Baconian method

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The Baconian method is the investigative method developed by Sir Francis Bacon. The method was put forward in Bacon's book Novum Organum (1620), or 'New Instrument', and was supposed to replace the methods put forward in Aristotle's Organon.


Baconian Method

The Baconian method consists of procedures for isolating and further investigating the form nature, or cause, of a phenomenon, including the method of agreement, method of difference, and method of concomitant variation.[1]

Bacon suggests that you draw up a list of all things in which the phenomenon you are trying to explain occurs, as well as a list of things in which it does not occur. Then you rank your lists according to the degree in which the phenomenon occurs in each one. Then you should be able to deduce what factors match the occurrence of the phenomenon in one list and don't occur in the other list, and also what factors change in accordance with the way the data had been ranked.

Thus, if an army is successful when commanded by Essex, and not successful when not commanded by Essex: and when it is more or less successful according to the degree of involvement of Essex as its commander, then it is scientifically reasonable to say that being commanded by Essex is causally related to the army's success.

From this Bacon suggests that the underlying cause of the phenomena, what he calls the "form," can be approximated by interpreting the results of one's observations. This approximation Bacon calls the "First Vintage." It is not a final conclusion about the formal cause of the phenomena but merely a hypothesis. It is only the first stage in the attempt to find the form and it must be scrutinized and compared to other hypotheses. In this manner, the truth of natural philosophy is approached "by gradual degrees," as stated in his Novum Organum.

The "Baconian method" does not end at the first vintage. Bacon described numerous classes of Instances with Special Powers, cases in which the phenomena one is attempting to explain is particularly relevant. These instances, of which Bacon describes 27 in Novum Organum, aid and accelerate the process of induction.

Aside from the First Vintage and the Instances with Special Powers, Bacon enumerates additional "aids to the intellect" which presumably are the next steps in his "method." These additional aids, however, were never explained beyond their initial limited appearance in Novum Organum.

Idols of The Mind

Bacon also listed what he called the Idols (false images) of the mind - examples of what is now called cognitive bias. He described these as things which obstructed the path of correct scientific reasoning.

These four fallacies are sometimes compared to a similar list in the first part of Roger Bacon's Opus Majus although it had not been printed in Bacon's time.


The English physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605–82) was one of the earliest scientists to adhere to the scientific empiricism of the Baconian method. His encyclopaedia Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646–76) includes numerous examples of Baconian investigative methodology; its preface even paraphrases lines from Bacon's essay On Truth from his 1605 work The Advancement of Learning.

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