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

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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.



Ipsa Scientia potestas est.
For also knowledge itself is power.
— Sir Francis Bacon
'Meditationes Sacrae' (1597), in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1887-1901), Vol. 7, 253.
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~~[Attributed]~~ Prudens quaestio dimidium scientiae.
Half of science is asking the right questions.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Also translated as, “To ask the proper question is half of knowing.” Also seen translated as “Half of science is putting forth the right questions,” in Jon R. Stone, The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations (2005), 92. This quote, or a variant, is widely found widely in quote collections and books, but seemingly always without explicit primary source citation. It may have been derived from “Prudens interrogatio quasi dimidium sapientiae.” (A prudent question is, as it were, one half of wisdom), as printed in The Works of Francis Bacon: Philosophical Works (1857), 635. Webmaster has not, as yet, identified a verbatim primary source for the subject quote in Latin. Meanwhile, note the the sense of “scientiae” in Bacon’s time meant “a corpus of human knowledge” rather than the more specific use of the word “science” today. (Sometimes the quote is found attributed to Roger Bacon, which Webmaster, for lack of evidence, currently believes is likely not correct.) [Please contact Webmaster if you can help.]
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And yet surely to alchemy this right is due, that it may be compared to the husbandman whereof Æsop makes the fable, that when he died he told his sons that he had left unto them gold buried under the ground in his vineyard: and they digged over the ground, gold they found none, but by reason of their stirring and digging the mould about the roots of their vines, they had a great vintage the year following: so assuredly the search and stir to make gold hath brought to light a great number of good and fruitful inventions and experiments, as well for the disclosing of nature as for the use of man's life.
— Sir Francis Bacon
The Advancement of Learning (1605, 1712), Vol. 1, 15.
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Another diversity of Methods is according to the subject or matter which is handled; for there is a great difference in delivery of the Mathematics, which are the most abstracted of knowledges, and Policy, which is the most immersed…, yet we see how that opinion, besides the weakness of it, hath been of ill desert towards learning, as that which taketh the way to reduce learning to certain empty and barren generalities; being but the very husks and shells of sciences, all the kernel being forced out and expulsed with the torture and press of the method.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Advancement of Learning, Book 2. In James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1863), Vol. 6, 292-293. Peter Pešić, explains that 'By Mathematics, he had in mind a sterile and rigid scheme of logical classifications, called dichotomies in his time,' inLabyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science (2001), 73.
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But the greatest error of all the rest is the mistaking or misplacing of the last or farthest end of knowledge: for men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon a natural curiosity and inquisitive appetite; sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes for ornament and reputation; and sometimes to enable them to victory of wit and contradiction; and most times for lucre and profession; and seldom sincerely to give a true account of their gift of reason, to the benefit and use of men...
— Sir Francis Bacon
The First 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), 174
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For all knowledge and wonder (which is the seed of knowledge) is an impression of pleasure in itself.
— Sir Francis Bacon
The First 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), 163
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For it being the nature of the mind of man (to the extreme prejudice of knowledge) to delight in the spacious liberty of generalities, as in a champion region, and not in the enclosures of particularity; the Mathematics were the goodliest fields to satisfy that appetite.
— Sir Francis Bacon
In De Augmentis, Bk. 8; Advancement of Learning, Bk. 2.
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For man being the minister and interpreter of nature, acts and understands so far as he has observed of the order, the works and mind of nature, and can proceed no further; for no power is able to loose or break the chain of causes, nor is nature to be conquered but by submission: whence those twin intentions, human knowledge and human power, are really coincident; and the greatest hindrance to works is the ignorance of causes.
— Sir Francis Bacon
In The Great lnstauration.
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Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule.
— Sir Francis Bacon
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 3. 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, 47.
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I confess that I have as vast contemplative ends, as I have moderate civil ends: for I have taken all knowledge to be my province.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Letter (age 31) to his uncle Lord Burleigh. In Francis Bacon, James Spedding (ed.) et al., Works of Francis Bacon (1862) Vol. 6, 109.
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If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
— 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, 293.
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Knowledge is power.
[Editors' summary of Bacon's idea, not Bacon's wording.]
— Sir Francis Bacon
Bacon's original text is in Latin, so any quote seen in English is an interpretation by the translator. The dictum, expressed in three words as 'Knowledge is Power,' is only seen in notes to the texts made by translators or editors, and is not a direct translation of Bacon's written words. See, for example, the commentary by F. G. Selby (ed.) in The Advancement of Learning, Book 1, by Francis Bacon (1905), 140; or, the introductory notes by E. A. Abbott (ed.) in Bacon's Essays (1876), cxxxvii. For the best match in Bacon's original words, see Novum Organum Aphorism 3: Scientia et potentia humana in idem coincidunt,... or 'Human knowledge and human power meet in one;...'. The Latin form is in Thomas Fowler (ed.), Bacon's Novum Organum (2nd Ed., 1878), 188; and this translated form is in Francis Bacon and James Spedding (trans.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 8, 67.
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Man, being the servant and interpreter of Nature, can do and understand so much and so much only as he has observed in fact or thought of the course of nature; beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything.
— Sir Francis Bacon
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 1. As translated from the original Latin, “Homo enim naturae minister et interpres tantum facit et intelligit, quantum de naturae ordine, opere vel mente, observaverit: nec amplius scit, aut potest.” in 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, 47. Also seen translated as “Man, as the minister and interpreter of nature, is limited in act and understanding by his observation of the order of nature; neither his understanding nor his power extends farther,” in Robert Routledge, Discoveries and Inventions of the 19th Century (1891), 697.
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Moreover, the works already known are due to chance and experiment rather than to sciences; for the sciences we now possess are merely systems for the nice ordering and setting forth of things already invented; not methods of invention or directions for new works.
— Sir Francis Bacon
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 8. 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, 48.
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Never any knowledge was delivered in the same order it was invented.
— Sir Francis Bacon
'Of the Interpretation of Nature' (c.1603) in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1887-1901), Vol. 3, 248.
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No one has yet been found so firm of mind and purpose as resolutely to compel himself to sweep away all theories and common notions, and to apply the understanding, thus made fair and even, to a fresh examination of particulars. Thus it happens that human knowledge, as we have it, is a mere medley and ill-digested mass, made up of much credulity and much accident, and also of the childish notions which we at first imbibed.
— Sir Francis Bacon
In Novum Organum (1620), Book 2, Aphorism 20.
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Sciences distinguished have a dependence upon universal knowledge, to be augmented, and rectified by the superior light thereof; as well as the parts and members of a science have upon the maxims of the same science, and the mutual light and consent which one part receiveth of another.
— Sir Francis Bacon
From 'Interpretatio Naturæ' ('Of The Interpretation of Nature'), collected in The Works Of Francis Bacon (1803), Vol. 2, 140.
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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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The end of our foundation [Salomon's House in the New Atlantis] is the knowledge of Causes and the secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible.
— Sir Francis Bacon
In Francis Bacon and William Rawle (ed.), The Works of Francis Bacon: Philosophical Works (1887), 156.
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The End of our Foundation is the knowledge of Causes; and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible.
— Sir Francis Bacon
'New Atlantis' (1626) in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1887-1901), Vol. 3, 156.
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The partitions of knowledge are not like several lines that meet in one angle, and so touch not in a point; but are like branches of a tree, that meet in a stem, which hath a dimension and quantity of entireness and continuance, before it come to discontinue and break itself into arms and boughs.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, Basil Montagu (Ed.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1852), Vol. 1, 193.
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We come therefore now to that knowledge whereunto the ancient oracle directeth us, which is the knowledge of ourselves; which deserveth the more accurate handling, by how much it toucheth us more nearly. This knowledge, as it is the end and term of natural philosophy in the intention of man, so notwithstanding it is but a portion of natural philosophy in the continent of nature. And generally let this be a rule, that all partitions of knowledges be accepted rather for lines and veins, than for sections and separations; and that the continuance and entireness of knowledge be preserved. For the contrary hereof hath made particular sciences to become barren, shallow, and erroneous; while they have not been nourished and maintained from the common fountain. So we see Cicero the orator complained of Socrates and his school, that he was the first that separated philosophy and rhetoric; whereupon rhetoric became an empty and verbal art. So we may see that the opinion of Copernicus touching the rotation of the earth, which astronomy itself cannot correct because it is not repugnant to any of the phenomena, yet natural philosophy may correct. So we see also that the science of medicine, if it be destituted and forsaken by natural philosophy, it is not much better than an empirical practice. With this reservation therefore we proceed to Human Philosophy or Humanity, which hath two parts: the one considereth man segregate, or distributively; the other congregate, or in society. So as Human Philosophy is either Simple and Particular, or Conjugate and Civil. Humanity Particular consisteth of the same parts whereof man consisteth; that is, of knowledges that respect the Body, and of knowledges that respect the Mind. But before we distribute so far, it is good to constitute. For I do take the consideration in general and at large of Human Nature to be fit to be emancipate and made a knowledge by itself; not so much in regard of those delightful and elegant discourses which have been made of the dignity of man, of his miseries, of his state and life, and the like adjuncts of his common and undivided nature; but chiefly in regard of the knowledge concerning the sympathies and concordances between the mind and body, which, being mixed, cannot be properly assigned to the sciences of either.
— 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, 366-7.
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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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Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton


by Ian Ellis
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