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.

  • In this part we encounter a variety of new concepts: bodies, natures, forms, latent structure, latent process, superinducing, and instances. The following will attempt to clarify these ideas for a modern Objectivist audience.

    A body is the equivalent of an entity in Objectivism. It is a particular thing in reality – for example: a particular stone, a particular bird, a particular man, a particular house, or a particular planet.

    A nature is one way a body behaves at a particular time. For example, a stone might be hot or cold. We can then say the stone has the nature hot or has the nature cold. A body has multiple natures at any given time. A stone placed on my desk has the following natures: hard, opaque, grey, heated (at room temperature), weight, smooth, high density, etc. A person placed next to me has the natures: weight, alive, rational, heated (body temperature), ambitious, moral, honest. Note that these are natures of a particular stone and a particular person at a particular time. It is not the case that all stones are grey or that all persons are moral. In summary: a particular body has a number of natures at any one time.

    Bacon’s use of the word “form” needs a bit of explanation. A nature has a form: For example, heat has a form, opacity has a form, rationality has a form. The form, much like a scientific explanation, is the cause of the nature. The genus of a form is a better-known nature. A form can be stated thus: “All S is P”. For example, if we know the form of heat, we can say: “All heat is internal motion” – motion is the genus. A body of water might have the nature waving. The genus of the form of a wave is chain reaction, so we can state that “All waves are (a kind of) chain reaction.”

    Note that many different bodies can have the same nature, for example “waving”: air can be waving, water can be waving, iron can be waving. Since the form of a wave is (a kind of) chain reaction, you can make a wave in many different bodies by causing a chain reaction in it.

    Another example: A stone can be hot, an animal can be hot, a fire is hot, air can be hot. Since we know the form of heat is internal motion, we can make something hot in many different ways – for example, compressing a gas makes it hotter.

    Bacon says that if we know the form of a nature, we can take a body without the nature and give it that nature. This is called superinducing a nature on a body. For example, if we know the form of heat, we gain a wide range of ways to give a body heat. For example, by exposing it to a wave at the resonating frequency of its parts (a microwave), or decompressing gas to remove heat (a refrigerator or an air conditioner). Notice how these things would be almost impossible to imagine without knowing the form (or cause) of heat.

    Whenever a body has a particular nature, the form is there – that is, it is always present when the nature is present. Therefore, “All S is P”: all heat is internal motion; all waves are chain reactions.

    It is important to note that only natures have forms. If a stone is hot, it has internal motion. If it does not have internal motion, it is not hot. It is much more useful to understand each nature and its form (which is present in the body when the nature is there and not present when the nature is not there) than to treat all the natures in the body as one and try to find the form of the body – this is an error that philosophers have made in the past.

    What is the role of concepts in all of this? We can classify a number of existents under a concept. For example, a number of existents can be classified as man, or another number of existents as blue, or another number of existents as liquids, or a number of colours can be classified as colours. We can then define the concepts: “A man is a rational animal” or “A liquid is a freely flowing substance”. A definition contains a genus, which is a concept that subsumes those and more existents (e.g. the genus of man is animal). Then we pick a distinguishing characteristic. There exist many other animals, but what distinguishes man from those others is his rational faculty – this is his essential distinguishing characteristic. So, man is the rational animal. In different contexts, a concept can have different definitions. For example, in biology, modern humans are called Homo sapiens (Homo is the genus, sapiens is the differentia). The role of a definition is to assist reason about these kinds of existents in a context. “A primitive definition does not contradict a more advanced one: the latter merely expands the former.” (ITOE)

    Concepts are formed by abstraction. According to Rand, this is done by omitting the concrete measurements of each existent subsumed under the concept. The meaning of a concept is all the existents it subsumes. Though Bacon said that induction should be used to define concepts, he primarily focuses on using induction to find forms of natures. Finding the form (or cause) of a nature A is done by finding a better-known nature B that gives rise to the nature A.

    When Bacon discusses “latent structure”, he is referring to the internal parts of a body and how they are arranged. “Latent” means hidden – if we could observe the structure, it would not be latent. Since our senses have a limited scope, there will be structures that we are unable to observe directly because they fall outside this range. An important discovery of latent structure is molecules and atoms; as science progresses further, we may find even finer latent structure. A latent structure can also be too large to be observed directly, such as clusters of galaxies.

    By “latent process”, Bacon is referring to the inner behaviour of a body. For example, an iron ball can have the following latent processes: the vibration of the molecules in the ball, the attractive bonding between the atoms and molecules, and the internal electric repulsion.

    Finally, an instance is a description of something you can repeatedly observe. An instance is described and can then be reproduced as an observation by someone else. For example: The sun rises in the morning. Or, the stars move quicker than the sun across the sky. Or, ice is cold. Or, moonlight is not hot (we can observe the heat of the moon only using an instrument, not directly).

    Glossary:

    • Bodies: particular things, entities
    • Natures: behaviours, attributes, or effects of bodies
    • Forms: a scientific explanation, the cause of a nature (genus: a more general or better-known nature)
    • Concepts: classifying existents (genus: a more general concept)
    • Latent structure: the inner construction of bodies
    • Latent process: the inner behaviour of bodies
    • Superinducing: imposing a nature (or several natures) on a body that did not have it
    • Instance: a description of a repeatable observation

    Examples of bodies and their natures:

    • A particular stone: hard, opaque, grey, heated (at room temperature), weight, smooth, high density
    • A particular man: weight, alive, rational, heated (body temperature), ambitious, moral, honest, aging.
    • A piece of gold: tawny coloured, heavy with a certain weight, malleable or ductile to a certain degree, not volatile, loses none of its quantity in fire, melts with a certain fluidity, separated and dissolved in certain ways.
    • The earth: gravitational, magnetic, heavy, moving, rotating
    • A glass window: transparent, solid, smooth
    • Water: transparent, liquid
    • Powdered glass: white, opaque
    • Foamy water: white, opaque

    Examples of forms:

    • Heat: All heat is (a kind of) motion.
    • Cold is the opposite of heat.
    • Wave: All waves are (a kind of) chain reaction.
    • Light: All light is (a kind of) wave.
    • Sound: All sounds are (a kind of) wave.
    • Gravity, heaviness or weight: Unknown
    • Magnetism: Unknown.
    • Hardness: All hardness is (a kind of) internal bonding.
    • Inertia: Unknown.
    • Colour: All colours are (a kind of) frequency.
    • Atomic decay: Unknown.

    The Black Swan

    • Common analysis (Popper, Taleb, etc.): No matter how many white swans we see, we can never know all swans are white because a black one might show up. It historically did, so induction does not work and is naive.
    • Peikoff/Harriman: When we have observed a number of swans, we cannot conclude that all are white because we have to integrate the hypothesis that all swans are white with our other knowledge of other animals having many different colours. This will alert us that there might be different coloured swans as well and we abandon the hypothesis.

    How do you think Bacon would analyse this problem?