This article examines the philosophical implications underlying Bacon's views on historical knowledge, paying special attention to that variety of historical knowledge described by Bacon as “natural.” More specifically, this article explores the interplay of history (historia) and fable (fabula). In the sphere of thought, fabula is the equivalent to materia in nature. Both are described by Bacon as being “versatile” and “pliant.” In Bacon's system of knowledge, philosophy, as the domain of reason, starts from historiae and fabulae, once memory and the imagination have fulfilled their cognitive tasks. This means that, for Bacon, there is no such thing as a pure use of reason. He advocates a kind of reason that, precisely because it is involved with matter's inner motions (its “appetites,” in Bacon's characteristic language), is constitutively 'impure'. The article shows how the terms historia and fabula cover key semantic areas in defining Bacon's philosophy: historia may mean “history” as well as “story,” fabula “myth” as well “story.” In both cases, we can see significant oscillations from a stronger meaning (close to those of matter and nature) to a weaker one (connected to wit and imagination), as if the power of nature decreases moving from histories and myths to stories. On the other hand, there are cases in which Bacon seems to stick to a diachronic view of the meaning of fables and histories, such that the transition from myths to history, especially natural history, is described as a collective effort towards reality and enlightenment.
Francis Bacon’s Notion of Experiential Literacy (Experientia Literata)
Francis Bacon’s elusive notion of experience can be better understood when we relate it to his views on matter, motion, appetite and intellect, and bring to the fore its broader philosophical implications. Bacon’s theory of knowledge is embedded in a programme of disciplinary redefinition, outlined in the Advancement of Learning and De augmentis scientiarum. Among all disciplines, prima philosophia (and not metaphysica) plays a key foundational role, based on the idea of both a physical parallelism between the human intellect and nature (psycho-physical parallelism) and a theological parallelism between nature and God (physico-theological parallelism). Failure to assess Bacon’s distinctive position concerning the way in which the mind mirrors both the natural and the divine world, that is to say, the meaning of “reality,” has resulted in notoriously jejune discussions on Baconian empiricism, monotonously driven by epistemological concerns. As a result, the standard view on Bacon’s empiricism is as epistemologically comforting as it is imaginary, an “idol” in a genuinely Baconian sense. In this article, Bacon’s notion of experience will be discussed by examining those steps that he considered to be the crucial initial stages in the formation of human experience, stages described as a process of experiential literacy (experientia literata) or, in emblematic terms, as a hunting expedition led by the mythological figure of Pan (venatio Panis). I argue that a well-rounded analysis of Bacon’s experientia literata needs to take into account the complementary notion of the “spelling-book of nature” (abecedarium naturae), that is, the original code of the primordial motions of matter. By getting acquainted with the first rudiments of experience through its spelling-book (on both an individual and a cosmological level), one learns to read the book of nature and, most of all, to write new pages in it.