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Baconian Foundationalism and the Problem of Certainty /

  • Author(s): Schwartz, Daniel
  • et al.
Abstract

Francis Bacon is one of the architects of the modern conception of scientific method. Yet Bacon's corpus remains little studied and poorly understood. My dissertation is an account of his method with a focus on his reasons for believing that the it enables us to acquire knowledge of the nature of things (i.e., of forms) and thereby to establish causal claims with epistemic certainty. It thus has both an interpretive and an evaluative dimension. By way of a new interpretation of Bacon's method, I defend him against those who have too casually dismissed his aspirations to certainty as a result of their reading him through deductivist or falsificationist lenses. I reconstruct Bacon's method beginning with its foundation in sense-perception. I argue that Bacon (despite his remarks on the faults of the senses, which other interpreters have overemphasized) takes the side of the Epicureans against ancient skeptics. He holds that all sense-perceptions are true, by which he means that they always causally register mind-independent objects. I then argue that Bacon's aspirations for certainty in natural history hinge on his moderate empiricist foundationalism. Part of his account is an original analysis of the self-correcting character of science, according to which erroneous instances in a natural history are eliminated over time as a result of their conflicting with conclusions overwhelmingly supported by the rest of the instances. The guarantee that sporadic errors can be corrected in time is an important element in being able to secure certainty about forms. The culmination of my interpretation is a discussion of Baconian induction, which is usually understood in deductivist terms as a form of eliminative induction. I argue for an alternative interpretation which emphasizes the non-eliminative role of Bacon's prerogative instances. Although the method that I describe should be subjected to further scrutiny not even Bacon believed that he had the last word to say on scientific methodology; he viewed his method as an inductive discovery which would have to be revised. Accordingly, I offer Bacon's method as a promising approach which contains within itself the resources to further expand its heuristic and justificatory power

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