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The Advancement of Learning
By Sir Francis Bacon
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes

(London, 1605)

Bacon entered Trinity College, Cambridge, at the age of 12, and became Lord Chancellor of England under James I. Here is the book in which he effectively founded the modern, experimental, scientific, approach to understanding. Before Bacon, 'learning' largely meant memorizing the classics, especially Aristotle , and acceding to every diktat of established religion. In 'The Advancement of Learning', he argued that the only knowledge of importance was that which could be discovered by observation - 'empirical' knowledge rooted in the natural world.
Abridged: GH

The Advancement of Learning


To the King

THERE were under the law, excellent King, from their servants both tribute of duty and presents of affection. God hath given your Majesty a composition of understanding admirable, being able to compass and comprehend the greatest matters. Therefore I did conclude that I could not make unto your Majesty a better oblation than of some Treatise concerning the excellency of Learning and Knowledge.


To discover the error of this opinion, it was not the pure knowledge of nature which gave the occasion to the fall: but it was the proud knowledge of good and evil. There is no vexation or anxiety of mind which resulteth from knowledge, for all knowledge and wonder (which is the seed of knowledge) is an impression of pleasure in itself. And as for the conceit that too much knowledge should incline a man to Atheism, a little or superficial knowledge of Philosophy may incline man to Atheism, but a further proceeding therein doth bring the mind back again to Religion.

Let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain, that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or in the book of God's works; divinity or philosophy: but rather let men not mingle or confound these learnings together.

That Learning should dispose men to leisure, or undermine the reverence of laws, is assuredly without shadow of truth. There may be a sort of discredit that groweth unto Learning from learned men themselves, for no doubt there be amongst them, as in other professions, men of all temperatures.

Martin Luther was enforced to awake antiquity, so that the ancient authors, which had long time slept in libraries, began generally to be read and revolved, and thus did bring in an affectionate study of eloquence which grew speedily to an excess.

Yet the strength of all sciences is, as the strength of the old man's fagot of sticks, in the band that binds them. For the harmony of a science, supporting each part the other, is and ought to be the true confutation of all the smaller sort of objections. But, on the other side, if you take out every axiom, one by one, you may quarrel with them, and bend them, and break them at your pleasure.

Another error hath proceeded from a kind of adoration of the mind and understanding of man; by means whereof men have withdrawn themselves away from the contemplation of nature, and the observations of experience, and have tumbled up and down in their own reason and conceits. Upon these Heraclitus gave a just censure, saying, MEN SOUGHT TRUTH IN THEIR OWN LITTLE WORLDS, AND NOT IN THE GREAT AND COMMON WORLD.

Another error is impatience without mature suspension of judgement. If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties. The end ought to be to preserve and augment whatsoever is solid and fruitful: that knowledge may not be, as a courtesan, for pleasure only, or as a bondwoman; but as a spouse, for generation, fruit, and comfort.

VI: First, let us seek the dignity of knowledge in the in the attributes and acts of God, as revealed to man.

Dionysius of Athens gives first place to the angels of Love, termed Seraphim; the second to the angels of Light, termed Cherubim; and the third to Thrones, Principalities, and the rest; so as the angels of Knowledge and Illumination are placed before the angels of Office and Domination.

We read the first Form that was created was Light. The first acts which man performed in Paradise consisted of the two summary parts of knowledge; the view of creatures, and the imposition of names.

In the age before the flood, the holy records honour the inventors and authors of music and works in metal. Moses the lawgiver was learned in ALL THE LEARNING OF THE EGYPTIANS. Likewise that excellent book of Job will be found pregnant with natural philosophy; as, for example, cosmography, and the roundness of the world. So likewise Salomon the King became enabled not only to write Parables or Aphorisms concerning moral philosophy; but also to compile a Natural History of all verdure, from the cedar to the moss upon the wall, (which is but a rudiment between putrefaction and a herb,) and also of all things that breathe or move.

Our Saviour Himself did show His power to subdue ignorance by His conference with the priests and doctors of the law. Many of the ancient Bishops and Fathers of the Church were excellently read and studied in the learning of the heathen

Wherefore, there be two duties which philosophy and learning do perform to faith and religion. The one, because they are an effectual inducement to the exaltation of the glory of God: the other, because they minister a singular preservative against unbelief and error.

VII: According to that which the Grecians call APOTHEOSIS, inventors and authors of new arts were consecrated amongst the gods themselves; as were Ceres, Bacchus, Mercurius, Apollo, and others.

For although he might be thought partial to his own profession, he that said, THEN SHOULD PEOPLE AND ESTATES BE HAPPY, WHEN EITHER KINGS WERE PHILOSOPHERS, OR PHILOSOPHERS KINGS, yet so much is verified by experience, that under learned princes and governors there have been ever the best times.

Trajan was not learned: but was a great admirer and benefactor of learning; a founder of famous libraries. Adrian, his successor, was the most universal inquirer. But in my judgement the most excellent is that of Queen Elizabeth, your majestey's immediate predecessor. This lady was endued with learning great even amongst masculine princes; and unto the very last year of her life she was accustomed to appoint set hours for reading.

Alexander was bred and taught under Aristotle. As for Julius Caesar, the excellency of his learning doth declare itself in his writings and works.

VIII: To proceed now to moral virtue: knowledge taketh away the wildness, barbarism and fierceness of men's minds. It taketh away levity, temerity, and insolency. It taketh away vain admiration, which is the root of all weakness. No man can marvel at the play of puppets, that goeth behind the curtain, and adviseth himself well of the motion.

So certainly, if a man meditate much upon the universal frame of nature, the earth with men upon it will not seem much other than an ant-hill, whereas some ants carry corn, and some carry their young, and some go empty, and all to-and-fro a little heap of dust.

Knowledge investeth and crowneth man's nature. By learning man excelleth in that wherein man excelleth beasts; that by learning man ascendeth to the heavens, where in body he cannot come.

The dignity and excellency of knowledge and learning brings that whereunto man's nature doth most aspire, which is, immortality. For have not the verses of Homer continued twenty-five hundred years without the loss of a syllable; during which time infinite temples, castles and cities have decayed? The images of men's wits remain in books, exempted from the wrong of time, to cast their seeds in the minds of others, across the succeeding ages. If the invention of the ship was thought noble, which carrieth riches to the most remote regions, how much more are letters to be magnified, which, as ships, pass through the vast seas of time, that ages distant may participate of the wisdom and inventions, the one of the other?

Nevertheless it will be impossible for me to reverse the judgement of Aesop's Cock, that preferred the barleycorn before the gem. But: JUSTIFICATA EST SAPIENTIA A FILIIS SUIS [=Wisdom is justified of her children].


It remaineth to consider what kind of acts are to be performed by kings and others for the increase and advancement of learning.

The works towards learning are about three objects: the places of learning, the books of learning, and the persons of the learned.

The works concerning the places of learning are four; foundations and buildings, endowments with revenues, endowments with franchises and privileges, institutions and government.

The works touching books are two: first, libraries, which are the shrines where the relics of ancient saints are preserved and reposed: secondly, new editions of authors, with more correct impressions, more faithful translations, more profitable glosses, more diligent annotations, and the like.

The works pertaining to the persons of learned men are two: the reward and designation of readers in sciences already invented; and the reward and designation of inquirers concerning any parts of learning not sufficiently prosecuted.

First, amongst the colleges in Europe, I find it strange that they are all dedicated to professions, and none left free to arts and sciences at large, and this hath hindered the progression of learning. Hence it proceedeth that princes find no able men to serve them.

And because Founders of Colleges do plant, and Founders of Lectures do water, it followeth well to consider the smallness and meanness of the salary which is assigned unto them.

Another defect I note, that unto the deep and fruitful study of sciences, books be not the only instrumentals; for we see globes, astrolabes, maps, and the like, provided to astronomy: likewise some places have gardens for simples, and command the use of dead bodies for anatomies. In general, there will hardly be any disclosing of nature, except there be some allowance for experiments; whether they be appertaining to Vulcanus or Daedalus, furnace or engine. So you must allow the spials [=discoverers] and intelligencers of nature to bring in their bills; or else you shall be ill advertised.

I find the exercises used in the Universities do make too great a divorce between invention and memory; for their speeches are either premeditate, where nothing is left to invention, or merely extemporal, where little is left to memory: whereas in active life there is rather an intermixture of both.

Another defect which I note, ascendeth a little higher; knowledge would be yet more advanced, if there were more intelligence mutual between the Universities of Europe than now there is.

I: THE parts of human learning have reference to the three parts of man's understanding: history to his memory, poesy [=poetry] to his imagination, and philosophy to his reason.

I am not ignorant that some sciences, as of the jurisconsults and the mathematicians, have set down memorials. But a just story of learning, the originals of knowledges and the sects, their inventions, traditions, their flourishings and decays throughout the ages, I may truly affirm to be wanting.

As to those histories of marvels, of sorceries, witchcrafts, and the like, I am not of the opinion that they be altogether excluded. But I hold fit that these narrations be sorted by themselves, and not be mingled with the narrations which are sincerely natural.

For history of nature wrought or mechanical, I find some collections made of agriculture, and of manual arts; but it is esteemed a kind of dishonour unto learning to descend to inquiry upon matters mechanical. But the truth is, it be not the highest instances that give the securest information. He that enquireth into the nature of a great Commonwealth, must find it first in a family, and the simple conjugations of man and wife, which are in every cottage. So we see how that secret of nature, of the turning of iron touched with the loadstone towards the north, was found out in needles of iron, not in bars of iron.

If my judgement be of any weight, the use of history mechanical is of all others the most radical and fundamental towards natural philosophy and to the endowment and benefit of man's life.

II: As for civil history, it is not unfitly to be compared with the three kinds of pictures; some are unfinished, some are perfect, and some are defaced. History is of three kinds: for it either representeth a time, or a person, or an actions. The first we call chronicles, the second lives, and the third narrations. But for modern histories, the greater part are beneath mediocrity.

There is another portion of history, which Cornelius Tacitus maketh, namely, annals and journals. I cannot likewise be ignorant of a form of writing which some wise and grave men have used, containing a scattered history with politic discourse and observation; which kind of ruminated history I think more fit to place amongst books of policy.

IV: Poesy is a part of learning which doth truly refer to the imagination. Because the acts or events of true history have not that magnitude which satisfieth the mind of man, poesy feigneth acts and events greater and more heroical. In poesy I can report no deficience, for it is a plant which has sprung up and spread abroad more than any other kind. But it is not good to stay too long in the theatre. Let us now pass on to the palace of the mind, which we are to view with more reverence and attention.

V: In Philosophy, the contemplations of man do either penetrate unto God, or are reflected upon himself. Out of which does arise three forms; divine philosophy, natural philosophy, and human philosophy or humanity. These forms are like branches of a tree, that meet in a stem: therefore it is good that we erect and constitute one universal science, by the name of PHILOSOPHIA PRIMA [=first philosophy], as the receptacle for all profitable observations and axioms as fall not within the compass of any of the special parts of philosophy or sciences, but are more common and of a higher stage.

This science I may justly report as deficient; for I see sometimes the profounder sort of wits now and then draw a bucket of water out of this well; but the spring-head thereof seemeth to me not to have been visited.

VI: Divine philosophy is that knowledge, or rudiment of knowledge, concerning God. In this part of knowledge, I am so far from noting any deficience, as I rather note an excess: where both religion and philosophy, being commixed together, will make an heretical religion, and an imaginary and fabulous philosophy.

VII: We will now proceed to natural philosophy.

If it be true that Democritus said, THAT THE TRUTH OF NATURE LIETH HID IN CERTAIN DEEP MINES AND CAVES, it were good to divide natural philosophy into the mine and the furnace: some to be pioneers and some smiths; some to dig, and some to refine and hammer.

Because all true and fruitful natural philosophy hath a double scale or ladder; ascending from experiments to the invention of causes, and descending from causes to the invention of new experiments; therefore I judge it that these two parts be severally considered.

Natural science or theory is divided into physique and metaphysique: and I intend PHILOSOPHIA PRIMA or Summary Philosophy to be the common principles and axioms which are promiscuous and indifferent to several sciences.

Physique should contemplate that which is inherent in matter, and therefore transitory; and Metaphysique that which is abstracted and fixed. Physique, inquireth and handleth the material and scient causes; and Metaphysique handleth the formal and final causes.

There is some received and inveterate opinion that the inquisition of man is not competent to find out essential Forms or true differences. Yet, they are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea.

VIII: There remaineth yet another part of Natural Philosophy, which is Mathematique; but I think it more agreeable to place it as a branch of Metaphysique.

In Mathematics I can report no deficience, except it be that men do not sufficiently understand the excellent use of the Pure Mathematics. As tennis is a game of no use in itself, but it maketh a quick eye and a supple body; so the Mathematics which is collateral and intervenient is no less worthy than that which is principal and intended. And as for the Mixed Mathematics, I may only make this prediction, that there cannot fail to be more kinds of them, as nature grows further disclosed.

As for Natural Magic, Alchemy, Astrology, and the like, containing certain credulous and superstitious conceits and frivolous experiments; it is as far differing from truth as the story of King Arthur is from Caesar's Commentaries.

There ought be made a kalendar, or inventory, containing all the inventions, works or fruits of nature or art, which are now extant, and a note of what things are yet held impossible, or not invented. For the mariner's needle, which giveth the direction, is of no less benefit for navigation than the invention of the sails which give the motion.

IX: We come therefore now to that knowledge which is the KNOWLEDGE OF OURSELVES. This knowledge is but a portion of natural philosophy: and generally let this be a rule, that all partitions of knowledges be accepted; that the continuance and entireness of knowledge be preserved. The science of medicine, if it be forsaken by natural philosophy, it is not much better than an empirical practice.

X: The knowledge that concerneth the good of man's body is of four kinds, Health, Beauty, Strength, and Pleasure: so the knowledges are Medicine, or art of Cure; art of Decoration, which is called Cosmetic; art of Activity, which is called Athletic; and art Voluptuary, which Tacitus truly calleth ERUDITUS LUXUS.

The ancient opinion that man was MICROCOSMUS, an abstract or model of the world, hath been fantastically strained by Paracelsus' and the alchemists. But thus much is evidently true, that of all substances which nature hath produced, man's body is the most extremely compounded. The Soul, on the other side, is the simplest of substances.

Medicine is a science which hath been more professed than laboured, and yet more laboured than advanced; the labour having been, in my judgement, rather in circle than in progression. Notably the discontinuance of the ancient diligence of Hippocrates, which used to set down a narrative of the cases of his patients, just as the lawyers are careful to report new cases for the direction of future judgments.

I esteem it the office of a physician not only to restore health, but to mitigate pain and dolors; and not only when such mitigation may conduce to recovery, but when it may serve to make a fair and easy passage. For Augustus Cæsar was wont to wish to himself that Euthanasia; and which was specially noted in Antoninus Pius, whose death was after the fashion of a kindly and pleasant sheep. But the physicians do make a kind of scruple and religion to stay with the patient after the disease is deplored; whereas in my judgement they ought to give the attendances for facilitating and assuaging of the pains and agonies of death.

For Cosmetic, it hath parts civil, and parts effeminate: for cleanness of body was ever esteemed. As for artificial decoration, it is neither fine enough to deceive, nor wholesome to please. For Athletic, I accept that the body of man may be brought, by activity, to hardness against wants and extremities. As for arts of pleasure sensual, the chief deficience is of laws to repress them.

XI: Knowledge of the Mind hath two parts; inquiries into the substance of the soul or mind, the other of the faculties or functions thereof. Such knowledge must be bounded by religion for the substance of the soul was not extracted out of the mass of heaven and earth, but was immediately inspired from God. Unto this part of knowledge there be two appendices; which have rather vapoured forth fables than kindled truth: divination and fascination.

Divination is superstitious; such as the heathen observations upon the inspection of sacrifices, the flights of birds, the swarming of bees; and Chaldean astrology, and the like. Fascination is the power and of imagination upon other bodies than the body of the imagination. Herein it may be pretended that Ceremonies and Charms, do work. Deficiencies in these knowledges I will report none, other than the general deficience, that it is not known how much of them is verity, and how much vanity.

XII: The Knowledge respecting the faculties of the mind of man is of two kinds; his Understanding and Reason, and the other his Will, Appetite, and Affection. The Arts intellectual are four in number: Art of Inquiry or Invention: Art of Examination or Judgment: Art of Custody or Memory: and Art of Elocution or Tradition.

XIII: Invention is of two kinds, much differing: the one of Arts and Sciences; and the other of Speech and Arguments. The former of these has such a deficience that there is in it NO READY MONEY. For as money will fetch all other commodities, so this knowledge is that which should purchase all the rest.

XIV: Now we pass unto the arts of Judgment, which handle the natures of Proofs and Demonstrations; which as to Induction hath a coincidence with Invention.

Although we think we govern our words, LOQUENDUM UT VULGUS, SENTIENDUM UT SAPIENTES*; yet words, as a Tartar's bow, do shoot back upon the understanding of the wisest, and mightily entangle and pervert the judgement So it is most necessary in all controversies to imitate the wisdom of the mathematicians, in setting down in the very beginning the definitions of our words and terms that others may know how we understand them.

XV: The custody or retaining of knowledge is either in writing or memoir; whereof writing hath two parts, the nature of the character, and the order of the entry.

XVI: Of the kind of transitive knowledge, concerning transferring our knowledge to others, the organ of tradition is either speech or writing: and we see the commerce of barbarous people, that understand not one another's language, and in the practice of divers that are dumb and deaf, that men's minds are expressed in gestures. And we understand that it is the use of China to write in characters which express neither letters nor words but things or notions; insomuch as provinces, which understand not one another's language, can nevertheless read one another's writings; and therefore they have a vast multitude of characters, as many, I suppose, as radical words.

Concerning the science of grammar, I cannot report it deficient.

XXIII: CIVIL knowledge hath three parts which are; conversation, negotiation, and government; and they be three wisdoms of divers natures: wisdom of the behaviour, wisdom of business, and wisdom of state. The first of these is well laboured, the second and third are deficient.

And it is not amiss for men in their race toward fortune, to cool themselves a little with that conceit which is elegantly expressed by the Emperor Charles the Fifth, THAT FORTUNE HATH SOMEWHAT OF THE NATURE OF A WOMAN, THAT IF SHE BE TOO MUCH WOOED, SHE IS THE FARTHER OFF.

Concerning Government, it is a part of knowledge secret and retired, some things are secret because they are hard to know, and some because they are not fit to utter.

XXIV: Now let us come to sacred and inspired divinity, the Sabbath and port of all men's labours and peregrinations.

XXV: The use of human reason in religion is of two sorts: the former, in the conception and apprehension of the mysteries of God to us revealed; the other, in the inferring and deriving of doctrine and direction thereupon. For the obtaining of the information, it resteth upon the true and sound interpretation of the Scriptures, which are the fountains of the water of life. These things I have passed over so briefly because I can report no deficience concerning them.

THUS have I made as it were a small globe of the intellectual world. The errors I claim as mine own: the good, if any be, is due TANQUM ADEPS SACRIFICII**, to be incensed to the honour, first of the Divine Majesty, and next of your Majesty, to whom on earth I am most bounden.


* LOQUENDUM UT VULGUS, SENTIENDUM UT SAPIENTES: "Speak like the commoners, think like the wise"
** TANQUM ADEPS SACRIFICII: "As if obtained by a sacrifice"
*** DEO GLORIA: “To the glory of God”

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