When one is seeking to learn the roots of modern philosophy, it is important to understand the context in which the major thinkers credited for the developments in the area were to form their ideas. It is a mistake made by many to assume the development of major ideas took place in a vacuum, or even in a world that was similar to our own. If you're reading this while looking out from St. Lawrence Market condos, you should understand that in some ways there are more differences between our reality and theirs. The major figures who laid the groundwork for our modern philosophical approach lived in a world very different from our own; 17th and 18th century Europe was governed by monarchs and by the church, a combination which had stifled all sorts of innovations in terms of the natural world for centuries.
As one of the very first thinkers when it comes to modern philosophy, no one had a lonelier row to hoe than Sir Francis Bacon. Although it is Rene Descartes who is credited with the title of Father of Modern Philosophy today, Francis Bacon is often pointed to as the seed from which the idea of empiricism sprouted. And that idea, in some way or another, can be linked to everything around us, from how we interpret our surroundings to the running of a factory that makes high temperature tape. Here is a quick look at some of the defining events in his life.
Officially, Francis Bacon was born in 1561, the son of Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Nicholas Bacon, and his second wife, Ann Cooke. As one might expect, such a birth led to an idyllic life in that day and age, and Bacon was raised a gentleman (rumours persist that in actuality, it was Queen Elizabeth I herself who was Bacon's mother). By today's standards, his charmed life would most likely include a platinum credit card and his own waterfront Toronto condo.
At the age of twelve, Bacon's precocious nature earned him recognition and acceptance into Cambridge University, and also favour from the Queen. He studied at the University for three years, during which he came to understand that although Aristotle had been a great thinker, his philosophy was in fact off the mark. In fact, Bacon would focus much of his intellectual life on providing a new framework upon which science was to be based.
Unlike many of modern philosophers who were to come after him, intellectual pursuits would come in second to Bacon's first love, politics. Throughout his adult life he sought favour with the royals of the day, first Elizabeth I and after with King James.
Bacon's efforts would meet with mixed results. His close relationship with the Earl of Essex would get him into trouble with Elizabeth upon confirmation of the Earl's betrayal, although it was Bacon himself who first distanced and then tried the Earl. Later on, Bacon's influence with King James would turn Parliament against him, and he would be stripped of his offices of Lord Chancellor and even sentenced to an indefinite period in the Tower of London (although in his case royal favour proved fortunate and the sentence served was only a matter of days). Today, he would probably be in an orange jumpsuit doing lagoon cleaning.
Bacon's commitment to science and intellectual pursuits became his focus after his political career came to such an ignominious end, and ironically it was these pursuits that spelled an end to Bacon. He contracted pneumonia after experimenting with cold as a preservative and died in 1626. The great number of first-rate minds, who were present at his funeral, evidenced his impact on the world of modern thinking. If you're an average citizen, making spending your day making tamper evident bands, you probably don't see the influence of Bacon. But it is definitely there.
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