Franz's Reviews > Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man

Francis Bacon by Catherine Drinker Bowen
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's review
Jul 10, 11

really liked it
bookshelves: philosophy
Read in July, 2011

Not a scholarly work, but a well-written introduction to the life of Bacon. Bacon is sometimes presented as the real author of Shakespeare's works, but it's hard to see how he would have had the time to write them given his prodigious accomplishments in politics and philosophy.

Bacon, as described by Bowen, had two ambitions: the ambition of the will and the ambition of the understanding. The ambition of the will imposed on Bacon, the son of Queen Elizabeth's favorite chancellor, the obligation to follow in his father's footsteps to serve his queen until finally attaining the same position as his father under James I, only to lose it by being impeached for bribery on a somewhat trumped-up accusation. He served loyally and brilliantly as he became an acknowledged expert and interpreter of English law. His ambition of the understanding, which he followed in his spare time and which he professed to be more in alignment with his character than his more worldly ambition, is what he is mainly remembered for. His philosophical achievement was to proclaim the rejection of Aristotelian explanations of the natural world and insist that the way to learn about nature is through experimentation. Though not the first to make such strong arguments in favor of scientific methods--his namesake the Franciscan friar Roger Bacon had made similar pronouncements 3 centuries earlier--Francis perhaps sensed the slow drippings of scientific discoveries of his day, to which he tried to contribute, and realized that those drops would eventually give way to the deluge we have today. The aim of scientific discoveries, for Bacon, was to improve the condition of humankind. Though the book is better at giving an account of Bacon's ambition of the will, it still gives the reader a decent summary of his intellectual accomplishments.
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