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Natural Knowledge as a Propaedeutic to Self-Betterment Francis Bacon and the Transformation of Natural History

In: Early Science and Medicine
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  • 1 The Warburg Institute, University of London, School of Advanced Study; Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AB;, Email: james.lancaster@postgrad.sas.ac.uk
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Abstract

This paper establishes the 'emblematic' use of natural history as a propaedeutic to self-betterment in the Renaissance; in particular, in the natural histories of Gessner and Topsell, but also in the works of Erasmus and Rabelais. Subsequently, it investigates how Francis Bacon's conception of natural history is envisaged in relation to them. The paper contends that, where humanist natural historians understood the use of natural knowledge as a preliminary to individual improvement, Bacon conceived self-betterment foremost as a means to Christian charity, or social-betterment. It thus examines the transformation of the moralizing aspect of Renaissance natural history in Bacon's conception of his Great Instauration.

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