The Great Instauration

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The Great Instauration, by Francis Bacon, was published in 1620 and describes his plan for the instauration of the arts and sciences. This work precedes and contains his Novum Organum, or New Organon, as a second part. The third part was never completed and is known as the Preparative Towards a Natural and Experimental History. The De parascevis ad inquisitionem was to set forth the character of this Natural and Experimental History.



  • While men are occupied in admiring and applauding the false powers of the mind, they pass by and throw away those true powers which, if it be supplied with the proper aids and can itself be content to wait upon nature instead of vainly affecting to overrule her, are within its reach.
  • There was but one course left, therefore — to try the whole thing anew upon a better plan, and to commence a total reconstruction of sciences, arts, and all human knowledge, raised upon the proper foundations.
  • In what is now done in the matter pene science there is only a whirling round about, and perpetual agitation, ending were it began.


  • It seems to me that men do not rightly understand either their store or their strength, but overrate the one and underrate the other. Hence it follows that either from an extravagant estimate of the value of the arts which they possess they seek no further, or else from too mean an estimate of their own powers they spend their strength in small matters and never put it fairly to the trial in those which go to the main.
  • That wisdom which we have derived principally from the Greeks is but like the boyhood of knowledge, and has the characteristic property of boys: it can talk, but it cannot generate, for it is fruitful of controversies but barren of works.
  • What was a question once is a question still, and instead of being resolved by discussion is only fixed and fed; and all the tradition and succession of schools is still a succession of masters and scholars, not of inventors and those who bring to further perfection the things invented. In the mechanical arts we do not find it so; they, on the contrary, as having in them some breath of life, are continually growing and becoming more perfect. As originally invented they are commonly rude, clumsy, and shapeless; afterwards they acquire new powers and more commodious arrangements and constructions... Philosophy and the intellectual sciences, on the contrary, stand like statues, worshipped and celebrated, but not moved or advanced.
  • After the sciences had been in several parts perhaps cultivated and handled diligently, there has risen up some man of bold disposition, and famous for methods and short ways which people like, who has in appearance reduced them to an art, while he has in fact only spoiled all that the others had done. And yet this is what posterity likes, because it makes the work short and easy, and saves further inquiry, of which they are weary and impatient.
  • If any contemplations of a higher order took light anywhere, they were presently blown out by the winds of vulgar opinions. So that Time is like a river which has brought down to us things light and puffed up, while those which are weighty and solid have sunk.
  • These mediocrities and middle ways so much praised, in deferring to opinions and customs, turn to the great detriment of the sciences.
  • Some, indeed, there have been who have gone more boldly to work and, taking it all for an open matter and giving their genius full play, have made a passage for themselves and their own opinions by pulling down and demolishing former ones; and yet all their stir has but little advanced the matter, since their aim has been not to extend philosophy and the arts in substance and value, but only to change doctrines and transfer the kingdom of opinions to themselves; whereby little has indeed been gained...
  • The logic which is received, though it be very properly applied to civil business and to those arts which rest in discourse and opinion, is not nearly subtle enough to deal with nature; and in attempting what it cannot master, has done more to establish and perpetuate error than to open the way to truth.
  • The universe to the eye of the human understanding is framed like a labyrinth, presenting as it does on every side so many ambiguities of way, such deceitful resemblances of objects and signs, natures so irregular in their lines and so knotted and entangled. ...while those who offer themselves for guides are themselves also puzzled, and increase the number of errors and wanderers.
  • The discoveries which have been hitherto made in the arts and sciences are such as might be made by practice, meditation, observation, argumentation — for they lay near to the senses and immediately beneath common notions; but before we can reach the remoter and more hidden parts of nature, it is necessary that a more perfect use and application of the human mind and intellect be introduced.
  • In obedience to the everlasting love of truth, I have committed myself to the uncertainties and difficulties and solitudes of the ways and, relying on the divine assistance, have upheld my mind both against the shocks and embattled ranks of opinion, and against my own private and inward hesitations and scruples, and against the fogs and clouds of nature, and the phantoms flitting about on every side, in the hope of providing at last for the present and future generations guidance more faithful and secure.
  • The sense is like the sun, which reveals the face of earth, but seals and shuts up the face of heaven.
  • I would address one general admonition to all — that they consider what are the true ends of knowledge, and that they seek it not either for pleasure of the mind, or for contention, or for superiority to others, or for profit, or fame, or power, or any of these inferior things, but for the benefit and use of life, and that they perfect and govern it in charity. For it was from lust of power that the angels fell, from lust of knowledge that man fell; but of charity there can be no excess, neither did angel or man ever come in danger by it.
  • The requests I have to make are these. Of myself I say nothing; but in behalf of the business which is in hand I entreat men to believe that it is not an opinion to be held, but a work to be done; and to be well assured that I am labouring to lay the foundation, not of any sect of doctrine, but of human utility and power. Next, I ask them to deal fairly by their own interests, and laying aside all emulations and prejudices in favour of this or that opinion, to join in consultation for the common good; and being now freed and guarded by the securities and helps which I offer from the errors and impediments of the way, to come forward themselves and take part in that which remains to be done. Moreover, to be of good hope, nor to imagine that this Instauration of mine is a thing infinite and beyond the power of man, when it is in fact the true end and termination of infinite error; and seeing also that it is by no means forgetful of the conditions of mortality and humanity, (for it does not suppose that the work can be altogether completed within one generation, but provides for its being taken up by another); and finally that it seeks for the sciences not arrogantly in the little cells of human wit, but with reverence in the greater world.
    • Alternate translation: Concerning ourselves we speak not; but as touching the matter which we have in hand, this we ask;—that men deem it not to be the setting up of an Opinion, but the performing of a Work; and that they receive this as a certainty; that we are not laying the foundations of any sect or doctrine, but of the profit and dignity of mankind:—Furthermore, that being well disposed to what shall advantage themselves, and putting off factions and prejudices, they take common counsel with us, to the end that being by these our aids and appliances freed and defended from wanderings and impediments, they may lend their hands also to the labours which remain to be performed:—And yet, further, that they be of good hope; neither feign and imagine to themselves this our Reform as something of infinite dimension and beyond the grasp of mortal man, when, in truth, it is of infinite errour, the end and true limit; and is by no means unmindful of the condition of mortality and humanity, not confiding that such a thing can be carried to its perfect close in the space of one single age, but assigning it as a task to a succession of generations.
    • as quoted in William Whewell, History of the Inductive Sciences (1837) Preface
  • It is the empty things that are vast; things solid are most contracted and lie in little room.
  • I cannot be fairly asked to abide by the decision of a tribunal which is itself on trial.
  • There are found in the intellectual as in the terrestrial globe waste regions as well as cultivated ones.

The Arguments of the Several Parts[edit]

  • The syllogism consists of propositions — propositions of words; and words are the tokens and signs of notions. Now if the very notions of the mind be improperly and overhastily abstracted from facts, vague, not sufficiently definite, faulty — in short, in many ways, the whole edifice tumbles. I therefore reject the syllogism.
  • In dealing with the nature of things I use induction throughout... For I consider induction to be that form of demonstration which upholds the sense, and closes with nature, and comes to the very brink of operation, if it does not actually deal with it.
  • My plan is to proceed regularly and gradually from one axiom to another, so that the most general are not reached till the last; but then, when you do come to them, you find them to be not empty notions but well defined, and such as nature would really recognize as her first principles, and such as lie at the heart and marrow of things.
  • The greatest change I introduce is in the form itself of induction and the judgment made thereby. For the induction of which the logicians speak, which proceeds by simple enumeration, is a puerile thing, concludes at hazard, is always liable to be upset by a contradictory instance, takes into account only what is known and ordinary, and leads to no result.
  • What the sciences stand in need of is a form of induction which shall analyze experience and take it to pieces, and by a due process of exclusion and rejection lead to an inevitable conclusion. much more labor must we be prepared to bestow upon this... which is extracted not merely out of the depths of the mind, but out of the very bowels of nature.
  • I... sink the foundations of the sciences deeper and firmer; and I begin the inquiry nearer the source than men have done heretofore, submitting to examination those things which the common logic takes on trust.
  • The senses deceive; but then at the same time they supply the means of discovering their own errors.
  • The office of the sense shall be only to judge of the experiment, and... the experiment itself shall judge of the thing.
  • Such then are the provisions I make for finding the genuine light of nature and kindling and bringing it to bear. And they would be sufficient of themselves if the human intellect were even and like a fair sheet of paper with no writing on it. But since the minds of men are strangely possessed and beset so that there is no true and even surface left to reflect the genuine rays of things, it is necessary to seek a remedy for this also.
  • As an uneven mirror distorts the rays of objects according to its own figure and section, so the mind, when it receives impressions of objects through the sense, cannot be trusted to report them truly, but in forming its notions mixes up its own nature with the nature of things.
  • The intellect is not qualified to judge except by means of induction, and induction in its legitimate form.
  • This doctrine... of the expurgation of the intellect qualify it for dealing with truth, is comprised in three refutations: the refutation of the philosophies; the refutation of the demonstrations; and the refutation of the natural human reason.
  • Those... who aspire not to guess and divine, but to discover and know; who propose not to devise mimic and fabulous worlds of their own, but to examine and dissect the nature of this very world itself; must go to facts themselves for everything.
  • I well know that axioms once rightly discovered will carry whole troops of works along with them, and produce them, not here and there one, but in clusters.
  • In the mathematics it is easy to follow the demonstration when you have a machine beside you, whereas without that help all appears involved and more subtle than it really is.
  • All depends on keeping the eye steadily fixed upon the facts of nature and so receiving their images simply as they are. For God forbid that we should give out a dream of our own imagination for a pattern of the world; rather may he graciously grant to us to write an apocalypse or true vision of the footsteps of the Creator imprinted on his creatures.
  • Therefore do thou, O Father, who gavest the visible light as the first fruits of creation, and didst breathe into the face of man the intellectual light as the crown and consummation thereof, guard and protect this work, which coming from thy goodness returneth to thy glory. Thou when thou turnedst to look upon the works which thy hands had made, sawest that all was very good, and didst rest from thy labors. But man, when he turned to look upon the work which his hands had made, saw that all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and could find no rest therein. Wherefore if we labor in thy works with the sweat of our brows, thou wilt make us partakers of thy vision and thy sabbath. Humbly we pray that this mind may be steadfast in us, and that through these our hands, and the hands of others to whom thou shall give the same spirit, thou wilt vouchsafe to endow the human family with new mercies.

De Parascevis ad Inquisitionem (Parasceve)[edit]

Description of a Natural and Experimental History, such as may serve for the Foundation of a New Philosophy
  • My object in publishing my Instauration by parts is that some portion of it may be put out of peril. A similar reason induces me to subjoin here another small portion of the work, and to publish it along with that which has just been set forth. This is the description and delineation of a Natural and Experimental History such as may serve to build philosophy upon.
  • If all the wits of all the ages had met, or shall hereafter meet together; if the whole human race had applied or shall hereafter apply themselves to philosophy, and the whole earth had been or shall be nothing but academies and colleges and schools of learned men; still without a natural and experimental history such as I am going to prescribe, no progress worthy of the human race could have been made or can be made in philosophy and the sciences.
  • Let such a history be once provided and well set forth, and let there be added to it such auxiliary and light-giving experiments... and the investigation of nature and of all sciences will be the work of a few years. ...In this way, and in this way only, can the foundations of a true and active philosophy be established; and then will men wake as from deep sleep.
  • This history I call Primary History, or the Mother History.
  • They who shall hereafter take it upon them to write natural history should bear this continually in mind—that they ought not to consult the pleasure of the reader, no nor even that utility which may be derived immediately from their narrations; but to seek out and gather together such store and variety of things as may suffice for the formation of true axioms. Let them but remember this, and they will find out for themselves the method in which the history should be composed. For the end rules the method.
    • Aphorism II
  • The more difficult and laborious the work is the more ought it to be discharged of matters superfluous.
    • Aphorism III
  • Away with antiquities, and citations or testimonies of authors; also with disputes and controversies and differing opinions; everything in short which is philological.
    • Aphorism III
  • Never cite an author except in a matter of doubtful credit.
    • Aphorism III
  • Never introduce a controversy unless in a matter of great moment.
    • Aphorism III
  • For all that concerns ornaments of speech, similitudes, treasury of eloquence, and such like emptinesses let it be utterly dismissed.
    • Aphorism III
  • Let all those things which are admitted be themselves set down briefly and concisely, so that they may be nothing less than words. For no man who is collecting and storing up materials for ship-building or the like, thinks of arranging them elegantly, as in a shop, and displaying them so as to please the eye; all his care is that they be sound and good and that they be so arranged as to take up as little room as possible in the warehouse. And this is exactly what should be done here.
    • Aphorism III
  • That superfluity of natural histories in descriptions and pictures of species, and the curious variety of the same, is not much to the purpose. For small varieties of this kind are only a kind of sports and wanton freaks of nature... They afford a pleasant recreation in wandering among them and looking at them as objects in themselves; but the information they yield to the sciences is slight and almost superfluous.
    • Aphorism III
  • All superstitious stories... and experiments of ceremonial magic should be altogether rejected. For I would not have the infancy of philosophy, to which natural history is as a nursing-mother, accustomed to old wives' fables. The time will perhaps come... for a light review of things of this kind; that if there remain any grains of natural virtue in these dregs, they may be extracted and laid up for use. In the meantime they should be set aside.
    • Aphorism III
  • Even the experiments of natural magic should be sifted diligently and severely before they are received; especially those which are commonly derived from vulgar sympathies and antipathies, with great sloth and facility both of believing and inventing.
    • Aphorism III
  • This which we are now about is only a granary and storehouse of matters, not meant to be pleasant to stay or live in, but only to be entered as occasion requires, when anything is wanted for the work of the Interpreter, which follows.
    • Aphorism III
  • In the history which I require and design, special care is to be taken that it be of wide range and made to the measure of the universe. For the world is not to be narrowed till it will go into the understanding (which has been done hitherto), but the understanding to be expanded and opened till it can take in the image of the world, as it is in fact. For that fashion of taking few things into account, and pronouncing with reference to a few things, has been the ruin of everything.
    • Aphorism IV
  • It is a history of Generations, Pretergenerations, and Arts.
    • Aphorism IV
  • I divide the History of Generations into five parts. The first, of Ether and things Celestial. The second, of Meteors and the regions... of Air; viz. of the tracts which lie between the moon and the surface of the earth... The third, of Earth and Sea. The fourth, of the Elements (as they call them) flame or fire, air, water, earth; understanding however by Elements, not the first principles of things, but the greater masses of natural bodies. ...Lastly, the fifth part of the history contains the Lesser Colleges, or Species; upon which natural history has hitherto been principally employed.
    • Aphorism IV
  • As for the history of Pretergenerations... I mean the history of prodigies which are natural. For the superstitious history of marvels (of whatever kind) I remit to a quite separate treatise of its own.
    • Aphorism IV
  • History of Arts and of Nature as changed and altered by Man, or Experimental History, I divide into three. For it is drawn either from mechanical arts, or from the operative part of the liberal arts, or from a number of crafts and experiments which have not yet grown into an art... which sometimes indeed turn up in the course of most ordinary experience, and do not stand at all in need of art.
    • Aphorism IV
  • As soon... as a history has been completed of all these things which I have mentioned, namely Generations, Pretergenerations, Arts and Experiments, it seems that nothing will remain unprovided whereby the sense can be equipped for the information of the understanding. And then shall we be no longer kept dancing within little rings, like persons bewitched, but our range and circuit will be as wide as the compass of the world.
    • Aphorism IV
  • Among the parts of history which I have mentioned, the history of Arts is of most use, because it exhibits things in motion, and leads more directly to practice. Moreover it takes off the mask and veil from natural objects which are commonly concealed and obscured under the variety of shapes and external appearance.
    • Aphorism V
  • Bodies will not be destroyed or annihilated; rather than that they will turn themselves into various forms.
    • Aphorism V
  • Upon this history... mechanical and illiberal as it may seem, the greatest diligence must be bestowed.
    • Aphorism V
  • Among the particular arts those are to be preferred which exhibit, alter, and prepare natural bodies and materials of things; such as agriculture, cookery, chemistry, dyeing; the manufacture of glass, enamel, sugar, gunpowder, artificial fires, paper, and the like. Those which consist principally in the subtle motion of the hands or instruments are of less use; such as weaving, carpentry, architecture, manufacture of mills, clocks, and the like; although these too are by no means to be neglected, both because many things occur in them which relate to the alterations of natural bodies, and because they give accurate information concerning local motion, which is a thing of great importance in very many respects.
    • Aphorism V
  • Not only those experiments in each art which serve the purpose of the art itself are to be received, but likewise those which turn up anyhow by the way. ...all mechanical experiments should be as streams flowing from all sides into the sea of philosophy. But how to select the more important instances in every kind (which are principally and with the greatest diligence to be sought and as it were hunted out) is a point to be learned from the prerogatives of instances.
    • Aphorism V
  • There are to be received into this history, first, things the most ordinary, such as it might be thought superfluous to record in writing, because they are so familiarly known; secondly, things mean, illiberal, filthy... thirdly, things trifling and childish (and no wonder, for we are to become again as little children) and lastly, things which seem over subtle, because they are in themselves of no use.
    • Aphorism VI
  • The things which will be set forth in this history are not collected on their own account; and therefore neither is their importance to be measured by what they are worth in themselves, but according to their indirect bearing upon other things, and the influence they may have upon philosophy.
    • Aphorism VI
  • Another precept is, that everything relating both to bodies and virtues in nature be set forth (as far as may be) numbered, weighed, measured, defined. For it is works we are in pursuit of, not speculations; and practical working comes of the due combination of physics and mathematics. ...And when exact cannot be obtained, then we must have recourse to indefinite estimates and comparatives.
    • Aphorism VII
  • With regard to the credit of the things which are to be admitted into the history; they must needs be either certainly true, doubtful whether true or not, or certainly not true. Things of the first kind should be set down simply; things of the second kind with a qualifying note, such as "it is reported", "they relate," "I have heard from a person of credit," and the like. For to add the arguments on either side would be too laborious and would certainly interrupt the writer too much. Nor is it of much consequence to the business in hand; because mistakes in experimenting, unless they abound everywhere, will be presently detected and corrected by the truth of axioms.
    • Aphorism VIII
  • Things which though certainly not true are yet current and much in men's mouths, having either through neglect or from the use of them in similitudes prevailed now for many ages... these it will not be enough to reject silently; they must be in express words proscribed, that the sciences may be no more troubled with them.
    • Aphorism VIII
  • It will not be amiss, when the source of any vanity or credulity happens to present itself, to make a note of it.
    • Aphorism VIII
  • Questions (I do not mean as to causes but as to the fact) should be added, in order to provoke and stimulate further inquiry.
    • Aphorism IX
  • In any new and more subtle experiment the manner in which the experiment was conducted should be added, that men maybe free to judge for themselves whether the information obtained from that experiment be trustworthy or fallacious; and also that men's industry may be roused to discover if possible methods more exact.
    • Aphorism IX
  • If in any statement there be anything doubtful or questionable, I would by no means have it suppressed or passed in silence, but plainly and perspicuously set down by way of note or admonition. For I want this primary history to be compiled with a most religious care, as if every particular were stated upon oath; seeing that it is the book of God's works, and (so far as the majesty of heavenly may be compared with the humbleness of earthly things) a kind of second Scripture.
    • Aphorism IX
  • It would not be amiss to intersperse observations occasionally.
    • Aphorism IX
  • That may perhaps be of some assistance to an inquirer which is the ruin and destruction of a believer; viz. a brief review, as in passage, of the opinions now received, with their varieties and sects; that they may touch and rouse the intellect, and no more.
    • Aphorism IX

Quotes about the Great Instauration[edit]

  • I know not how therefore to escape the conclusion that, in Bacon's own estimate of his own system, the Natural History held the place of first importance. He regarded it as not less new than the new method and as more indispensable. ...Without a natural history... he thought no advance of any value could possibly be made.

External links[edit]

Wikisource has original text related to:

Francis Bacon, Robert Leslie Ellis, James Spedding, The Philosophical Works of Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, Viscount S. Albans, and Lord High Chancellor of England (1905)