Monday, September 15, 2014

Thomas Jefferson's secular "trinity" (1a): Francis Bacon

"Bacon, Locke and Newton, ... I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical & Moral sciences." - Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Bacon's Utopian literary project, The New Atlantis (1614-1617), described an island society organized largely along the principles of scientific learning, apparently implemented by a elite not unlike the English monarchy of Bacon's own time (1561-1626).

New Atlantis articulated a vision of science as a social process with scientists having particular social obligations that should be governed by ethical considerations. Antonio Pérez-Ramos argues "that the ethos [Bacon] infused into modem science as something inherently related to social development remains by and large a substantial part of our categorial framework." ("Bacon's legacy," The Cambridge Companion to Bacon; 1996)

In it, the Government of Bensalem, the name of the island society, describes the realm's social organization to the narrator. For example:

"We have also a mathematical-house, where are represented all instruments, as well of geometry as astronomy, exquisitely made.

"We have also houses of deceits of the senses, where we represent all manner of feats of juggling, false apparitions, impostures, and illusions, and their fallacies. And surely you will easily believe that we, that have so many things truly natural which induce admiration, could in a world of particulars deceive the senses if we would disguise those things, and labour to make them seem more miraculous. But we do hate all impostures and lies, insomuch as we have severely forbidden it to all our fellows, under pain of ignominy and fines, that they do not show any natural work or thing adorned or swelling, but only pure as it is, and without all affectation of strangeness.["]
They reverenced inventors in Bensalem:

"For our ordinances and rites, we have two very long and fair galleries: in one of these we place patterns and samples of all manner of the more rare and excellent inventions: in the other we place the statues of all principal inventors. There we have the statue of your Columbus, that discovered the West Indies: also the inventor of ships: your Monk that was the inventor of ordnance and of gunpowder: the inventor of music: the inventor of letters: the inventor of printing: the inventor of observations of astronomy: the inventor of works in metal: the inventor of glass: the inventor of silk of the worm: the inventor of wine: the inventor of corn and bread: the inventor of sugars: and all these by more certain tradition than you have. Then we have divers inventors of our own, of excellent works, which since you have not seen, it were too long to make descriptions of them; and besides, in the right understanding of those descriptions you might easily err. For upon every invention of value we erect a statue to the inventor, and give him a liberal and honourable reward. These statues are some of brass, some of marble and touchstone, some of cedar and other special woods gilt and adorned; some of iron, some of silver, some of gold.["]
It's easy to imagine that Jefferson found such a reverence of inventors appealing.

The narrator informs us that the residents of Bensalem are Christians. Mostly. There are Jews there, too:

By that time six or seven days were spent, I was fallen into straight acquaintance with a merchant of that city, whose name was Joabin. He was a Jew and circumcised; for they have some few stirps [kinship groups] of Jews yet remaining amongst them, whom they leave to their own religion. Which they may the better do, because they are of a far differing disposition from the Jews in other parts. For whereas they hate the name of Christ, and have a secret inbred rancour against the people amongst whom they live; these, contrariwise, give unto our Saviour many high attributes, and love the nation of Bensalem extremely. Surely this man of whom I speak would ever acknowledge that Christ was born of a Virgin and that He was more than a man; and he would tell how God made Him ruler of the seraphim, which guard His throne; and they call Him also the Milken Way, and the Eliah of the Messiah, and many other high names, which though they be inferior to His divine majesty, yet they are far from the language of other Jews.

And for the country of Bensalem, this man would make no end of commending it, being desirous by tradition among the Jews there to have it believed that the people thereof were of the generations of Abraham, by another son, whom they call Nachoran; and that Moses by a secret cabala ordained the laws of Bensalem which they now use; and that when the Messiah should come, and sit in His throne at Jerusalem, the King of Bensalem should sit at His feet, whereas other kings should keep a great distance. But yet setting aside these Jewish dreams, the man was a wise man and learned, and of great policy, and excellently seen in the laws and customs of that nation.p. 209)
Joabin also notes of his Christian fellow islanders, "I have not read of any such chastity in any people as theirs." Scientific and organized, but evidently not such a fun bunch!

Hostility to Jews had been particularly intent in England in the Middle Ages. As Josef Joffe wrote, "Britain ... tolerated murderous pogroms [against Jews] in the Middle Ages [and] was judenrein [free of Jews] for 400 years." (Goldhagen in Germany New York Review of Books 11/28/1996 issue) Jews were expelled from England by an edict in 1290 by Edward I's Edict of Expulsion and all their property confiscated.

Hans Küng writes in Das Judentum (1991):

The development of modern capitalism therefore did not have to do, as Max Weber thought, with Protestant-Calvinist ethics, but also with Jewish pragmatism. For these economic-political (in any case theological-Messianic) reasons, under Oliver Cromwell and the philo-Semitic Puritans, in 1656 the Jews were again allowed into England, and at the same time into the migration to North America ... (pp. 238-9, my translation)
So it appears that Bacon's vision of religious tolerance toward Jews was a broader one than English attitudes and practices of his time. He seemed to be willing to admit that a Jew could have decent enough qualities to be allowed to live among Christians without being persecuted, denied the practice of his religion, expelled or having his property confiscated by thieving Christians acting with or without the cover of law.

But Bacon's mythical Joabin is a proto-Christian who the narrator assumes believes in the Virgin Birth of Christ. The Jews of Bensalem that Bacon describes call Jesus by "high names, which though they be inferior to His divine majesty, yet they are far from the language of other Jews." In other words, they are tolerable because they aren't real Jews. And even these fictional Good Jews of Bacon's "hate the name of Christ, and have a secret inbred rancour against the people amongst whom they live." Christ-haters, if maybe not quite Christ-killers, and enemies of whatever nation it is in which they live. This seems to be a far cry from the "philo-Semitic Puritans" that Küng describes of the time of Cromwell's reign!

Jefferson had a far more expansive view of religious toleration than the Baconian member of his "trinity."


Francis Bacon, Achievement of Learning/Novum Organum/New Atlantis (Encyclopeadia Britannica edition; 1952)

Barbara Friedberg, "Francis Bacon and the True Ends of Skepticism" Skeptical Inquirer Nov/Dec 2000

G.W.F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie (Lectures on the History of Philosophy) Bolland edition; 1908

Jürgen Klein, "Francis Bacon" (2012) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Hans Küng, Das Judentum (1991)

Antonio Pérez-Ramos, "Bacon's legacy" The Cambridge Companion to Bacon (1996)

Anthony M. Quinton, Baron Quinton, "Bacon, Francis, Viscount Saint Alban (or Albans), Baron of Verulam" (2012) Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite; 2013 Online version: Francis Bacon, Viscount Saint Alban

David Simpson, "Francis Bacon (1561-1626)" (2005) Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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