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Statue of Roger Bacon in the Oxford University Museum

Roger Bacon, O.F.M. (c. 1214–1294), also known as Doctor Mirabilis (Latin: "wonderful teacher"), was an English philosopher and Franciscan friar who placed considerable emphasis on empiricism. He is sometimes credited as one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method[1] inspired by the works of Plato and Aristotle via early Islamic scientists and Jewish scholars: Avicenna, Averroes, and Maimonides.[2][3][4]

Roger Bacon was born in Ilchester in Somerset, possibly in 1213 or 1214 at the Ilchester Friary.[5] The only source for his date of birth is his statement in the Opus Tertium, written in 1267, that "forty years have passed since I first learned the alphabet". The 1214 birth date assumes he was not being literal, and may have meant 40 years had passed since he matriculated at Oxford at the age of 13. If he had been literal, his birth date was more likely to have been around 1220/1222. In the same passage he reports that for all but two of those forty years he had always been engaged in study.[6] His family appears to have been well-off, but, during the stormy reign of Henry III of England, their property was despoiled and several members of the family were driven into exile.

Bacon studied and later became a Master at Oxford, lecturing on Aristotle. There is no evidence he was ever awarded a doctorate — the title Doctor Mirabilis was posthumous and figurative. Sometime between 1237 and 1245, he began to lecture at the university of Paris, then the center of intellectual life in Europe. His whereabouts between 1247 and 1256 are uncertain, but about 1256 he became a Friar in the Franciscan Order. As a Franciscan Friar, Bacon no longer held a teaching post, and after 1260 his activities were further restricted by a Franciscan statute forbidding Friars from publishing books or pamphlets without specific approval.[7]

Bacon circumvented this restriction through his acquaintance with Cardinal Guy le Gros de Foulques, who became Pope Clement IV in 1265. The new Pope issued a mandate ordering Bacon to write to him concerning the place of philosophy within theology. As a result Bacon sent the Pope his Opus Majus, which presented his views on how the philosophy of Aristotle and the new science could be incorporated into a new Theology. Besides the Opus maius Bacon also sent his Opus minus, De multiplicatione specierum, and, perhaps, other works on alchemy and astrology.[8]

Pope Clement died in 1268, and sometime between 1277 and 1279, Bacon was placed under house arrest by Jerome of Ascoli, the Minister-General of the Franciscan Order. Bacon's difficulties are probably related to the Condemnations of 1277, which banned the teaching of certain philosophical doctrines, including deterministic astrology. Sometime after 1278 Bacon returned to the Franciscan House at Oxford, where he continued his studies.[9]


Changing interpretations of Bacon

Bacon performed and described various experiments, which were for a time claimed as the first instances of true experimental science, several hundred years before the rise of science in the West. This widely held interpretation of Bacon as a modern experimental scientist, emerging before his time, originated in the nineteenth century. This image reflected the emphasis, dominant at that time, upon experiment as the principal form of scientific activity and the general acceptance of the characterization of the Middle Ages as the "Dark Ages".[10] Some writers of this period, such as Andrew Dickson White, carried the account further by describing a concerted opposition to Bacon's ideas in which he was repeatedly persecuted and imprisoned as part of a medieval "Warfare of Science with Theology."[11] In this view Bacon would be an advocate of modern experimental science who somehow emerged as an isolated figure in an age supposed to be hostile toward scientific ideas.

In the course of the twentieth century, the philosophical understanding of the role of experiment in the sciences has been substantially modified. New historical research has shown not only that medieval Christians were not generally opposed to science,[12][13] but also revealed the extent and variety of medieval scientific activity. Consequently, the picture of Bacon has changed. His advocacy of scientia experimentalis has been argued to differ from modern experimental science,[14] and many medieval sources of and influences on his scientific activity have been identified.[15] In relation to this, one recent study summarized that: "Bacon was not a modern, out of step with his age, or a harbinger of things to come, but a brilliant, combative, and somewhat eccentric schoolman of the thirteenth century, endeavoring to take advantage of the new learning just becoming available while remaining true to traditional notions... of the importance to be attached to philosophical knowledge".[16]

As to his assumed persecution for science, although texts indicate that Bacon was briefly confined for his doctrinal digressions, some modern accounts of his life show no evidence for any lengthy period of imprisonment and modern historians speak of his "alleged imprisonment."[17] As the historian of science David Lindberg writes: "his imprisonment, if it occurred at all (which I doubt) probably resulted from his sympathies for the radical "poverty" wing of the Franciscans (a wholly theological matter) rather than from any scientific novelties which he may have proposed".[18] Others do still argue that the Franciscans kept Bacon in isolated confinement for many years, and prevented from teaching his scientific views. Bacon is quoted as writing in 1267, about his time in a small cell in Paris, "...for my superiors and brothers, disciplining me with hunger, kept me under close guard and would not permit anyone to come to me, fearing that my writings would be divulged to others [rather] than to the chief pontiff and themselves," and that they treated him with "unspeakable violence" and "for ten years had been exiled from former University fame."[19]

A recent review of the variety of visions that each age has held about Roger Bacon says contemporary scholarship still neglects one of the most important aspects of Bacon's life and thought: his commitment to the Franciscan order. "His Opus maius was a plea for reform addressed to the supreme spiritual head of the Christian faith, written against a background of apocalyptic expectation and informed by the driving concerns of the friars. It was designed to improve training for missionaries and to provide new skills to be employed in the defence of the Christian world against the enmity of non-Christians and of the Antichrist. It cannot usefully be read solely in the context of the history of science and philosophy."[20]

His works

Optic studies by Bacon

His view of the past

The scientific training Bacon had received showed him the rare defects in existing academic debate. Aristotle was known only through translations, as none of the professors would learn Greek; the same was true of Scripture and many of the other auctores ("authorities") referenced in traditional education. In contrast to Aristotle's argument that facts be collected before deducing scientific truths, physical science was not carried out by observations from the natural world, but by arguments based solely on tradition and prescribed authorities (see Scholasticism).

Bacon withdrew from the scholastic routine and devoted himself to languages and experimental research. The mathematicians whom he considered perfect were Peter of Maricourt[21] and John of London, and two were adequate: Campanus of Novara and a Master Nicholas. Peter was the author of a manuscript treatise, "De Magnete," and Campanus wrote several important works on astronomy, astrology, and the calendar.[22] Bacon often mentioned his debt to the work of Robert Grosseteste and Adam Marsh, as well as to other lesser figures. He was clearly not an isolated scholar in the thirteenth century.[23]

A new approach

In his writings, Bacon calls for a reform of theological study. Less emphasis should be placed on minor philosophical distinctions than had been the case in scholasticism. Instead, the Bible itself should return to the centre of attention and theologians should thoroughly study the languages in which their original sources were composed. He was fluent in several languages and lamented the corruption of the holy texts and the works of the Greek philosophers by numerous mistranslations and misinterpretations. Furthermore, he urged all theologians to study all sciences closely, and to add them to the normal university curriculum. With regard to the obtaining of knowledge, he strongly championed experimental study over reliance on authority, arguing that "thence cometh quiet to the mind". Bacon did not restrict this approach to theological studies. He rejected the blind following of prior authorities, both in theological and scientific study, which was the accepted method of undertaking study in his day.

In the Opus Minus he criticizes his contemporaries Alexander of Hales and Albertus Magnus who, he says, had not studied the philosophy of Aristotle but only acquired their learning during their life as preachers.[24] Albert was received at Paris as an authority equal to Aristotle, Avicenna, and Averroes[25], leading Bacon to proclaim that "never in the world [had] such monstrosity occurred before."[26] Bacon was always an outspoken man who stated what he believed to be true and attacked those with whom he disagreed, which repeatedly caused him great trouble.


Bacon made many discoveries while coming near to many others, despite many disadvantages and discouragements. His Opus Majus contains treatments of mathematics and optics, alchemy and the manufacture of gunpowder, the positions and sizes of the celestial bodies, and anticipates later inventions such as microscopes, telescopes, spectacles, flying machines, hydraulics and steam ships. Bacon studied astrology and believed that the celestial bodies had an influence on the fate and mind of humans. The study of optics in part five of Opus Majus seems to draw on the works of the Muslim scientists, Alkindus (al-Kindi) and Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham), including a discussion of the physiology of eyesight, the anatomy of the eye and the brain, and considers light, distance, position, and size, direct vision, reflected vision, and refraction, mirrors and lenses. His research in optics was primarily oriented by the legacy of Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham; d. 1041) through a Latin translation of the latter's monumental Kitab al-manazir (De aspectibus; Perspectivae; The Optics), while the impact of the tradition of al-Kindi (Alkindus) was principally mediated through the influence that this Arabic scholar had on the optics of Robert Grosseteste. Moreover, Bacon's investigations of the properties of the magnifying glass partly rested on the handed down legacy of Arab opticians; mainly Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), who was in his turn influenced by Ibn Sahl's 10th century legacy in dioptrics.[27]

Drawing on the recently discovered Greco-Arabic astronomy and on the calendaric writings of Robert Grosseteste, Bacon criticized the Julian calendar, describing it as intolerable, horrible and laughable. He proposed to correct its errors by deleting a day from the calendar every 125 or 130 days.[28] Bacon was an enthusiastic proponent and practitioner of the experimental method of acquiring knowledge about the world. He advocated the study of mathematics to facilitate the grounding of the scientific method in quantitative techniques. Further, Bacon predicted the invention of the submarine, automobile, and airplane.[29] He planned to publish a comprehensive encyclopedia, but only fragments ever appeared. The American pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce said of him that "To Roger Bacon, that remarkable mind who in the middle of the thirteenth century was almost a scientific man, the schoolmen's conception of reasoning appeared only an obstacle to truth. He saw that experience alone teaches anything.... Of all kinds of experience, the best, he thought, was interior illumination, which teaches many things about Nature which the external senses could never discover, such as the transubstantiation of bread."[30]

Other attributed works

Roger Bacon is considered by some to be the author of the Voynich Manuscript, because of his studies in the fields of alchemy, astrology, and languages. Bacon is also the ascribed author of the alchemical manual Speculum Alchemiae, which was translated into English as The Mirror of Alchimy in 1597.

In fiction

Probably the most comprehensive and accessible description of Roger Bacon's life and times to a modern reader is contained in the book Doctor Mirabilis, written in 1964 by the science fiction author James Blish. This is the second book in Blish's quasi-religious trilogy After Such Knowledge, and is a complete, at times biographical recounting of Bacon's life and struggle to develop a 'Universal Science'. Though thoroughly academically researched, with a host of accurate references, including extensive use of Bacon's own writings, frequently in the original Latin, the book is written in the style of a novel, and Blish himself referred to it as 'fiction' or 'a vision'.

Blish's view of Bacon is uncompromisingly that he was the first scientist, and he provides a postscript to the novel in which he sets forth these views. Central to his depiction of Roger Bacon is that 'He was not an inventor, an Edison or Luther Burbank, holding up a test tube with a shout of Eureka!' He was instead a theoretical scientist probing fundamental realities, and his visions of modern technology were just by-products of "...the way he normally thought — the theory of theories as tools..." Blish indicates where Bacon's writings, for example, consider Newtonian metrical frameworks for space, then reject these for something which reads remarkably like Einsteinian Relativity, and all '...breathtakingly without pause or hiccup, breezily moving without any recourse through over 800 years of physics'.

Bacon also appears as first scientist in The Black Rose, the most commercially successful book by Thomas Costain, written in 1945. The Black Rose is set in the Middle Ages. Bacon's personal presence in the narrative is brief, but includes a demonstration of gunpowder and a few sentences outlining a philosophy of science which might as easily be attributed to Francis Bacon centuries later. The novel's Roger Bacon serves to motivate Costain's protagonist, a fictional Englishman who journeys to China during the reigns of Edward I and Kublai Khan. Costain's narration includes technology such as the compass, the telescope, rockets and the manufacture of paper, all described by his young adventurer with an eye toward bringing these marvels back to Bacon for analysis. Returning to England to find Bacon gone and under house arrest, the traveller begs King Edward to intercede with the pope for the Franciscan's release, arguing that with Bacon's imprisonment a great light of the world is in danger of being put out. Costain's character also comes to argue for emancipation of the Saxon villeins (serfs), linking political with intellectual enlightenment under the fictional Bacon's influence.

Bacon has more recently appeared as a significant character in Stephen Baxter's Navigator, the third book in his Time's Tapestry alternate history science fiction series. Baxter makes use of the mysterious unknown whereabouts of Bacon during the later 1240's to involve him in an investigation of prophesies from the future and plans for weapons of mass destruction.

Many writers of earlier times have been attracted to Roger Bacon as the epitome of a wise and subtle possessor of forbidden knowledge, similar to Faustus. A succession of legends and unverifiable stories has grown up about him, for example, that he created a brazen talking head which could answer any question. This has a central role in the play Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay written by Robert Greene in about 1589.

See also


  1. ^ Randall Noon (1992). Introduction to Forensic Engineering. CRC Press. 
  2. ^ Glick, Thomas F.; Livesey, Steven John; Wallis, Faith: Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia, first edition, Routledge, September 29, 2005, ISBN 978-0415969307
  3. ^ Moorstein, Mark: Frameworks: Conflict in Balance, page 237, iUniverse, Inc., June 9, 2004, 308 pp, ISBN 978-0595318247
  4. ^ Sayed Khatab and Gary D. Bouma (2007). Democracy in Islam. Routledge. ISBN 0415425743. 
  5. ^ James, R.R. (1928). "THE FATHER OF BRITISH OPTICS: ROGER BACON, c. 1214-1294". British Journal of Ophthalmology 12: 1-14. 
  6. ^ Jeremiah Hackett, "Roger Bacon: His Life, Career, and Works," in Hackett, Roger Bacon and the Sciences, pp. 9–11.
  7. ^ Jeremiah Hackett, "Roger Bacon: His Life, Career, and Works," in Hackett, Roger Bacon and the Sciences, pp. 13–17.
  8. ^ Jeremiah Hackett, "Roger Bacon: His Life, Career, and Works," in Hackett, Roger Bacon and the Sciences, pp. 17–19.
  9. ^ Jeremiah Hackett, "Roger Bacon: His Life, Career, and Works," in Hackett, Roger Bacon and the Sciences, pp. 19–20.
  10. ^ William Whewell, History of the Inductive Sciences from the Earliest Times to the Present Times, vol. 1, New York, 1859, p. 245; cited in Jeremiah Hackett, Roger Bacon and the Sciences, p. 279
  11. ^ Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, chapter 12, part 1.[1]
  12. ^ David C. Lindberg, "The Medieval Church Encounters the Classical Tradition: Saint Augustine, Roger Bacon, and the Handmaiden Metaphor", in David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, ed. When Science & Christianity Meet, (Chicago: University of Chicago Pr., 2003).
  13. ^ Quotation: "If revolutionary rational thoughts were expressed in the Age of Reason [the 18th century], they were only made possible because of the long medieval tradition that established the use of reason as one of the most important of human activities". (p. 9) In: Edward Grant: God and Reason in the Middle Ages, Cambridge 2001.
  14. ^ David C. Lindberg, Roger Bacon and the Origins of Perspectiva in the Middle Ages: A Critical Edition and English Translation of Bacon's Perspectiva with Introduction and Notes, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. lv ISBN 0-19-823992-0
  15. ^ Jeremiah Hackett, "Roger Bacon on Scientia Experimentalis," in Hackett, Roger Bacon and the Sciences, pp. 279–84
  16. ^ Lindberg, "Science as Handmaiden," p. 520
  17. ^ Steven J. Williams, "Roger Bacon and His Edition of the Pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum secretorum," Speculum, 69 (1994): 57–73, see p. 71, n. 74.
  18. ^ (p. 70) Lindberg, D.C. (1995). "Medieval Science and Its Religious Context". Osiris 10 (10): 60–79. doi:10.1086/368743. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  19. ^ Lawrence Goldstone and Nancy Goldstone (2006). The Friar and the Cipher: Roger Bacon and the Unsolved Mystery of the Most Unusual Manuscript in the World. Broadway Books. ISBN 0767914724. 
  20. ^ (p. 692) Power, A. (2006). "A Mirror for Every Age: The Reputation of Roger Bacon". The English Historical Review 121 (492): 657–692. doi:10.1093/ehr/cel102. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  21. ^ However, according to the Wikipedia article on Peter of Maricourt, it is probable that the association of the praise with Peter was not by Bacon himself, but was added to one of the manuscripts of Bacon's "opus tertium" by someone else.
  22. ^ George Molland, "Roger Bacon's Knowledge of Mathematics," pp. 151-174 in Hackett, Roger Bacon and the Sciences.
  23. ^ Jeremiah Hackett, "Roger Bacon: His Life, Career, and Works," in Hackett, Roger Bacon and the Sciences, pp. 11-12.
  24. ^ Jeremiah Hackett, "Roger Bacon on the Classification of the Sciences," in Hackett, Bacon and the Sciences, pp. 49, 51-2
  25. ^ Stewart C. Easton, Roger Bacon and his Search for a Universal Science, New York: Columbia Univ. Pr., 1952, pp. 210-219
  26. ^ Richard LeMay, "Roger Bacon's Attitude toward the Latin Translations and Translators of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, in Hackett, Bacon and the Sciences, pp. 40-41
  27. ^ Nader El-Bizri, "A Philosophical Perspective on Alhazen’s Optics", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, Vol. 15, Issue 2 (2005), pp. 189-218 (Cambridge university Press)
  28. ^ John D. North, "The Western Calendar: – 'Intolerabilis, Horribilis, et Derisibilis'; Four Centuries of Discontent" pp. 75–113 in G. V. Coyne, M. A. Hoskin, and O. Pedersen, ed. Gregorian Reform of the Calendar: Proceedings of the Vatican conference to commemorate its 400th anniversary (Citta del Vaticano: Specola Vaticana, 1983), pp. 75, 82–4.
  29. ^ Frederick Meyer. A History of Educational Thought. 2nd edition, Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Books, Inc, 1966, pp 500-501.
  30. ^ Charles Sanders Peirce (1877). "The Fixation of Belief". 


  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Bacon, Roger". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911. 
  • Wikisource-logo.svg John William Cousin, “Bacon, Roger,” in A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1910.
  • Clegg, Brian (2003). The First Scientist: A Life of Roger Bacon. Constable & Robinson. ISBN 0-7867-1358-5. 
  • Easton, Stewart C. Roger Bacon and his Search for a Universal Science, New York: Columbia Univ. Pr., 1952.
  • Hackett, Jeremiah, ed. Roger Bacon and the Sciences: Commemorative Essays, Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, 57, Leiden: Brill, 1997. ISBN 90-04-10015-6
  • Lindberg, David C. "Science as Handmaiden: Roger Bacon and the Patristic Tradition," Isis, 78 (1987): 518–36; reprinted in Michael H. Shank, ed., The Scientific Enterprise in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr., 2000. ISBN 0-226-74951-7
  • Blish, James "Doctor Mirabilis : A Vision", New English Library, 1964

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Roger Bacon (c. 1214 – 1294), also known as Doctor Mirabilis (Latin: "wonderful teacher"), was an English theologian, philosopher and Franciscan friar. An English philosopher who placed considerable emphasis on empiricism, he was one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method. Later studies have emphasized his reliance on occult and alchemical traditions.

Sometimes known as the 'grandfather of science', he made a number of fundamental disoveries in the field of optics and chemistry, including gunpowder, but the scholastic practices of the period meant that his influence was limited.


All his theoretical writings were originally in Latin.

  • If in other sciences we should arrive at certainty without doubt and truth without error, it behooves us to place the foundations of knowledge in mathematics.
    • Opus Majus, bk. 1, ch. 4
  • Mathematics is the gate and key of the sciences. …Neglect of mathematics works injury to all knowledge, since he who is ignorant of it cannot know the other sciences or the things of this world.
    • Opus Majus
  • The strongest arguments prove nothing so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience. Experimental science is the queen of sciences and the goal of all speculation.
  • Argument is conclusive... but... it does not remove doubt, so that the mind may never rest in the sure knowledge of the truth, unless it finds it by the method of experiment. For if any man who never saw fire proved by satisfactory arguments that fire burns, his hearer's mind would never be satisfied, nor would he avoid the fire until he put his hand in it that he might learn by experiment what argument taught.
  • There are in fact four very different stumbling blocks in the way of grasping the truth, which hinder every man however learned, and scarcely allow anyone to win a clear title to wisdom, namely, the example of weak and unworthy authority, longstanding custom, the feeling of the ignorant crowd, and the hiding of our own ignorance while making a display of our apparent knowledge.
  • Many secrets of art and nature are thought by the unlearned to be magical.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ROGER BACON (c. 1214 - c. 1294), English philosopher and man of science, was born near Ilchester in Somerset. His family appears to have been in good circumstances, but in the stormy reign of Henry III. their property was despoiled and several members of the family were driven into exile. Roger completed his studies at Oxford, though not, as current traditions assert, at Merton or at Brasenose, neither of which had then been founded. His abilities were speedily recognized by his contemporaries, and he enjoyed the friendship of such eminent men as Adam de Marisco and Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln.

Very little is known of Bacon's life at Oxford; it is said he took orders in 1233, and this is not improbable. In the following year, or perhaps later, he crossed over to France and studied at the university of Paris, then the centre of intellectual life in Europe. The two great orders, Franciscans and Dominicans, were in the vigour of youth, and had already begun to take the lead in theological discussion. Alexander of Hales was the oracle of the Franciscans, while the rival order rejoiced in Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas.

The scientific training which Bacon had received, mainly from the study of the Arab writers, showed him the manifold defects in the systems reared by these doctors. Aristotle was known but in part, and that part was rendered well-nigh unintelligible through the vileness of the translations; yet not one of those professors would learn Greek. The Scriptures read, if at all, in the erroneous versions were being deserted for the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Physical science, if there was anything deserving that name, was cultivated, not by experiment in the Aristotelian way, but by arguments deduced from premises resting on authority or custom. Everywhere there was a show of knowledge concealing fundamental ignorance. Bacon, accordingly, withdrew from the scholastic routine and devoted himself to languages and experimental research. The only teacher whom he respected was a certain Petrus de Maharncuria Picardus, or of Picardy, probably identical with a certain mathematician, Petrus Peregrinus of Picardy, who is perhaps the author of a MS. treatise, De Magnete, contained in the Bibliotheque Imperiale at Paris. The contrast between the obscurity of such a man and the fame enjoyed by the fluent young doctors roused Bacon's indignation. In the Opus Minus and Opus Tertium he pours forth a violent tirade against Alexander of Hales, and another professor, not mentioned by name, but spoken of as alive, and blamed even more severely than Alexander. This anonymous writer,' he says, acquired his learning by teaching others, and adopted a dogmatic tone, which has caused him to be received at Paris with applause as the equal of Aristotle, Avicenna, or Averroes.

Bacon, during his stay in Paris, acquired considerable renown. He took the degree of doctor of theology, and seems to have received the complimentary title of doctor mirabilis. In 1250 he was again at Oxford, and probably about this time entered the Franciscan order. His fame spread at Oxford, though it was mingled with suspicions of his dealings in the black arts and with some doubts of his orthodoxy. About 1257, Bonaventura, general of the order, interdicted his lectures at Oxford, and commanded him to place himself under the superintendence of the body at Paris. Here for ten years he remained under supervision, suffering great privations and strictly prohibited from writing anything for publication. But his fame had reached the ears of the papal legate in England, Guy de Foulques, who in 1265 became pope as Clement IV. In the following year he wrote to Bacon, ordering him notwithstanding any injunctions from his superiors, to write out and send to him a treatise on the sciences which he had already asked of him when papal legate. Bacon, whose previous writings had been mostly scattered tracts, capitula quaedam, took fresh courage from this command of the pope. He set at naught the jealousy of his superiors and brother friars, and despite the want of funds, instruments, materials for copying and skilled copyists, completed in about eighteen months three large treatises, the Opus Majus, Opus Minus and Opus Tertium, which, with some other tracts, were despatched to the pope. We do not know what opinion Clement formed of them, but before his death he seems to have bestirred himself on Bacon's behalf, for in 1268 the latter was permitted to return to Oxford. Here he continued his labours in experimental science and also in the composition of complete treatises. The works sent to Clement he regarded as preliminaries, laying down principles which were afterwards to be applied to the sciences. The first part of an encyclopaedic work probably remains to us in the Compendium Studii Philosophiae (1271). In this work Bacon makes a vehement attack upon the ignorance and vices of the clergy and monks, and generally upon the insufficiency of the existing studies. In 1278 his books were condemned by Jerome de Ascoli, general of the Franciscans, afterwards Pope Nicholas IV., and he himself was thrown into prison for fourteen years. During this time, it is said, he wrote the small tract De Retardandis Senectutis Accidentibus, but this is merely a tradition. In 1292, as appears from what is probably his latest composition, the Compendium Studii Theologiae, he was again at liberty. The exact time of his death cannot be determined; 1294 is probably as accurate a date as can be fixed upon.

Works and Editions

Leland said that it is easier to collect the leaves of the Sibyl than the titles of the works written by Roger Bacon; and though the labour has been somewhat lightened by the publications of Brewer and Charles, referred to below, it is no easy matter even now to form an accurate idea of his actual productions. An enormous number of MSS. are known to exist in British and French libraries, and probably ' Brewer thinks this unknown professor is Richard of Cornwall, but the little we know of Richard is not in harmony with the terms in which he is elsewhere spoken of by Bacon. Erdmann conjectures Thomas Aquinas, which is extremely improbable, as Thomas was unquestionably not the first of his order to study philosophy. Cousin and Charles think that Albertus Magnus is aimed at, and certainly much of what is said applies with peculiar force to him. But some things do not at all cohere with what is otherwise known of Albert. It is worth pointing out that Brewer, in transcribing the passage bearing on this (Op. Ined. p. 327), has the words fratrum pverulus, which in his marginal note he interprets as applying to the Franciscan order. In this case, of course, Albert could not be the person referred to, as he was a Dominican. But Charles, in his transcription, entirely omits the important word fratrum. not all have yet been discovered. Many are transcripts of works or portions of works already published and, therefore, require no notice.2 The works hitherto printed (neglecting reprints) are the following: - (I) Speculum Alchimiae (1541) - translated into English (1597); French, A Poisson (1890); (2) De Mirabili Potestate Artis et Naturae (1542) - English translation (1659); (3) Libellus de Retardandis Senectutis Accidentibus (1590) - translated as the "Cure of Old Age," by Richard Brown (London, 1683); (4) Sanioris Medicinae Magistri D. Rogeri Baconis Anglici de Arte Chymiae Scripta (Frankfort, 1603) - a collection of small tracts containing Excerpta de Libro Avicennae de Anima, Breve Breviarium, Verbum Abbreviatum, 3 Secretum Secretorum, Tractatus Trium Verborum, and Speculum Secretorum; (5) Perspectiva (1614), which is the fifth part of the Opus Majus; (6) Specula Mathematica, which is the fourth part of the same; (7) Opus Majus ad Clementem IV ., edited by S. Jebb (1733) and J. H. Bridges (London, 1897); (8) Opera hactenus Inedita, by J. S. Brewer (1859), containing the Opus Tertium, Opus Minus, Compendium Studii Philosophiae and the De Secretis Operibus Naturae; (9) De Morali Philosophia (Dublin, 1860, see below); (io) The Greek Grammar of R. Bacon and a Fragment of his Hebrew Grammar, edited with introduction and notes by E. S. Nolan and S. A. Hirsch (1902); (11) Metaphysica Fratris Rogeri, edited by R. Steele, with a preface (1905); (12) Opera hactenus inedita, by Robert Steele (1905).

How these works stand related to one another can only be determined by internal evidence. The smaller works, chiefly on alchemy, are unimportant, and the dates of their composition cannot be ascertained. It is known that before the Opus Majus Bacon had already written some tracts, among which an unpublished work, Computus Naturalium, on chronology, belongs probably to the year 1263; while, if the dedication of the De Secretis Operibus be authentic, that short treatise must have been composed before 1249.

It is, however, with the Opus Majus that Bacon's real activity begins. It has been called by Whewell at once the Encyclopaedia and the Organum of the 13th century.

Part I. (pp. 1-22), which is sometimes designated De Utilitate Scientiarum, treats of the four offendicula, or causes of error. These are, authority, custom, the opinion of the unskilled many, and the concealment of real ignorance with pretence of knowledge. The last error is the most dangerous, and is, in a sense, the cause of all the others. The offendicula have sometimes been looked upon as an anticipation of Francis Bacon's Idola, but the two classifications have little in common. In the summary of this part, contained in the Opus Tertium, Bacon shows very clearly his perception of the unity of science and the necessity of encyclopaedic treatment.

Part II. (pp. 23-43) treats of the relation between philosophy and theology. All true wisdom is contained in the Scriptures, at least implicitly; and the true end of philosophy is to rise from the imperfect knowledge of created things to a knowledge of the Creator. Ancient philosophers, who had not the Scriptures, received direct illumination from God, and only thus can the brilliant results attained by them be accounted for.

Part III. (pp. 44-57) treats of the utility of grammar, and the necessity of a true linguistic science for the adequate comprehension either of the Scriptures or of books on philosophy.

2 The more important MSS. are: - (1) The extensive work on the fundamental notions of physics, called Communia Naturalium, which is found in the Mazarin library at Paris, in the British Museum, and in the Bodleian and University College libraries at Oxford; (2) on the fundamental notions of mathematics, De Cornmunibus Mathematicae, part of which is in the Sloane collection, part in the Bodleian; (3) Baconis Physica, contained among the additional MSS. in the British Museum; (4) the fragment called Quinta Pars Compendii Theologiae, in the British Museum; (5) the Compendium Studii Theologiae, in the British Museum; (6) the logical fragments, such as the Summulae Dialectices, in the Bodleian, and the glosses upon Aristotle's physics and metaphysics in the library at Amiens. See Little, The Grey Friars in Oxford (1892).

3 At the close of the Verb. Abbrev. is a curious note, concluding with the words, "ipse Rogerus fuit discipulus fratris Alberti!" The necessity of accurate acquaintance with any foreign language and of obtaining good texts, is a subject Bacon is never weary of descanting upon. A translator should know thoroughly the language he is translating from, the language into which he is translating, and the subject of which the book treats.

Part IV. (pp. 57-255) contains an elaborate treatise on mathematics, "the alphabet of philosophy," maintaining that all the sciences rest ultimately on mathematics, and progress only when their facts can be subsumed under mathematical principles. This fruitful thought he illustrates by showing how geometry is applied to the action of natural bodies, and demonstrating by geometrical figures certain laws of physical forces. He also shows how his method may be used to determine some curious and long-discussed problems, such as the light of the stars, the ebb and flow of the tide, the motion of the balance. He then proceeds to adduce elaborate and sometimes slightly grotesque reasons tending to prove that mathematical knowledge is essential in theology, and closes this section of his work with two comprehensive sketches of geography and astronomy. That on geography is particularly good, and is interesting as having been read by Columbus, who lighted on it in Petrus de Alliaco's Imago Mundi, and was strongly influenced by its reasoning.

Part.V. (pp. 256-357) treats of perspective. This was the part of his work on which Bacon most prided himself, and in it, we may add, he seems to owe most to the Arab writers Kindi and Alhazen. The treatise opens with an able sketch of psychology, founded upon, but in some important respects varying from, Aristotle's De Anima. The anatomy of the eye is next described; this is done well and evidently at first hand, though the functions of the parts are not given with complete accuracy. Many other points of physiological optics are touched on, in general erroneously. Bacon then discusses vision in a right line, the laws of reflection and refraction, and the construction of mirrors and lenses. In this part of the work, as in the preceding, his reasoning depends essentially upon his peculiar view of natural agents and their activities. His fundamental physical maxims are matter and force; the latter he calls virtus, species, imago agentis, and by numberless other names. Change, or any natural phenomenon, is produced by the impression of a virtus or species on matter - the result being the thing known. Physical action is, therefore, impression, or transmission of force in lines, and must accordingly be explained geometrically. This view of nature Bacon considered fundamental, and it lies, indeed, at the root of his whole philosophy. To the short notices of it given in the 4th and 5th parts of the Opus Majus, he subjoined two, or perhaps three, extended accounts of it. We possess at least one of these in the tract De Multiplicatione Specierum, printed as part of the Opus Majus by Jebb (pp. 358-444). We cannot do more than refer to Charles for discussions as to how this theory of nature is connected with the metaphysical problems of force and matter, with the logical doctrine of universals, and in general with Bacon's theory of knowledge.

Part VI. (pp. 445-477) treats of experimental science, domina omnium scientiarum. There are two methods of knowledge: the one by argument, the other by experience. Mere argument is never sufficient; it may decide a question, but gives no satisfaction or certainty to the mind, which can only be convinced by immediate inspection or intuition. Now this is what experience gives. But experience is of two sorts, external and internal; the first is that usually called experiment, but it can give no complete knowledge even of corporeal things, much less of spiritual. On the other hand, in inner experience the mind is illuminated by the divine truth, and of this supernatural enlightenment there are seven grades.

Experimental science, which in the Opus Tertium (p. 46) is distinguished from the speculative sciences and the operative arts in a way that forcibly reminds us of Francis Bacon, is said to have three great prerogatives over all other sciences: - (1) It verifies their conclusions by direct experiment; (2) It discovers truths which they could never reach; (3) It investigates the secrets of nature, and opens to us a knowledge of past and future. As an instance of his method, Bacon gives an investigation into the nature and cause of the rainbow, which is really a very fine specimen of inductive research.

The seventh part of the Opus Majus (De Morali Philosophia), not given in Jebb's edition, is noticed at considerable length in the Opus Tertium (cap. xiv.). Extracts from it are given by Charles (pp. 339-348).

As'has been seen, Bacon had no sooner finished this elaborate work than he began to prepare a summary to be sent along with it. Of this summary, or Opus Minus, part has come down and is published in Brewer's Op. Ined. (313-389), from what appears to be the only MS. The work was intended to contain an abstract of the Opus Majus, an account of the principal vices of theology, and treatises on speculative and practical alchemy. At the same time, or immediately after, Bacon began a third work as a preamble to the other two, giving their general scope and aim, but supplementing them in many points. The part of this work, generally called Opus Tertium, is printed by Brewer (pp. 1-310), who considers it to be a complete treatise. Charles, however, has given good grounds for supposing that it is merely a preface, and that the work went on to discuss grammar, logic (which Bacon thought of little service, as reasoning was innate), mathematics, general physics, metaphysics and moral philosophy. He founds his argument mainly on passages in the Communia Naturalium, which indeed prove distinctly that it was sent to Clement, and cannot, therefore, form part of the Compendium, as Brewer seems to think. It must be confessed, however, chat nothing can well be more confusing than the references in Bacon's works, and it seems well-nigh hopeless to attempt a complete arrangement of them until the texts have been collated and carefully printed.

All these large works Bacon appears to have looked on as preliminaries, introductions, leading to a great work which should embrace the principles of all the sciences. This great work, which is perhaps the frequently-referred-to Liber Sex Scientiarum, he began, and a few fragments still indicate its outline. First appears to have come the treatise now called Compendium Studii Philosophiae (Brewer pp. 393-519), containing an account of the causes of error, and then entering at length upon grammar. After that, apparently, logic was to be treated; then, possibly, mathematics and physics; then speculative alchemy and experimental science. It is, however, very difficult, in the present state of our knowledge of the MSS., to hazard even conjectures as to the contents and nature of this last and most comprehensive work.

Bacon's fame in popular estimation has always rested on his mechanical discoveries. Careful research has shown that very little can with accuracy be ascribed to him. He certainly describes a method of constructing a telescope, but not so as to lead one to conclude that he was in possession of that instrument. Burning-glasses were in common use, and spectacles it does not appear he made, although he was probably acquainted with the principle of their construction. His wonderful predictions (in the De Secretis) must be taken cum grano salis; he believed in astrology, in the doctrine of signatures, and in the philosopher's stone, and knew that the circle had been squared. For his work in connexion with gunpowder, the invention of which has been claimed for him on the ground of a passage in his De mirabili potestate antis et naturae, see Gunpowder.


The 13th century, an age peculiarly rich in great men, produced few, if any, who can take higher rank than Roger Bacon. He is in every way worthy to be placed beside Albertus Magnus, Bonaventura, and Thomas Aquinas. These had an infinitely wider renown in their day, but modern criticism has restored the balance in his favour, and is even in danger of erring in the opposite direction. Bacon, it is now said, was not appreciated by his age because he was in advance of it; he is no schoolman, but a modern thinker, whose conceptions of science are more just and clear than are even those of his more celebrated namesake.' In this view there is certainly some truth, but it is much exaggerated. As a general rule, no man can be completely dissevered from his national antecedents and 1 See Diihring, Kritische Ges. d. Phil. 192, 249-251.

surroundings, and Bacon is not an exception. Those who take up such an extreme position regarding his merits have known too little of the state of contemporary science, and have limited their comparison to the works of the scholastic theologians. We never find in Bacon himself any consciousness of originality; he is rather a keen and systematic thinker, working in a wellbeaten track, from which his contemporaries were being drawn by theology and metaphysics.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. - The best work on Roger Bacon is perhaps that of E. Charles, Roger Bacon, sa vie, ses ouvrages, ses doctrines d'apres des textes inedits (1861). Against the somewhat enthusiastic estimate and modern interpretation given in this work, are Schneider in his Roger Bacon, Eine Monographie (Augsburg, 1873); K. Werner, Die Psychol. ... des Roger Bacon and Die Kosmologie. .. des Roger Bacon (Vienna, 1879); S. A. Hirsch, Early English Hebraists (1899) Book of Essays (London, 1905), deals with Bacon as a Hebraist. The new matter contained in the publications of Charles and Brewer was summarized by H. Siebert, Roger Bacon: Inaugural Dissertation (Marburg, 1861). Cf. also J. K. Ingram, On the Opus Majus of Bacon (Dublin, 1858); Cousin, "Fragments phil. du moyen age" (reprinted from Journal des savans, 1848); E. Saisset, "Precurseurs et disciples de Descartes," pp. 1 -58 (reprinted from Revue de deux mondes, 1861); K. Prantl, Gesch. der Logik, iii. 120-129 (a severe criticism of Bacon's logical doctrines); Held, Roger Bacon's praktische Philosophie (Jena, 1881); Karl Pohl, Das Verheiltniss d. Philos. zur Theol. bei Roger Bacon (Neustrelitz, 1893); articles in Westminster Review, lxxxi. I and 512; A. Parrot, Roger Bacon et ses contemporains (1894); E. Fluegel, Roger Bacons Stellung in d. Gesch. d. Philos. (1902); S. Vogl, Die Physik Roger Bacos (1906). For the popular legend see Famous Histcrie of Fryer Bacon (London, 1615; reproduced in Thoms, Early Prose Romances, iii.); R. Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1587 or 1588), and in publication of the Percy Society, vol. xv. 1844, A Piece of Friar Bacon's Brazen Heade's Prophesie (1604). For Bacon as a. classical scholar see J. E. Sandys, Hist. of Class. Schol. (2nd ed., 1906), cxxxi. (R. AD.; X.)

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