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

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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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In artibus et scientiis, tanquam in metalli fodinis, omnia novis operibus et ulterioribus progressibus circumstrepere debent
But arts and sciences should be like mines, where the noise of new works and further advances is heard on every side.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Original Latin as in Novum Organum, Book 1, XC, collected in The Works of Francis Bacon (1826), Vol. 8, 50-51. As translated by James Spedding and Robert Leslie Ellis in The Works of Francis Bacon (1863), 127.
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Scientia nihil aliud est quam veritatis imago
Science is but an image of the truth.
— Sir Francis Bacon
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 383:3.
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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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~~[Attributed]~~ Prudens quaestio dimidium scientiae.
Half of science is putting forth the right questions.
— Sir Francis Bacon
In Jon R. Stone, The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations (2005), 92.
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Again there is another great and powerful cause why the sciences have made but little progress; which is this. It is not possible to run a course aright when the goal itself has not been rightly placed.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Translation of Novum Organum, LXXXI. In Francis Bacon, James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 8, 113.
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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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Aristippus said; “That those that studied particular sciences, and neglected philosophy, were like Penelope’s wooers, that made love to the waiting women.”
— Sir Francis Bacon
In 'A Collection of Apophthegms, New and Old' (1625). As given in Essays, Moral, Economical, and Political: A New Edition, With the Latin Quotations Translated (1813), No. 271, 341.
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Books must follow sciences, and not sciences books.
— Sir Francis Bacon
In 'A Proposal for Amending the Laws of England' (1616). Collected in The Works, with Several Additional Pieces Never Before Printed (1740), Vol. 4, 5.
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But by far the greatest obstacle to the progress of science and to the undertaking of new tasks and provinces therein is found in this—that men despair and think things impossible.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Translation of Novum Organum, CIX. In Francis Bacon, James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 8, 140-141.
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Further, it will not be amiss to distinguish the three kinds and, as it were, grades of ambition in mankind. The first is of those who desire to extend their own power in their native country, a vulgar and degenerate kind. The second is of those who labor to extend the power and dominion of their country among men. This certainly has more dignity, though not less covetousness. But if a man endeavor to establish and extend the power and dominion of the human race itself over the universe, his ambition (if ambition it can be called) is without doubt both a more wholesome and a more noble thing than the other two. Now the empire of man over things depends wholly on the arts and sciences. For we cannot command nature except by obeying her.
— 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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I hold every man a debtor to his profession; from the which as men of course do seek to receive countenance and profit, so ought they of duty to endeavour themselves, by way of amends, to be a help and ornament thereunto. This is performed, in some degree, by the honest and liberal practice of a profession; where men shall carry a respect not to descend into any course that is corrupt and unworthy thereof, and preserve themselves free from the abuses wherewith the same profession is noted to be infected: but much more is this performed, if a man be able to visit and strengthen the roots and foundation of the science itself; thereby not only gracing it in reputation and dignity, but also amplifying it in profession and substance.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Opening sentences of Preface, Maxims of Law (1596), in The Works of Francis Bacon: Law tracts. Maxims of the Law (1803), Vol. 4, 10.
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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 idle to expect any great advancement in science from the superinducing and engrafting of new things upon old. We must begin anew from the very foundations, unless we would revolve for ever in a circle with mean and contemptible progress.
— Sir Francis Bacon
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 31. 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, 52.
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Mathematic is either Pure or Mixed: To Pure Mathematic belong those sciences which handle Quantity entirely severed from matter and from axioms of natural philosophy. These are two, Geometry and Arithmetic; the one handling quantity continued, the other dissevered. … Mixed Mathematic has for its subject some axioms and parts of natural philosophy, and considers quantity in so far as it assists to explain, demonstrate and actuate these.
— Sir Francis Bacon
In De Augmentis, Bk. 3; Advancement of Learning, Bk. 2.
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Medicine is a science which hath been (as we have said) more professed than laboured, and yet more laboured than advanced: the labour having been, in my judgment, rather in circle than in progression. For I find much iteration, but small addition. It considereth causes of diseases, with the occasions or impulsions; the diseases themselves, with the accidents; and the cures, with the preservation.
— 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, 373.
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Men are rather beholden ... generally to chance or anything else, than to logic, for the invention of arts and sciences.
— 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, 386.
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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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Science is the labor and handicraft of the mind; poetry can only be considered its recreation.
— Sir Francis Bacon
As quoted in Nathaniel Holmes, The Authorship of Shakespeare (1867), 198. Footnoted as Int. Globe, Works (Mont.), XV. 150.
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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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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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The cause and root of nearly all evils in the sciences is this—that while we falsely admire and extol the powers of the human mind we neglect to seek for its true helps.
— Sir Francis Bacon
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 9. 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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The divisions of science are not like different lines that meet in one angle, but rather like the branches of trees that join in one trunk.
— Sir Francis Bacon
The Works of Francis Bacon (1815), Vol. 6, 68.
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The only hope [of science] ... is in genuine induction.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Aphorism 14. In Francis Bacon and Basil Montagu, The Works of Francis Bacon (1831), Vol. 14, 32.
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The only hope of science is genuine induction.
— Sir Francis Bacon
In Maturin Murray Ballou, Edge-Tools of Speech (1899), 440.
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The strength of all sciences is, as the strength of the old man’s faggot, in the band. For the harmony of a science, supporting each part the other, is and ought to be the true and brief confutation and suppression of all the smaller sort of objections; but, on the other side, if you take out every axiom, as the sticks of the faggot, one by one, you may quarrel with them and bend them and break them at your pleasure: so that, as was said of Seneca, Verborum minutiis rerum frangit pondera [that he broke up the weight and mass of the matter by verbal points and niceties], so a man may truly say of the schoolmen, Quaestionum minutiis scientiarum frangunt soliditatem [they broke up the solidarity and coherency of the sciences by the minuteness and nicety of their questions]. For were it not better for a man in fair room to set up one great light, or branching candlestick of lights, than to go about with a small watch-candle into every corner?
— Sir Francis Bacon
The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 6, 123
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The understanding must not however be allowed to jump and fly from particulars to axioms remote and of almost the highest generality (such as the first principles, as they are called, of arts and things), and taking stand upon them as truths that cannot be shaken, proceed to prove and frame the middle axioms by reference to them; which has been the practice hitherto, the understanding being not only carried that way by a natural impulse, but also by the use of syllogistic demonstration trained and inured to it. But then, and then only, may we hope well of the sciences when in a just scale of ascent, and by successive steps not interrupted or broken, we rise from particulars to lesser axioms; and then to middle axioms, one above the other; and last of all to the most general. For the lowest axioms differ but slightly from bare experience, while the highest and most general (which we now have) are notional and abstract and without solidity. But the middle are the true and solid and living axioms, on which depend the affairs and fortunes of men; and above them again, last of all, those which are indeed the most general; such, I mean, as are not abstract, but of which those intermediate axioms are really limitations.
The understanding must not therefore be supplied with wings, but rather hung with weights, to keep it from leaping and flying. Now this has never yet been done; when it is done, we may entertain better hopes of science.
— Sir Francis Bacon
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 104. 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, 97.
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Those who have handled sciences have been either men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant; they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes a middle course; it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy; for it neither relies solely or chiefly on the powers of the mind, nor does it take the matter which it gathers from natural history and mechanical experiments and lay it up in the memory whole, as it finds it; but lays it up in the understanding altered and digested. Therefore from a closer and purer league between these two faculties, the experimental and the rational (such as has never yet been made), much may be hoped.
— Sir Francis Bacon
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 95. 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, 92-3.
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Those who have taken upon them to lay down the law of nature as a thing already searched out and understood, whether they have spoken in simple assurance or professional affectation, have therein done philosophy and the sciences great injury. For as they have been successful in inducing belief, so they have been effective in quenching and stopping inquiry; and have done more harm by spoiling and putting an end to other men's efforts than good by their own. Those on the other hand who have taken a contrary course, and asserted that absolutely nothing can be known — whether it were from hatred of the ancient sophists, or from uncertainty and fluctuation of mind, or even from a kind of fullness of learning, that they fell upon this opinion — have certainly advanced reasons for it that are not to be despised; but yet they have neither started from true principles nor rested in the just conclusion, zeal and affectation having carried them much too far...
Now my method, though hard to practice, is easy to explain; and it is this. I propose to establish progressive stages of certainty. The evidence of the sense, helped and guarded by a certain process of correction, I retain. But the mental operation which follows the act of sense I for the most part reject; and instead of it I open and lay out a new and certain path for the mind to proceed in, starting directly from the simple sensuous perception.
— Sir Francis Bacon
Novum Organum (1620)
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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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