Divisions of Learning and Faculties of the Mind- Francis Bacon

General Divisions of Learning into History, Poetry, and Philosophy, in relation to the Three Faculties of the Mind—Memory, Imagination, and Reason. The same Distribution applies to Theology

Sir Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning -1605

IT IS befitting, excellent king, that those who are blessed with a numerous offspring, and who have a pledge in their descendants that their name will be carried down to posterity, should be keenly alive to the welfare of future times, in which their children are to perpetuate their power and empire. Queen Elizabeth, with respect to her celibacy, was rather a sojourner than an inhabitant of the present world, yet she was an ornament to her age and prosperous in many of her undertakings. But to your Majesty, whom God has blessed with so much royal issue, worthy to immortalize your name, it particularly appertains to extend your cares beyond the present age, which is already illuminated with your wisdom, and extend your thoughts to those works which will interest remotest posterity. Of such designs, if affection do not deceive me, there is none more worthy and noble than the endowment of the world with sound and fruitful knowledge. For why should a few favorite authors stand up like Hercules’ Columns, to bar further sailing and discovery, especially since we have so bright and benign a star in your Majesty to guide and conduct us?

It remains, therefore, that we consider the labors which princes and others have undertaken for the advancement of learning, and this markedly and pointedly, without digression or amplification. Let it then be granted, that to the completion of any work munificent patronage is as essential as soundness of direction and conjunction of labors. The first multiplies energy, the second prevents error, and the third compensates for human weakness. But the principal of these is direction, or the pointing out and the delineation of the direct way to the completion of the object in view. For “claudus in via antevertit cursorem extra viam”; and Solomon appositely says, “If the iron is not pointed, greater strength is to be used”—so what really prevaileth over everything is wisdom, by which he insinuates that a wise selection of means leads us more directly to our object than a straining or accumulation of strength. Without wishing to derogate from the merit of those who in any way have advanced learning, this much I have been led to say, from perceiving that their works and acts have tended rather to the glory of their name than the progression or proficiency of the sciences—to augment the man of learning in the minds of philosophers, rather than reform or elevate the sciences themselves.

The institutions which relate to the extension of letters are threefold; viz., schools and universities, books, and professors. For as water, whether of the dew of heaven or spring of the earth, would speedily lose itself in the ground unless collected into conduits and cisterns, so it seemeth this excellent liquor of knowledge, whether it descend from Divine inspiration or spring from human sense, would soon hide itself in oblivion, unless, collected in books, traditions, academies, and schools, it might find a permanent seat, and a fructifying union of strength.

The works which concern the seats of learning are four—buildings, endowments, privileges, and charters, which all promote quietness and seclusion, freedom from cares and anxieties. Such stations resemble those which Virgil prescribes for beehiving:

“Principio sedes apibus, statioque petenda Quo neque sit ventis aditus.”

The works which relate to books are two—first, libraries, which are as the shrines where the bones of old saints full of virtue lie buried; secondly, new editions of writers, with correcter impressions, more faultless versions, more useful commentaries, and more learned annotations.

Finally, the works which pertain to the persons of the learned are, besides the general patronage which ought to be extended to them, twofold. The foundation of professorships in sciences already extant, and in those not yet begun or imperfectly elaborated.

These are, in short, the institutions on which princes and other illustrious men have displayed their zeal for letters. To me, dwelling upon each patron of letters, that notion of Cicero occurs, which urged him upon his return not to particularize, but to give general thanks—“Difficile non aliquem, in gratum quenquam, præterire.” Rather should we, conformably to Scripture, look forward to the course we have yet to run, than regard the ground already behind us.

First, therefore, I express my surprise, that among so many illustrious colleges in Europe, all the foundations are engrossed by the professions, none being left for the free cultivation of the arts and sciences. Though men judge well who assert that learning should be referred to action, yet by reposing too confidently in this opinion, they are apt to fall into the error of the ancient fable,4 which represented the members of the body at war with the stomach, because it alone, of all the parts of the frame, seemed to rest, and absorb all the nourishment. For if any man esteem philosophy and every study of a general character to be idle, he plainly forgets that on their proficiency the state of every other learning depends, and that they supply strength and force to its various branches. I mainly attribute the lame progress of knowledge hitherto to the neglect or the incidental study of the general sciences. For if you want a tree to produce more than its usual burden of fruit, it is not anything you can do to the branches that will effect this object, but the excitation of the earth about its roots and increasing the fertility of the soil; nor must it be overlooked that this restriction of foundations and endowments to professional learning has not only dwarfed the growth of the sciences, but been prejudicial to states and governments themselves. For since there is no collegiate course so free as to allow those who are inclined to devote themselves to history, modern languages, civil policy, and general literature; princes find a dearth of able men to manage their affairs and efficiently conduct the business of the commonwealth.

Since the founders of colleges plant, and those who endow them water, we are naturally led to speak in this place of the mean salaries apportioned to public lectureships, whether in the sciences or the arts. For such offices being instituted not for an ephemeral purpose, but for the constant transmission and extension of learning, it is of the utmost importance that the men selected to fill them be learned and gifted. But it is idle to expect that the ablest scholars will employ their whole energy and time in such functions unless the reward be answerable to that competency which may be expected from the practice of a profession. The sciences will only flourish on the condition of David’s military law—that those who remain with the baggage shall have equal part with those who descend to the fight, otherwise the baggage will be neglected. Lecturers being in like manner guardians of the literary stores whence those who are engaged in active service draw, it is but just that their labors should be equally recompensed, otherwise the reward of the fathers of the sciences not being sufficiently ample, the verse will be realized—

“Et patrum invalidi referent jejunia nati.”


The next deficiency we shall notice is, the want of philosophical instruments, in crying up which we are aided by the alchemists, who call upon men to sell their books, and to build furnaces, rejecting Minerva and the Muses as barren virgins, and relying upon Vulcan. To study natural philosophy, physic, and many other sciences to advantage, books are not the only essentials—other instruments are required; nor has the munificence of men been altogether wanting in their provisions. For spheres, globes, astrolabes, maps, and the like, have been provided for the elucidation of astronomy and cosmography; and many schools of medicine are provided with gardens for the growth of simples, and supplied with dead bodies for dissection. But these concern only a few things. In general, however, there will be no inroad made into the secrets of nature unless experiments, be they of Vulcan or Dædalus, furnace, engine, or any other kind, are allowed for; and therefore as the secretaries and spies of princes and states bring in bills for intelligence, so you must allow the spies and intelligences of nature to bring in their bills, or else you will be ignorant of many things worthy to be known. And if Alexander placed so large a treasure at Aristotle’s command, for the support of hunters, fowlers, fishers, and the like, in much more need do they stand of this beneficence who unfold the labyrinths of nature.

Another defect I discover is the neglect in vice-chancellors, heads of houses, princes, inspectors, and others, of proper supervision or diligent inquiry into the course of studies, with a view to a thorough reformation of such parts as are ill suited to the age, or of unwise institution. For it is one of your Majesty’s sage maxims, that as respects customs and precedents, we must consider the times in which they took their rise, since much is detracted from their authority, if such are found feeble and ignorant. It is, therefore, all the more requisite, since the university statutes were framed in very obscure times, to institute an inquiry into their origin. Of errors of this nature I will give an example or two from such objects as are most obvious and familiar. The one is, that scholars are inducted too early into logic and rhetoric—arts which, being the cream of all others, are fitter for graduates than children and novices. Now, being the gravest of the sciences, these arts are composed of rules and directions, for setting forth and methodizing the matter of the rest, and, therefore, for rude and blank minds, who have not yet gathered that which Cicero styles sylva and supellex matter, and fecundity, to begin with those arts is as if one were to paint or measure the wind, and has no other effect than to degrade the universal wisdom of these arts into childish sophistry and contemptible affectation. This error has had the inevitable result of rendering the treatises on those sciences superficial, and dwarfing them to the capacities of children.

Another error to be noticed in the present academical system is the separation between invention and memory, their exercises either being nothing but a set form of words, where no play is given to the understanding, or extemporaneous, in the delivery of which no room is left to the memory. In practical life, however, a blending of the powers of judgment and memory is alone put into requisition, so that these practices, not being adapted to the life of action, rather pervert than discipline the mind. This defect is sooner discovered by scholars than by others, when they come to the practice of the civil professions. We may conclude our observations on university reform, with the expression of Cæsar in his letter to Oppius and Balbus: “Hoc quemadmodum fieri possit, nonnulla mihi in mentem veniunt, et multa reperiri possunt: de iis rebus rogo vos, ut cogitationem suspcipiatis.”

The next want I discover is the little sympathy and correspondence which exists between colleges and universities, as well throughout Europe as in the same state and kingdom. In this we have an example in many orders and sodalities, which, though scattered over several sovereignties and territories, yet enter into a kind of contract, fraternity, and correspondence with one another, and are associated under common provincials and generals. And, surely, as nature creates brotherhood in families, and trades contract brotherhood in communities,8 and the anointment of God established a brotherhood in kings and bishops, in like manner there should spring up a fraternity in learning, an illumination, relating to that paternity which is attributed to God, who is called the Father of lights.

Lastly, I may lament that no fit men have been engaged to forward those sciences which yet remain in an unfinished state. To supply this want it may be of service to perform, as it were, a lustrum of the sciences, and take account of what have been prosecuted and what omitted. For the idea of abundance is one of the causes of dearth; and the multitude of books produces a deceitful impression of superfluity. This, however, is not to be remedied by destroying the books already written, but by making more good ones, which, like the serpent of Moses, may devour the serpents of the enchanters. The removal of the defects I have enumerated, except the last, are indeed opera basilica, toward which the endeavors of one man can be but as an image on a crossroad, which points out the way, but cannot tread it. But as the survey of the sciences which we have proposed lies within the power of a private individual, it is my intention to make the circuit of knowledge, noticing what parts lie waste and uncultivated, and abandoned by the industry of man, with a view to engage, by a faithful mapping out of the deserted tracks, the energies of public and private persons in their improvement. My attention, however, is alone confined to the discovery, not to the correction of errors. For it is one thing to point out what land lies uncultivated, and another thing to improve imperfect husbandry.

In completing this design, I am ignorant neither of the greatness of the work nor my own incapacity. My hope, however, is, that, if the extreme love of my subject carry me too far, I may at least obtain the excuse of affection. It is not granted to man to love and be wise: “amare et sapere.” On such topics opinion is free, and that liberty of judgment which I exercise myself lies equally at the disposition of all. And I for my part shall be as glad to receive correction from others as I am ready to point out defects myself. It is the common duty of humanity: “nam qui erranti comiter monstrat viam.”I, indeed, foresee that many of the defects and omissions I shall point out will be much censured, some as being already completed, and others as too difficult to be effected. For the first objection I must refer to the details of my subject; with regard to the last, I take it for granted that those works are possible which may be accomplished by some person, though not by every one; which may be done by many, though not by one; which may be completed in the succession of ages, though not within the hour-glass of one man’s life; and which may be reached by public effort, though not by private endeavor.

Nevertheless, if any man prefer the sentence of Solomon—“Dicit piger, Leo est in via”; to that of Virgil, “possunt, quia posse videntur”—I shall be content to have my labors received but as the better kind of wishes. For as it requires some knowledge to ask an apposite question, he also cannot be deemed foolish who entertains sensible desires.

The justest division of human learning is that derived from the three different faculties of the soul, the seat of learning: history being relative to the memory, poetry to the imagination, and philosophy to the reason. By poetry we understand no more than feigned history or fable, without regard at present to the poetical style. History is properly concerned about individuals, circumscribed by time and place; so likewise is poetry, with this difference, that its individuals are feigned, with a resemblance to true history, yet like painting, so as frequently to exceed it. But philosophy, forsaking individuals, fixes upon notions abstracted from them, and is employed in compounding and separating these notions according to the laws of nature and the evidence of things themselves.

Any one will easily perceive the justness of this division that recurs to the origin of our ideas. Individuals first strike the sense, which is as it were the port or entrance of the understanding. Then the understanding ruminates upon these images or impressions received from the sense, either simply reviewing them, or wantonly counterfeiting and imitating them, or forming them into certain classes by composition or separation. Thus it is clearly manifest that history, poetry, and philosophy flow from the three distinct fountains of the mind, viz., the memory, the imagination, and the reason; without any possibility of increasing their number. For history and experience are one and the same thing; so are philosophy and the sciences.

Nor does divine learning require any other division; for though revelation and sense may differ both in matter and manner, yet the spirit of man and its cells are the same; and in this case receive, as it were, different liquors through different conduits. Theology, therefore, consists—1, of sacred history; 2, parable, or divine poesy; and 3, of holy doctrine or precept, as its fixed philosophy. As for prophecy, which seems a part redundant, it is no more than a species of history; divine history having this prerogative over human, that the narration may precede, as well as succeed the fact.

The Advancement of Learning by Sir Francis Bacon-1605

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