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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index B > Sir Francis Bacon Quotes > Discovery

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Sir Francis Bacon
(22 Jan 1561 - 9 Apr 1626)

English philosopher remembered for his influence promoting a scientific method. He held that the aim of scientific investigation is practical application of the understanding of nature to improve man’s condition.



...neither is it possible to discover the more remote and deeper parts of any science, if you stand but upon the level of the same science, and ascend not to a higher science.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, Basil Montagu (Ed.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1852), Vol. 1, 173.
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...to invent is to discover that we know not, and not to recover or resummon that which we already know.
— Sir Francis Bacon
The Second Book of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605). In Francis Bacon and Basil Montagu, The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England (1852), 209
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Primo enim paranda est Historia Naturalis et Experimentalis, suffidens et bona; quod fundamentum rei est: neque enim fingendum, aut excogitandum, sed inveniendum, quid natura faciat aut ferat.
For first of all we must prepare a Natural and Experimental History, sufficient and good; and this is the foundation of all; for we are not to imagine or suppose, but to discover, what nature does or may be made to do.
— Sir Francis Bacon
In Novum Organum, Book 2, Aphorism 10. As translated in Francis Bacon and James Spedding with ‎Robert Leslie Ellis (eds.), 'The New Organon', The Works of Francis Bacon: Translations of the Philosophical Works (1858), Vol. 4, 127. Also seen in epigraphs as a shorter quote, “Non fingendum, aut excogitandum, sed inveniendum, quid natura faciat aut ferat,” which can also be translated as “We have not to imagine or to think out, but to find out what Nature does or produces.”
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Another argument of hope may be drawn from this–that some of the inventions already known are such as before they were discovered it could hardly have entered any man's head to think of; they would have been simply set aside as impossible. For in conjecturing what may be men set before them the example of what has been, and divine of the new with an imagination preoccupied and colored by the old; which way of forming opinions is very fallacious, for streams that are drawn from the springheads of nature do not always run in the old channels.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Translation of Novum Organum, XCII. In Francis Bacon, James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 8, 128.
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Brutes by their natural instinct have produced many discoveries, whereas men by discussion and the conclusions of reason have given birth to few or none.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Novum Organum, LXXIII
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If any human being earnestly desire to push on to new discoveries instead of just retaining and using the old; to win victories over Nature as a worker rather than over hostile critics as a disputant; to attain, in fact, clear and demonstrative knowlegde instead of attractive and probable theory; we invite him as a true son of Science to join our ranks.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Novum Organum (1620), 34, Preface.
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It cannot be that axioms established by argumentation should avail for the discovery of new works, since the subtlety of nature is greater many times over than the subtlety of argument. But axioms duly and orderly formed from particulars easily discover the way to new particulars, and thus render sciences active.
— Sir Francis Bacon
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 24. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 51.
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It is well to observe the force and virtue and consequence of discoveries, and these are to be seen nowhere more conspicuously than in those three which were unknown to the ancients, and of which the origins, although recent, are obscure and inglorious; namely, printing, gunpowder, and the magnet. For these three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed innumerable changes, insomuch that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries.
— Sir Francis Bacon
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 129. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 114.
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Since my logic aims to teach and instruct the understanding, not that it may with the slender tendrils of the mind snatch at and lay hold of abstract notions (as the common logic does), but that it may in very truth dissect nature, and discover the virtues and actions of bodies, with their laws as determined in matter; so that this science flows not merely from the nature of the mind, but also from the nature of things.
— Sir Francis Bacon
In Novum Organum (1620), Book 2, Aphorism 42.
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Take an arrow, and hold it in flame for the space of ten pulses, and when it cometh forth you shall find those parts of the arrow which were on the outsides of the flame more burned, blacked, and turned almost to coal, whereas the midst of the flame will be as if the fire had scarce touched it. This is an instance of great consequence for the discovery of the nature of flame; and sheweth manifestly, that flame burneth more violently towards the sides than in the midst.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Observing, but not with the knowledge, that a flame burns at its outside in contact with air, and there is no combustion within the flame which is not mixed with air. In Sylva Sylvarum; or a Natural History in Ten Centuries (1627), Century 1, Experiment 32. Collected in The Works of Francis Bacon (1740), Vol 3, 9.
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There are and can be only two ways of searching into and discovering truth. The one flies from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms, and from these principles, the truth of which it takes for settled and immovable, proceeds to judgment and to the discovery of middle axioms. And this way is now in fashion. The other derives axioms from the senses and particulars, rising by a gradual and unbroken ascent, so that it arrives at the most general axioms last of all. This is the true way, but as yet untried.
— Sir Francis Bacon
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 20. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 50.
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They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea.
— Sir Francis Bacon
The Advancement of Learning (1605) in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1887-1901), Vol. 3, 355.
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See also:

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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