New Organon?

Francis Bacon’s New Organon (1620) was a groundbreaking argument for the importance of an experimental method in science, even though the details of his presentation have mainly historical value. I’m not commending the anti-Aristotelian polemic of this fascinatingly Baroque text, but I do think that polemic in fact mainly addresses kinds of claims for demonstrative science made by later commentators, which I reject and think were quite remote from the views of Aristotle himself.

In spite of Bacon’s overtly anti-Aristotelian attitude, I take his emphasis on the great informative value of active “perturbations” of nature in contrast with mere observation to be a vindication of the relevance of the vital Aristotelian notion of potentiality, as well as a partial anticipation of Brandom’s emphasis on counterfactual conditions as a key to intelligibility. This is a nice alternative to the foundational role of immediate empirical “intuition” in Locke’s theory of knowledge. Locke dwelt much more extensively on a novel empiricist reconstruction of many details of human understanding, but Bacon is the classic early proponent of the idea of an experimental method, which seems not to depend on the representational “myth of the Given” upon which Locke’s theory depends. Experimental methods play an essential mediating role in empirical science.