Skip over navigation

The New Organon

Francis Bacon

Book Two: Aphorisms I–XX1

Book One: Aphorisms LXXXVI–CXXX

Book Two: Aphorisms XXII–LII


I–X. The task of human power is to generate and super-induce on a body a new nature. The task of human science is to find the form of a given nature. Two other tasks are subordinate to these. Human power must also transform concrete bodies from one thing into another within the bounds of the possible. Science must also discover the continuous hidden process and latent structure of bodies in motion and at rest.

Using the idea of four causes (Material, Formal, Efficient and Final) is unhelpful. True thought and free operation results from knowing Forms. When we think about super-inducing a nature on a given body, we need to consider what sort of guidance and instruction we would like to receive, and give it in simple language. This is the same as the discovery of a true Form. The form of a nature is always present and absent with that nature. A true form derives a given nature from the source of an essence that exists in several subjects.

There are two kinds of precepts of the transformation of bodies. The first looks at the body as a combination of simple natures. This method of operation proceeds from what is eternal in nature, and offers vast opportunities to human power. The second kind of axiom proceeds by compound bodies. This investigation looks not only at the generation of bodies, but also at other movements and workings of nature, and depends on latent process.

The latent process does not readily occur in men's minds; it largely escapes the senses. Questions about what is lost and what remains, what expands and what contracts, and so on, have to be asked. But all these questions are unknown to the sciences. As every natural action depends on small particles, one cannot master nature without grasping or modifying them. The discovery of latent structure and process in bodies is a new thing. Knowledge of the modification and transformation of bodies is necessary to understand how to endow a body with a new nature. The latent structure of a body can be discovered by primary axioms. The more an inquiry moves towards simple natures, the clearer things will be. The inquiry after eternal forms is metaphysics; the inquiry after efficient and material causes, latent structure and latent processes, is physics. Mechanics is subordinate to physics, and magic to metaphysics. Directions for interpreting nature have two parts; firstly, directions for drawing axioms from experience and secondly for deducing new experiments from axioms. The foundation of this is the compilation of a sound natural history. Tables must be drawn up, and instances coordinated. Induction is the key to interpretation.

XI–XXI. To investigate forms, one must begin by presenting to the intellect all the known instances that meet in the same nature. Bacon uses the example of heat; his first Table is of instances meeting in the nature of heat. This is the table of existence and presence. Then a presentation must be made to the intellect of instances devoid of a particular nature (his second Table). It is necessary to attach negatives to our affirmatives, and investigate absences only in subjects that are closely related to others in which a given nature appears. This is therefore the table of closely related divergences. Thirdly, we need to present instances in which the nature under investigation exists to a certain degree. This can be done by comparing increase and decrease in the same subject, or by comparing different subjects with another. A nature cannot be accepted as a true form unless it always decreases when the nature itself decreases, and increases when that nature increases. This is a table of degrees or table of comparison. The task and function of the three tables is the presentation of instances to the intellect. After the presentation has been made, induction must take place.

Man's intellect can proceed only through negatives, and arrive at affirmatives only after making every kind of exclusion. The first task of true induction is the exclusion of singular natures that are not found in an instance where the given nature is present. Only when rejection and exclusion have been performed properly will the affirmative form remain. The forms of which Bacon speaks are not the contemporary conception (composite forms or abstract forms), but are the laws and limitations that organize and constitute a simple nature. Bacon now gives examples of exclusions of natures from the form of heat. Every contradictory instance destroys a conjecture about a form.

True induction is based on exclusions, but is complete only when it arrives at an affirmative. Bacon now sets out more powerful aids to the intellect. In the interpretation of nature, the mind has to be content with an appropriate degree of certainty, but also be aware that what is before us depends on what is to come. As truth emerges quickly from error, it is justified to let the intellect try an interpretation of nature after it has seen the three tables of first presentation. This is an authorization of the intellect, or a first approach to an interpretation, or a first harvest. Instances in which the form is most obvious are revealing or conspicuous instances. The next stages are privileged instances, supports for induction, the refinement of induction, the adaptation of the investigation to the nature of the subject, natures that are privileged as far as the investigation is concerned, the limits of investigation, deduction to practice, preparations for investigation, and the ascending and descending scale of axioms.


I–X. Bacon begins with a discussion of forms, natures and the various methods of altering them. Simple natures are the basic building blocks from which compound bodies are constructed, such as heat or light. Compound natures are more complex structures, composed of one or more simple natures. To super- induce is to give a body a new nature by combining basic building blocks together. An alchemist, for example, might attempt to super-induce a yellow color onto the nature "silver."

Forms are the essential definitions of a nature. They are the key to understanding a given nature, not the complicated Aristotelian system of Forms as formal, material, efficient and final causes. As definitions, forms are always present together with a given nature. Hardness might be the form of a particular nature, for example; if that form were not present, one could not identify that nature.

Power acts to change the nature of a body, or to combine it with others. This is one of the features of experimentation, and could lead to practical discoveries. Good instructions are needed to perform the necessary operations, however.

Identifying the relevant form and transforming a body are the key scientific operations. Bacon distinguishes two kinds of operation. The first is performed on simple natures, the second on compound natures. The second scientific operation depends, Bacon argues, on two entirely new scientific concepts: latent process and latent structure.

As compound natures are more complex than simple ones, a number of complicated and usually hidden processes and changes occur within them. Generation and growth occur within an animal, for instance. These latent processes may be internal and therefore hard to grasp. In order to discover them, various changes need to be considered, such as growth, shrinkage, or changes in temperature.

Latent structure is similarly obscure and hard to grasp. It is the deep structure of bodies and compounds such as iron. To discover it, the investigator needs to look at similarly obscure anatomy.

XI–XXI. Bacon now explains the procedure for discovering the form of a simple nature. The example he chooses is heat. Firstly, all the instances, or examples of the presence of heat are arranged in a table; Bacon cites twenty- eight instances, including "the sun," "flaming meteors," "heated liquids" and "horse shit." They are essentially things or bodies, or even situations that display the nature in question.

The next stage is to consider divergences, or in this case instances of the lack of heat. Obviously, there are millions of instances in which heat is not present, so Bacon narrows down the field by giving counter-examples to the ones he has already recorded. Therefore the second table consists of instances such as heavenly bodies that do not give out heat, "horse shit" that is not warm to the touch, etc. These instances diverge from the instances of presence.

Bacon's third table consists of instances where the given nature varies, or is sometimes present and sometimes not. These degrees of comparison are important to discovering the form, or definition of a nature, because an instance has to increase or decrease when the nature itself alters to be considered a true form. Only instances that are directly related to a nature in this way can be seen as forms.

Only when these three tables have been completed can the investigator analyze them. Assembling the tables is a methodical and careful way of ensuring that all the evidence is available; ultimately, these tables will be drawn from the comprehensive natural history that Bacon proposes. Another point is important; the preparation of tables to present evidence to the intellect differs greatly from the method of the syllogism, which assumes certain universal truths, such as the form of heat. Bacon's method begins with only experience, and attempts to build such axioms from scratch.

The next stage is a process of exclusion. Induction works by beginning with a large amount of raw material, and excluding more and more of it until a definition is achieved. After some instances of the nature in question have been excluded, a first harvest, or preliminary definition can be attempted. This is a very rough interpretation of the data presented, which Bacon nevertheless believes can be valuable. Its value lies in revealing errors; if the first interpretation is hopelessly inaccurate, the intellect can build upon it.

Bacon now sets out the next stages of his method. The only one that he discusses, however, is the concept of privileged instances, which takes up the rest of Book Two.

More Help

Previous Next
Question and comment

by anon_2223129944, November 27, 2014

"Bacon's scathing attack on current philosophy and on the scientific method."
As I recall, Bacon attacked the philosophical thinking and scholasticism of his day, but his work DESCRIBED what has become known as the scientific method, which had not been formalized previously. Also, while he emphasized beginning with inductive reasoning, he warned AGAINST leaving off at gathering data and generalizing from it. Not only was (as noted) experimentation important, but so was DEDUCTIVE reasoning, in its proper place. Bacon also suggested t... Read more

Follow Us