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 until Privileged Instances (1 – 20 inclusive)
  4. The rest of Book II (Privileged Instances)
  5. Book III and 5 introductory essays (The Great Renewal and “Preface” to New Organon)

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

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.

  • We will begin with the five introductory essays (The Great Renewal and “Preface” to New Organon) and Book I, Aphorisms 1 to 68 (inclusive).

    Though our discussion this time will not be focused on the five introductory essays (as these will be discussed in the last session), it is highly recommended to read them. Our discussion will center on the first part of Book I (Aphorisms 1 to 68).

    (Note that Bacon is known by several other names: “Lord Verulam”, “Francis Verulam” and “Viscount St. Alban”. The King of England, James I, had a council called the “Privy Council”, something resembling that of an administration under a president. When New Organon was published, Bacon was Lord Chancellor, the highest rank in the council.)

    Book I is written in Aphorisms—short and terse texts—enumerated with Roman numerals. (It might be ordinary numbers in some editions.) Aphorisms I (1) to XXXVII (37), inclusive, is general metaphysics and epistemology. Aphorisms XXXVIII (38) to LXVIII (68), inclusive, cover the “Idols”.

    It is recommended to read the text slowly because it is dense with content. One gets the most out of the book by continuing to read only when an aphorism is understood.

    You may notice that “Knowledge is power” and “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” do not appear directly in the text verbatim; these are even terser versions of what Bacon writes.

    Two things to pay close attention to are: 1) how complementary he is with Objectivism and 2) how he sometimes goes beyond Objectivism and presents a more advanced and insightful understanding. One example where he goes beyond is his discussion of deduction. Another example is the clarity offered by his four Idols.

    Note how:

    • Bacon uses the term “notion” where Objectivists use “concept”, “axiom” means “proposition” or “generalization”, “body” means “entity”, “anticipation” is related to what Objectivists call “rationalism”, “Lack of conviction” or “acatalepsia” is what Objectivists call “skepticism”.
    • The whole book covers Bacon’s new method. This is why the book is called “New Organon”—Organon is Greek for “instrument”, referring to a new instrument of thinking.
    • Bacon suggests making sure you are not a victim of the Idols—a great and crucial suggestion! A lot of thinking problems and stagnation may be attributed to not following this advice (indeed, most don’t even know about it).