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Accueil > Archives > Ancients projets de recherche > Projet PEPS “Imaginations” > Projet PEPS “Imaginations”, symposium "Bacon and the Reformation of the Mind"

Projet PEPS “Imaginations”, symposium "Bacon and the Reformation of the Mind"

International Society for Intellectual History Conference "Passionate Minds"

26-28 May 2011, Bucharest. Organisers : Dana Jalobeanu and Koen Vermeir


Chair : Koen Vermeir, CNRS

Jean-Pascal Anfray
ENS, Paris

The uses of rhetoric and poetry in Bacon’s handling of the passions

The inductive method of the natural sciences is sometimes claimed by Bacon to extend to all kinds of objects, including moral and civil philosophy (Novum Organum I, 127). Given the practical nature of the project of the Instauratio magna, this entails that the development of natural philosophy should improve men’s behaviour. However Bacon strongly emphasizes, especially in the Advancement of Learning and the De Augmentis, the irreducible influence of the emotions on human actions. The natural philosopher’s point of view turns out to be unable neither to provide suitable remedies to the passions nor even to give a complete account of the mechanisms of the influence of passions. These two aspects of the handling of the passions, i.e. their knowledge and their therapy (or mastery), basically belongs to two other disciplines : poetry and rhetoric. I will show that this claim is something Bacon shares with the humanist culture in which he was educated. It is also necessary to compare the nature and working of poetry and rhetoric in their influence on emotions. In particular, it is important to appreciate the respective role of linguistic form and content in the operation and controlling of the emotions. However, Bacon disagrees with this humanist culture, in so far as he understands poetry and rhetoric as providing only the starting points of the true “Georgics of mind”, which are a mix of psychological knowledge and therapeutic precepts. Finally, I will try to show how the Essays fit with this project and whether they put in practice Bacon’s appraisal of the role of rhetoric.

Doina-Cristina Rusu
University of Bucharest / Radboud University Nijmegen

Controlling the Passions : a Method for the Prolongation of Life

Bacon’s main concern during his last years was the prolongation of life. In The History of Life and Death he presents several means by which one can avoid the moment when the vital spirits will leave the material body. Besides climate, medicines, and food, passions are portrayed as having the strongest power upon spirits. The latter are highly influenced by character and the way of life, which are not only responsible for the prolongation of life, but also for the preservation of health and for the cure of diseases. For a long time, Bacon’s commentators have seen imagination as the faculty dealing only with poesy and having nothing to do with science. This paper aims to present the relation between reason and imagination on the one hand and between imagination and passions on the other, focusing on the power of imagination to work upon the passion and to create them, to increase or to diminish them, accordingly to the need of body and to the tendencies of the spirit. In order to control the passions through imagination, one must have a solid knowledge of nature and of his own character. According to Bacon, there are good and bad passions (hope, admiration and contemplation are good, envy is the worst), and there are also degrees of these passions (moderation is always good). Finally, we can discover that a virtuous character is the instrument for a long and healthy life. The medicine of the body depends on the medicine of the mind and they cannot be separated, and imagination is the key for reason to control the passions and the virtues.

Ian G. Stewart
University of King’s College, Hailfax, Canada, and Dalhousie University

Hope in Francis Bacon

Characterizations of Francis Bacon’s reform of natural philosophy as a turn to ‘objective’ fact gathering and methodical application of the logic of induction have long played on the putative oppositions between ‘objectivity’ and ‘reason’ on the one hand, versus ‘subjectivity’ and ‘passions’ on the other. As a result, the role of the emotions in this seminal thinker’s understanding of a reformed natural philosophy have not received the treatment they deserve. This paper builds on some suggestions made by Michèle Le Doeuff (1990) and Graham Rees (2004) in order to highlight the vital role of the emotion of ‘hope’ in his vision for the future of human knowledge. ‘Hope’ evidently has a long history as a theological virtue, and this tradition is certainly relevant to Bacon’s conception and use of it in his writing. But attention to Bacon’s own self-understanding as prophetic visionary requires a careful reading of his obvious rhetorical attempts at stirring up what can also be described as the passion of hope in his readers as essential (rather than peripheral) to the epistemic enterprise of new natural knowledge. The paper will also offer some reflections on the changing character of Bacon’s own ‘hope’ as he neared the end of his life, and on the consequences for the character of his own writings in the latter part of his life.

Chair : Daniel Garber, Princeton

Peter Harrison
Harris Manchester College, Oxford University

Francis Bacon and the Fruits of the Cultura animi

The basic argument of this paper is that Bacon offers an Augustinian (rather than a purely Stoic) model of the ‘culture of the mind’. He applies this conception to natural philosophy in an original way, and his novel application is informed by two related theological concerns. First, the Fall narrative provides a connection between the cultivation of the mind and the cultivation of the earth, both of which are seen as restorative of an original condition. Second, the fruit of the cultivation of the mind is the virtue of charity, which is understood not only as curing the mind of the individual, but as contributing to human welfare and ameliorating some of the material losses that resulted from the Fall. The paper begins with some background considerations that have to do with the rise of ‘disciplinary society’ and its relevance to the topic of the culture of the mind.

Sorana Corneanu
University of Bucharest

Francis Bacon on the Authority of the Imagination (Part 1) : Faculty Psychology

Francis Bacon’s conception of the nature, function and role of the faculty of the imagination as part of his account of the workings of the human mind is an under-explored topic. An accurate understanding of this conception is nevertheless critical to understanding the dimensions of Bacon’s philosophy of mind, which has a central part in his program for the reformation of learning. It is, moreover, a key topic in the reconstruction of Bacon’s philosophy in terms of a medicina mentis project. Our aim in this paper is to signal the shapes and importance of the imagination in Bacon’s doctrine of the idols of the mind and the distempers of learning and to comment on its consequences for a mental-medicinal conception of the “new logic”. In order to that end, we propose to investigate the historical-conceptual resources available in the space of the late Renaissance and to show how several streaks of the tradition of thought about the imagination interweave in Bacon’s conception. In part 1 of this paper, I will explore the following theme. Firstly, the imagination is central in belief formation and other epistemic processes, an idea which derives from the faculty-psychological Aristotelian tradition which assigns the imagination a cogitative function, proper to the inferior, sensitive soul. In the early modern period there is also cross-referencing between this tradition and a Stoic conception about the operation of cognition. Thanks to this cross-referencing, the work of the imagination and of judgment for some authors starts to merge.

Koen Vermeir
CNRS, Paris

Francis Bacon on the Authority of the Imagination (Part 2) : Magic

As has been explained above, our aim in this paper is to signal the shapes and importance of the imagination in Bacon’s doctrine of the idols of the mind and the distempers of learning and to comment on its consequences for a mental-medicinal conception of the “new logic”. In part 2 of this paper, following on the paper by Sorana Corneanu, I will explore the following themes. Firstly, for Bacon, the imagination forms the connection between body and mind. In the medical tradition, the imagination is the cause of many illnesses and is crucially involved in their cure. Thirdly, there is a line of thought which emphasizes the powers of the imagination. For this latter tradition, which includes the magical strands of Renaissance Neoplatonism, one aspect of the account of the force of the imagination has to do with its binding power, in which a crucial role is played by the emotions. Given the role of the imagination in linking cogitative, emotional and physiological discourses, its centrality for the medicina mentis should not come as a surprise. Bacon’s doctrine of the idols, we suggest, lies at the intersection of these lines of thought about the operations of the mind. It rests on an account of the interrelations among judgment, imagination, the emotions and the body which combines a theory of cognition with a theory of matter and a theory of bonding. In the context of the natural philosophical method, this combination has several consequences. For Bacon, the imaginary vacillates between engulfing the whole of our mental world and very specific functions in human epistemic and physiological processes. Concomitantly, the imagination begins to be drained of its traditional content as a self-standing faculty, and starts to serve the description of a particular phenomenon of the (entire) mind, i.e. the unexamined binding of the mind to opinions or doctrines. Nevertheless, the presence of the imagination and the emotions in the description of the diseases of the mind allows for a holistic approach to the human mental operations, which is present in both the “diagnosis” and the “cure” of the mind (the “new logic” is not about cognition alone). The diagnostic role of the account of the human mind in terms of all these operations serves to emphasize the practical side of the training of the mind and its relevance to the cognitive, emotional and physical flourishing of the entire person.

De humana physiognomia, libri IIII, by Giambattista della Porta, 1586

Dana Jalobeanu
University of Bucharest

The Moral and Therapeutic Value of Natural History : Francis Bacon and the Senecan Tradition

Francis Bacon shared with many of his contemporaries the view that a careful and complete investigation of nature has moral and therapeutic benefits for the mind. On a more general level, this means premising natural philosophy on a general programme for ‘medicining the mind’ ; a thorough and elaborated training leading to mending the traditional prejudices and inbuilt errors, enlarging and transforming the intellect. On a more specific level, throughout his later writings, Bacon presents the study of natural history as a key element in ‘medicining the mind’. Besides providing the materials for inductio, natural history is constantly pictured as a good exercise for the mind – any mind – so that it is able to be constantly in touch with nature, i.e. to escape the limited and distorted perspective of ‘private experience’, keep the idols in-check, record ‘facts’ undistorted by private beliefs and contribute, in this way, to the advancement of learning. Bacon’s natural histories are packed not only with ‘facts’, observations, reports and descriptions of experimental set-ups, but also with lists of practical and moral benefits resulting from experimentation, observation or recording of natural histories. In the general preface to Historia naturalis and experimentalis (1622), natural history is contrasted with forms of corrupted and idolatrous natural philosophy. The latter always tends to build self-sufficient and fanciful worlds of imagination ; the former is a sane and therapeutic practice that will keep the mind safely in touch with nature. In short, Bacon sees natural history as able to treat some of the diseases of the individual mind, like the constant tendency to produce science-as-one-would. It is also able to treat some of the diseases of the time, like sectarianism, idolatry and superstition. Natural history is a good way to free the mind from its slavery to one theory/doctrine or another. Of course, natural history is only the first step in a more complex process of learning. It is also a universal procedure : there are natural histories of the heavens but also natural histories of the affections, or natural histories of the political realm. This paper investigates such claims in a wider context. First, I address the notoriously difficult question of Bacon’s redefinition of natural history. Unlike Graham Rees, Paula Findlen and Deborah Harkness, I will claim that Bacon’s project for constructing natural histories draws upon a particular tradition of natural history, a tradition originating in Seneca’s Naturales Quaestiones. In this article, I am tentatively calling this tradition ‘Senecan natural histories’. I will discuss two examples of this tradition : the widely read Pierre de la Primaudaye’s French Academy and Simon Goulart’s Ample discours sur la doctrine des Stoiques (and related texts from the Goulart’s French edition of Senecan writings). I will discuss a number of common features of such Senecan natural histories and show that they are still recognizable in Bacon’s late natural histories (and related writings). By doing so, I will demonstrate that a good number of problematic and notoriously difficult questions regarding Bacon’s natural histories make sense if we read them against this particular intellectual background.

Laura Georgescu
University of Bucharest

Francis Bacon’s psychology of scientific discovery : the “cured mind” and the possibility of induction

Francis Bacon assumes that, as a consequence of the fall, the human mind and senses are not functioning well. In this context, the method for knowledge production cannot be constructed as a pure logical procedure, since logic works with general concepts and, in the case of a fallen mind, the very process of abstraction is corrupted. Thus, prior to the actual use of the eliminative induction, Bacon has to provide some techniques for the ministration of the bad-functioning components of what was thought to be the thinking process : the senses, memory and reason. Only afterwards can induction perform free from error. The techniques Bacon had thought necessary to cure the mind are not the concern of this paper, especially since there already is a comprehensive literature following this path and starting to offer competent and coherent answers. My proposal is to leave aside the mechanisms which are expected to cure the mind and to propose an interpretation of how a “cured mind” looks like, in its medico-physiological and psychological aspects, irrespective of the debate concerning the possibility or impossibility of its fulfillment. I claim that, once a map of the activities of the human faculties of the cured mind has been drawn, an account of the psychological component of induction is provided. Thus, this paper shall have two interrelated parts : first, it will provide a model of the Baconian ideal theory of the mind and, second, it will try to demonstrate that the logical aspects of induction making possible the correct procedure of abstraction whose result is the “marriage” between the human mind and nature are possible only as a consequence of the activation of what could be termed “the natural state of the human mind” ; that is, a set of particular patterns of motions of the material stuff within the human mind that could be interpreted as synonymous to Adam’s mental life. The decision to reconstruct the image of the “natural state of the mind” instead of the alternative methodology of deriving it from the theory of the idols comes as an attempt to defend Bacon from possible modern accusations of having used something similar to a behavioral psychology of scientific discovery.