New Organon

Our reading group discussions will be divided into the following parts:

  1. Book I including Idols (1 – 68 inclusive)
  2. The rest of Book I
  3. Book II, Aphorisms I – IX (1 – 9 inclusive)
  4. Book II, Aphorisms X – XX (10 – 20 inclusive)
  5. Book II, Aphorisms XXI – XXXVII (21 – 37 inclusive)
  6. The rest of Book II
  7. Book III and 5 introductory essays (The Great Renewal and “Preface” to New Organon)

(Subject to changes as needs be to suit the group)

In most modern accounts of Baconian method, the groundbreaking originality of Bacon’s direct engagement with contemporary applied science and technology, leading to his attempt to devise an epistemology which reflected the intimate relationship between ideas and practice, has been lost from sight.Lisa Jardine

We will use and refer to New Organon from Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, eds. Lisa Jardine & Michael Silverthorne. Buy the book on Amazon or Book Depository.

Those who cannot join us in person are welcome to participate via Skype.

  • The rest of Book II will cover 27 kinds of instances that are more important than ordinary instances. Bacon calls these “Privileged” or “First-class” instances. Recall that an instance is a description of a repeatable observation. In the first part of Book II, Bacon suggests creating tables of instances. Privileged instances are those that one should pay special attention to and seek out. Each kind of privileged instance also has different kinds of inferences associated with it. Bacon names and explains in detail 27 kinds of privileged instances.

    Working to find the privileged instances is part of what Bacon calls “Conquering nature by work”. Finding them are part of a scientist’s job and an important part of Bacon’s New Method (his New Organon).

    Note that skimming through these is not going to work – each requires thinking and digesting. Additionally, if one has not understood the preceding part of Book II, the privileged instances will be almost inaccessible.

    In the fashion we have become used to in New Organon, the privileged instances are geared towards human action, power, and benevolence. They are tightly integrated with human nature. There are 3 categories of privileged instances: 

    1. Aids to the understanding
    2. Aids to the senses
    3. Practical instances
      • Mathematical instances
      • Benevolent instances

     The practical instances are divided in two. The mathematical instances deal with the relation between science and mathematics.

    Session 5 only covers group 1 (aids to the understanding), Privileged Instances 1 – 15, inclusive. These instances aid the human understanding and gives it more power. Here are some notes on these.

    1. Solitary instances (XXII)

    These are a pair of instances that have one nature in common or all but one in common. Notice how Bacon uses pairs of instances to pierce into the form (or cause) of color.

    An example: A) A graphite solenoid with charge flowing though it and B) a bar magnet. These have (almost) nothing in common except the magnetism around them. Thus, we might infer that charge is moving inside a bar magnet in circles.

    2. Instances of transition (XXIII, XXXIII)

    In these instances, the form goes from not being there to being there, or the opposite. Thus, we can search out what is being introduced and taken away. Example: Rubbing your hands make them hot. Motion is being introduced, which points us towards the form of heat being motion.

    3. Revealing instances (XXIV)

    They reveal the nature under investigation “naked and independent”. Example: For heat, a thermometer reveals motion: The liquid in the thermometer moves in response to added heat.

    4. Concealed instances (XXV)

    Exhibit the nature under investigation in its lowest strength. Leads us towards the genus of the form. For example: A bubble of water has a minimum amount of solidity. This points us towards solidity being links between the parts of the bubble.

    5. Constitutive instances (XXVI)

    These are a collection of instances that together is a privileged instance. Bacon introduces a new concept here: species of a nature. A species is one aspect of a nature. One can split a single nature into, say, 10 species; that is, 10 aspects of a single nature. One can then collect 10 instances that exhibit these 10 species. Together, these 10 instances constitute the nature under investigation. Each of the 10 instances is a lesser form, which indicates to us what the true form is.

    An example: The nature magnetism has these five species: 

    1. Affects something but not everything.
    2. Spreading out or becoming less with distance.
    3. Affecting opposite in opposite directions
    4. Doubles
    5. Cancels

    Constitutive instance, example 1:

    1) Blowing air does not affect light but does affect smoke

    2) An object looks smaller at a distance

    3) Moving the hand through smoke causes swirls in different directions.

    4) Ten lights are brighter than one (where the one has the same strength as each of the ten).

    5) Pulling with the same strength in two directions makes an object stand still.

    Constitutive instance, example 2:

    1) Light shines through glass and water but not stone and metal.

    2) A sound is lower at a distance.

    3) Moving the hand through water causes swirls in different directions.

    4) Ten people yelling is louder than one (where the one has the same strength as each of the ten)

    5) A positively charged object does not move when placed in the middle between two positively charged objects with the same charge.

    6. Instances of resemblance (XXVII)

    Instances with physical similarities. Example: Structure of the ear and echoing places. Example: Inertial mass is the same as gravitational mass. This points us towards them having a similar cause.

    7. Unique instances (XXVIII)

    Instances which are very different than other instances. Examples Bacon gives: 1) moon and sun among the celestial objects. 2) Quicksilver among metals. 3) Sex among sensations 4) Elephant among four-legged animals.

    8. Deviant instances (XXIX)

    If you are well acquainted with something, and you see a case which is very odd, this is a deviant instance. Examples: 1) Opening a bottle makes the contents freeze. 2) That a solenoid with current behaves like a bar magnet.

    9. Borderline instances (XXX)

    Are between two things in bodily form. 1) Flying fish – between fish and bird.

    10. Instances of Power (XXXI)

    Instances of power are the most perfected work of man within a field. We should collect and cherish these state-of-the-art achievements. Try making a list of your own!


    1) Epistemology: New Organon + Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology

    2) Power plant: Nuclear power plant

    3) Politics: Capitalism + Individual rights

    4) Ethics: Rational egoism

    5) Personal transport: Car with petrol piston engine + asphalt highways

    6) Long-distance travel: Jet airplane

    7) Computer architecture: The Babbage architecture (CPU + RAM)

    8) Presentation of intellectual material: The book

    9) Banking: Gold standard

    10) Computer CPU: The microprocessor

    11) Inductive method: Bacon’s method

    12) Novel: The Fountainhead, Les Misérables, Atlas Shrugged, Ninety-three

    13) Business form: The limited liability stock company

    14) Theory of war: Total war

    15) Government form: Constitutional republic

    16) Music form: The symphony

    17) Literature: The novel

    18) Heating: Electric heating

    19) Cooling: Airconditioning

    20) Musical element: The melody

    21) Symphony: Rachmaninoff’s 2nd

    22) Sculpture: Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne

    23) Non-fiction: New Organon

    11a) Instances of association (XXXIII)

    Instances that exhibit a substance that is always present with a nature. Narrows the affirmative to something that enters or flees. E.g. for heat it is flame – flame is always hot.

    11b) Instances of aversion (XXXIII)

    Instances that exhibit a substance that always flees in association with a nature. E.g. air flees the solid or liquid.

    12. Accessory instances (XXXIV, XXXIII)

    How far a nature can be taken. Examples: 1) whale among the animals 2) silk in softness.

    13. Instances of alliance (XXXV)

    Instances that show that two natures thought to be different are the same. Example 1: Heat of the sun and heat of a fireplace. Example 2: Dropping a feather and lead ball in a vacuum: Indicate that inertial mass and gravitational mass are the same.

    14. Crucial instances (XXXVI)

    If one has found two candidates for a form, one can look for or construct an instance that asks nature to tell us which is true. Nature “knows” which is true or not, and by asking it, it will let us know. We force nature to tell us the truth. This explains why and how scientists constructs experiments.

    15. Instances of divergence (XXXVII)

    Indicate separations of natures which commonly occur. Examples: 1) air moves, but is neither hot nor bright 2) the moon is bright without heat 3) boiling water is hot without light.