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The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon: Summary & Analysis

The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon: Summary & Analysis
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  • 0:03 About the Text
  • 0:30 The First Book
  • 1:54 The Second Book
  • 2:58 Significance of the Text
  • 3:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Audrey Farley

Audrey is a doctoral student in English at University of Maryland.

Francis Bacon's 'The Advancement of Learning,' which introduced the scientific method during the Scientific Revolution, had a profound impact on empirical philosophy. In this lesson, we'll take a quick look at the two books that make up the work and their significance.

About the Text

Sir Francis Bacon was a 16th and 17th-century English philosopher, best known for introducing the empirical (scientific) method during the Scientific Revolution. Bacon first outlined the empirical method in his text, The Advancement of Learning, which he wrote in 1605. The work is addressed to King James I and divided into two parts. Each part is referred to as a book, with its own distinct sections.

The First Book

In the first book, Bacon begins by praising the King for his appreciation of knowledge. Then he outlines his own treatise on the 'excellency of learning and knowledge'. Bacon contradicts King Solomon, who argued that knowledge only increases anxiety, since it reveals to man his ignorance. Bacon reveals the error of this opinion by explaining the difference between pure and proud knowledge.

Proud knowledge is the kind of knowledge that caused man's fall from grace. Proud knowledge leads to Atheism, according to Bacon. By contrast, pure knowledge is the kind of knowledge about the natural world that benefits man. Pure knowledge is inspired by wonder, a sense of awe in the vast mysteries of the universe. Pure learning inspires man to perpetually endeavor to understand the word of God, while also protecting him against conceit and sloth.

Bacon explains how Martin Luther revived ancient authors 'which had long time slept in libraries.' Luther encouraged philosophers to read ancient texts. Problematically, men 'began to hunt more after words than matter; more after the choiceness of the phrase, than after the weight of matter.' By this, Bacon means that man loved knowledge rather than reality. Bacon claims that it's dangerous to seek truth in man's own words; seeking truth in the 'great and common world' is preferable. Man must always look to Creation for knowledge.

The Second Book

In the second book, Bacon outlines the three objects which constitute an act of merit toward learning: the places of learning, the books of learning, and the persons of the learned. Places of learning include government offices and institutions. Books of learning include libraries, which house the relics of the ancient saints and authored editions (books) of knowledge. The persons of the learned include readers of the sciences and inquirers (seekers of knowledge).

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