Pièce 1 - Essay on a passage from Bacon’s Instauratio Magna

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Essay on a passage from Bacon’s Instauratio Magna


  • [1860s] (Production)

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(This essay was probably written while Clifford was an undergraduate at Trinity. The sheet has been marked by Clifford ‘De Stato … | W K Clifford’, and in a later hand ‘Cambridge | early.’)

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De statu scientiarum, quod non sit fœlix aut majorem in modum auctus; quodque alia omnino quam prioribus cognita fuerit via aperienda sit intellectui humano, et alia comparanda auxilia, ut meus suo jure in rerum naturam uti possit.

Bacon has an inconvenient habit of using old technical terms in entirely new senses, and of giving particular senses to general words which appear to have not the least connection with their ordinary meanings. For instance:—Form, Induction, Idol. We have other instances in the passage quoted above. “Scientiæ” does not mean a collection of facts or laws, but is more subjective, in accordance with the etymology. “Fœlix”, if affirmative, would mean that the sciences were easy, without inconvenient hitches and things hard to be understood. And “majorem in modum auctus” does not mean merely “increased” or “greatly advancing”, but denotes such an increase as changes the whole aspect of the science, or of some branch of it. In other words, it is a development of form and not of magnitude. The first clause, then, means that the sciences are perplexed with much the same general difficulties as they have been all along; that there has been no great clearing, which opened a wide surface to the feet of all walkers; and that this state of things is very unsatisfactory. In this sense we say that the clause is applicable to the present time. Admitting that the sciences generally are increased, that particular discoveries have been made, and the mechanical arts vastly improved—and indeed it could hardly be otherwise; admitting also, that the {1} state of certain particular branches of science has been auctus majorem in modum; we say that it still remains true, quod status scientiarum non sit majorem in modum auctus. There are still difficulties, and cramped methods; things do not flow on easily, except in some particular examples. Bacon’s idea of utilis inventio is not one that can be applied to mechanical arts (for there have been plenty of them), but one one that is ad generandum valida, capable of producing its like. For instance, the Chemical spectrum has already been the parent of many important discoveries, and there is no limit to the facts and laws which any one may discover by its means. Bacon’s method must be something general which corresponds to this special instance, and Induction, according to the common idea of the same, may have nothing whatever to do with it.


Docketed by Clifford in ink ‘De Stato … | W K Clifford’, and by a later hand in pencil ‘Cambridge | early.’

{1} ‘the sciences … that the’: these three lines are marked in the margin with a vertical line and the comment ‘very good observn’. The comment probably relates specifically to the phrase ‘that particular discoveries … improved’.

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