a role analogous to that I have suggested of Kepler and Bacon. They thus confirm the passage as they make it more complex.

We must now see how the new willful discourse develops after its “birth.” In the terms used earlier, we may say that the emergent elements from one discourse have now consolidated themselves into an entirely new class of discourse. What remains to be seen is its growth to dominance, from its first hesitations in a Cyrano, for example, to its final hegemony in a Defoe or a Swift.


1. I have used throughout the following edition: The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis, and Douglas Denon Heath, 15 vols. (Boston, 1861–64). In the references, the first two figures refer to the volume and page, the letters to the precise work (here, NO, New Organon), the subsequent figures to book, section, and/or paragraph, according to the organization of the work in question. The first reference in the text will give the complete title of a work, followed by the initials(s) I will subsequently use. Quotations from the Redargutio philosophiarum, the Cogitata et visa, and the Temporis partus masculus, are taken from the translations by Benjamin Farrington in his The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (1964; rpt. Chicago, 1966). References, however, are to The Works as for all other writings.

2. Charles Webster, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine, and Reform, 1626–1660 (London, 1975).

3. Sir William Petty, The Politital Economy of Ireland (London, 1691), preface.

4. Leo Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Its Genesis, tr. Elsa M. Sinclair (1936; rpt. Chicago and London, 1963), passim.

5. See Timothy J. Reiss, “Espaces de la pensée discursive: Le cas Galilée et la science classique,” Revue de synthèse, no. 85–86 (Jan.—July 1977), pp. 12–13, 18–30.

6. Farrington, Philosophy of Francis Bacon, p. 119 n. 2. The passages particularly noted by Spedding (in the edition of The Works) are NO (Latin original), I.ci; NO, I.ciii; and De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum, V.2. Essentially the same view is held by James Stephens, Francis Bacon and the Style of Science (Chicago and London, 1971), PP-87–97; and by Lisa Jardine, Francis Bacon: Discovery and the Art of Discourse (Cambridge, 1974), pp. 143–49. Jardine views the concept of experientia literata strictly as a practical technique for composing and comparing experiments, even though she does grant it a certain privilege at that level.

7. See VI.359: AL II.xxiii.8: “But for fables, they were viceregents and supplies when examples failed: now that the times abound with history, the aim is better when the mark is alive. And therefore the form of writing which of all others is fittest for the variable argument of negotiation and occasions is that which Machiavelli chose wisely and aptly for government; namely, discourse upon history or examples.” See also VI.360–61, 376: AL, II.xxiii.9, 13, 38.

8. See the various books by Christopher Hill concerning the social and political situation in seventeenth-century England, and Felix Raab, The English Face of Machiavelli: A Changing Interpretation, 1500–1700 (London and Toronto, 1964).

9. In this evaluation I disagree with Ian Hacking, who suggests, on the basis of a passage in The Advancement of Learning, that for Bacon the difficulty is sufficiently overcome once clear and suitable definitions have been provided: Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy? (Cambridge, 1975), p. 5 and passim. If one can assert, as we will shortly see Bacon doing, that our world depends to however limited a degree upon the discourse in which we elaborate it, then it is clear that definitions of meaning are useful only after the precise nature of the discursive relation with the world has been clarified. It is that clarification that is most difficult for Bacon, as it is for Descartes—as it is also for us.

10. The most celebrated example is no doubt the “language of mathematics” passage to be found in Galileo’s Saggiatore of 1623.

11. See also VIII.77: NO, I.xli (“Idols of the Tribe”). Not surprisingly, John Wilkins makes a similar claim in relation to the kind of discursive habit that he suggests preceded that now being proposed: “There being not any Absurdity so gross and incredible, for which these Abusers of the Text, will not find out an Argument. Whereas ’tis the more Natural way, and should be Observed in all Controversies, to apply unto everything the proper proofs of it; and when we deal with Philosophical Truths, to keep ourselves within the bounds of Humane Reason and Authority” (A Discovery of a New World, or, A Discourse Tending to prove, that ’tis Probable there may be another Habitable World in the Moon . . . [1638], 4th ed. [London, 1684], pp. 94–95). Others went even further, making the claim that man can only know his own discourses, and that that is all he knows. No doubt, such is the traditional skeptical position: “In truth, if we look closely at the matter, and if we are willing to face facts honestly, man is not capable of knowing the cause [la raison] of anything other than what he carries out on his own model [à sa mode], or of understanding sciences other than those whose principles he himself composes. This can easily be proven if we consider closely the case of mathematics” (François de La Mothe Le Vayer, Soliloques sceptiques [1670; rpt. Paris, 1875], pp. 6–7; my translation). This is what underlies the viewpoint expressed by Vico in the Scienza nuova of 1725, as I have suggested.

12. For example: “The syllogism consists of propositions, propositions consist of words, words are symbols of notions. Therefore if the notions themselves (which is the root of the matter) are confused and overhastily abstracted from the facts, there can be no firmness in the superstructure” (VIII.70: NO, I.xiv).

13. Ian Hacking, The Emergence of Probability: A Philosophical Study of Early Ideas about Probability, Induction, and Statistical Inference (Cambridge, 1975), p. 28.

14. “I am wont for my own part to regard this work as a child of time rather than of wit” (NO, “Epistle Dedicatory”). Such a sentence implies the same denial of authority to the enunciator of discourse that we have already seen. But it tends rather to make its authority unassailable, asserting that the truth of this discourse does not proceed from an individual, but from the very nature of things: it would therefore be absolutely ‘objective.’

15. Webster, The Great Instauration, p. 494.

16. “One might say that the kingdom of nature is like the kingdom of heaven, to be approached only by becoming like a little child” (VII. 138–39: CV).

17. On the matter of the replacement in Descartes of the I by we, see Reiss, “Cartesian Discourse and Classical Ideology,” Diacritics, 6, no. 4 (Winter 1976), 21–23, 25–26, and Sylvie Romanowski, L’illusion chez Descartes: La structure du discours cartésien (Paris, 1974), pp. 127–30 and passim. On discourse as an objective and public mechanism, see, e.g., Reiss, “Espaces de la pensée discursive,” pp. 30–41.

18. See also NO, II.xxi.

19. John Milton, “The Seventh Prolusion: A Speech in Defense of Learning Delivered in the College Chapel,” ed. and tr. Thomas R. Hartmann, in The Prose of John Milton, gen. ed. J. Max Patrick (Garden City, N.Y., 1967), p. 20.

20. Donald F. Bouchard, Milton: A Structural Reading (London and Montreal, 1974), p. 64.

Additional Information

ISBN
9781501723193
Related ISBN
9781501723209
MARC Record
OCLC
1057633614
Pages
198-225
Launched on MUSE
2018-04-06
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-ND
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